Poor
little Dollar Sweetie! He wants to be prime minister – but why should
he? What claim has he got to the job other than 12 years as 2iC? Yes,
he’s the deputy and a successful treasurer – but all that really means
is that he’s part of a successful cabinet with a successful leader. A
pretty important part, but just a part, nonetheless.

In all the
words on the federal Liberal leadership we’ve seen and heard since
Saturday morning, it’s amazing that we haven’t had the question asked –
what does Peter Costello stand for? He’s told us he’ll let us know,
that he’ll speak outside his portfolio. We’re waiting.

What has Dollar Sweetie actually done? Well, he
voted for a republic six years ago, walked across a bridge five years
ago and was dropped by Hillsong last year. Now that’s truly
comprehensive. Heck, Tim Costello has told us more about Peter Costello
than the man has himself.

Supporting
a republic, supporting reconciliation and supporting happy-clappy
Christianity aren’t mutually exclusive. But gesture politics are based
around gross oversimplifications, and Dollar Sweetie knows that. These
three non-economic outings don’t fit together. Put the shorthand
interpretation of his gestures together and what have you got? Well, to
use the good old Australian idiom, you’ve got a bloke who’s trying to
have a bob each way. It doesn’t work.

There’s no evidence that
Costello has any special electoral appeal. The ALP advertising at the
last election targeting him flopped because the ALP flopped at the
poll. Indeed, if anything, Costello seems to be shaping up as a
lecturer – a hectorer. You should be working longer, you should be
living longer in your own home if you’re older… whatever.

Yet you have to listen. You have to listen because of all the fine
print, all the qualifications that accompany his pronouncements. The
prime minister isn’t on his last lap because he keeps attending
international forums and has an international focus. That’s a role all
prime ministers grow into as they become more comfortable with their
performance in the job and used to its demands – and opportunities.

John Howard has performed well internationally. And it reflects in his standing. Today’s Newspoll
says plenty. Whether you approve of our involvement or not, Iraq has
given Australia a presence at the top table. There is talk nowadays of
the “Anglosphere” – an influential international entity made up of the
US, Britain and Australia. And rather than being ignored by Asia, as
Labor said John Howard would be back in 1996, the prime minister is
persuing a growing, practical engagement with the region.

What’s
Dollar Sweetie done to match? Doesn’t he realise you need to actually
stand for something to be prime minister? Yes, you’ve deputised
perfectly well – but that doesn’t mean you can do the job, let alone
get elected. One of your cheerleaders suggested to the Sydney Morning Herald
yesterday that you might “pull the pin” and ditch politics altogether
if you don’t get your way. They called you “a guy who could get a CEO
job for $1 million to $1.5 million a year” and said “it is not too hard
to imagine.”

If I were you I’d take the money and run. Or, rather, not run.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW