“Getting on with the job” was the theme of the Liberal Party’s Federal
Council meeting at the Canberra Hyatt over the weekend. Low key and
neither cocky nor complacent. In theory, anyway.

The prime minister didn’t quite end up using Uriah Heep language, but
on the eve on Senate control other members of his party are less
‘umble. He told a do at the Lodge on Friday night that the first time
he visited there in the sixties, as a party functionary from NSW, Bob Menzies mixed the drinks. The poor little blighter would
have been run off his feet if he tried something similar.

Liberals and corporate observers flocked to the Council. The Libs
looked sleek and satisfied. The corporate types were falling over
themselves to part with $7,500 in exchange for proximity to power. And
more than 600 people turned out for the $150 a head Council dinner on
Saturday night. That’s quite a shindig.

But the prime minister was in his best boring uncle mode when he gave
his address to the Council yesterday. No triumphalism. Just John Howard
at his cleverest. He scoffed at talk of “absolute
monarchies.” “We’re going to actually see in a sense the final
votes in the election counted, that’s all that’s going to happen on the
1 July, nothing more because we have this constitution that gives
fixed terms to our Senators.” Taking control of the Senate was the
final demonstration of the “trust” he asked voters to place in him when
he announced the election date last August.

All of which, of course, is true. And something very handy – very humble –
to be able to say when you want to shove legislation that in some
cases will overturn almost a century of practice. Now that’s getting on
with the job. But who’ll actually have the top job? Talk for a while
from the Costello camp has suggested we should expect something next
year. At the federal Council dinner on Saturday night Alexander
Downer’s bid to be deputy and treasurer was being talked up – way up.
If they’re talking about that role, is the other one settled?

Costello invoked Menzies when he introduced the prime minister
yesterday – not in the usual sense that Liberals invoke Menzies, but
more as if Howard was being placed in the pantheon. Such an elevation
normally involves ascending to a higher plane. That would create a
vacancy among the mortals. Or is it all wishful thinking on the treasurer’s part?

Peter Fray

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