Christian Kerr writes:

It’s testing times for the government, with the Queensland Nationals Telstra extortion bid now on the table and IR running hot.

On
Telstra, it must be tempted to ask the Nats how they’d feel about the
establishment of a $10 billion fund drawn exclusively from the rural
economy for subsidising property prices in the cities – but of course
leaders can’t do that. Which is why Steve Lewis comments in The Australian today, “senior ministers – including Peter Costello – are warning that Telstra will not be sold at any price.”

At least Costello realises the delicacy of Telstra. Pity about his IR intervention.

The Age
went in hard over the weekend. “John Howard has slapped down Peter
Costello over parts of the government’s industrial relations overhaul,
rejecting his ambitious deputy’s musings on more radical changes,” Mischa Schubert
wrote on Saturday. “The public contradiction of the treasurer comes as
Mr Howard shows no sign of tiring of the top job, fuelling Mr
Costello’s frustration as he waits to succeed him.”

“This year’s IR debate has not seen Costello shining,” Michelle Grattan
commented yesterday. “What should have been an opportunity for
Costello, because of his long-held passion about industrial relations,
has turned into a potential liability,” she wrote, before embarking on
extended leadership musings.

There are lots of questions for
leaders at the moment – Kim Beazley included – but questions of
leadership are even more interesting.

During the first cricket
Test, the camera cut to a shot of Howard sitting in the Members Stand.
One of the commentators asked: “Do you think Peter Costello is back
home watching this and wondering if he’ll be seeing the same shot in
four years time?”

Everybody’s wondering about Peter Costello. In the wake of his far north Queensland trip, Madonna King did some wondering out loud in the Courier Mail that hasn’t received the coverage it deserves down south.

“Two
years ago, after Howard determined Costello would be made to wait a bit
longer for a tilt at the top job, the treasurer indicated he would
speak out on issues – a signal that he would broaden his economic
commentary to include a social vision,” she wrote. “Despite that
promise, we’re still waiting to find out what the treasurer really
stands for…”

Look at one of the highlights of the Queensland
trip – meeting Noel Pearson. Hello! He’s a paid government consultant.
Treasurer meets public servant. That’s news? It speaks volumes for the
Costello push.

His numbers men are capable, but count for little in the party.

The
London terror attacks have put the focus back on the PM’s strongest
suit, security issues – and finessing Telstra and IR calls for wisdom
and experience, not ambition and impetuosity.

We have a week before Parliament resumes and gets down to business with both houses in government control.

The
dynamics may just force a situation where we continue to see the PM at
the cricket for many years to come – and Peter Costello deciding to
take his bat and ball and go home.

Peter Fray

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