Forget the rumours about who might or mightn’t be running for his seat of Hume. The most interesting aspect of the Alby Schultz dummy spit is the biggest question it raises: is John Howard’s iron grip on his party slipping? Are the knuckles finally whitening?

Schultz is, er, idiosyncratic. There are shenanigans in Hume, where he’s been the local member since 1998. Talk is that he’d like to establish a dynasty and hand the seat over to his son. Schultz Jnr, alas, is said to have the electoral appeal of rabies.

And these aren’t the first shenanigans in Hume. Schultz made much in his weekend remarks about the prime minister not reciprocating loyalty. Perhaps he forgot how Howard backed him over John Fahey when the former finance minister and NSW premier cast an eye over the electorate when the 1999 redistribution fiddled with the boundaries of his seat of Macarthur.

But back to the leadership. This hilarious par pops up in the Adelaide Advertiser today:

‘”It’s got nothing to do with anything other than Alby is nuts,” one supporter said. “Having said that, these things are not without significance. Sometimes the loonies are the first out of the blocks.”

Indeed, a member of Team Costello told Crikey yesterday that Schultz might be a whacko, but his defection is A Good Thing. It’s nice to have an unambiguous right-winger on board, says the source, when Team Costello was looking like a halfway house for disaffected moderates.

Another former Howard supporter – heck, a former Joh for PMer – seems to have gone wobbly, too, Queensland Liberal Peter Slipper. He reportedly recent told a Queensland Liberal management committee earlier this month that there was growing support for a change. Look what Louise Dodson has him saying in the SMH:

“The Government could be destroyed if there is not a smooth leadership transition from John Howard to Peter Costello, a Liberal MP has warned. ‘If there is not an orderly succession it could destroy the Government and destroy our legacy. It would be sad for Australia and sad for the Government because it has done such a good job,’ Peter Slipper told the Herald yesterday… Mr Slipper declined to say whether he supported Mr Costello as leader, only saying ‘Peter Costello has a wonderful contribution to make’. However, the Queensland MP praised his colleague Alby Schultz, whose public switch from Mr Howard’s camp to Mr Costello’s this week prompted fresh speculation on the leadership…”

The immediate cause for Schultz’s spit was his failure to get the prime minister’s backing for the job of chairman of the parliamentary agricultural and fisheries committee. Howard wanted Peter Lindsay, the member for Herbert, around Townsville, in the job. The issue went to a ballot – and Schultz won. Interestingly, the prime minister wasn’t able to get his preferred candidate up as Speaker last year. That was overlooked in the midst of Labor’s woes, but is something happening here? Two lost votes? Are there more to come?

And there’s been a fascinating bit of outside advice for the PM, too – Malcolm Mackerras’s piece in the Fin Review last week on the future of Bennelong and the future for John Howard, which essentially said: “I’m telling you as a mate, get out while you can”.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.