How long
ago did we tell you about the report in The Diplomat magazine that Hyacinth was
paying a lot of attention to the spouses’ program for the APEC leaders summit scheduled for Sydney just before the due date of the
2007 election? How much longer ago did we point out that the PM himself might
like to be sticking around for the knees-up?

both Glenn Milne and Michelle Grattan trotted it out in the papers

Grattan’s piece was the meatier. She said: “The year is
rushing to its end in a frenzy of legislative activity. Amid this, speculation
is mounting, because everybody knows the first months of next year will be
dominated by internal Government politics, not by

“Colleagues still can’t get a handle on Howard’s
intentions. That, say those claiming knowledge, is because he’s still undecided.
Doesn’t even want to think about it. Hasn’t told Peter Costello anything, let
alone made a pact with him.”

she mentioned that “Round the parliamentary corridors, interest is on whether
there’ll be a summer reshuffle.”

reshuffles and leadership challenges are standard summer fare for the Gallery.
They need to file something. Grattan says:

A reshuffle would be inevitable, however,
if one or more ministers quit.

Sources say a couple of months ago it was considered a “done
deal” that Senate leader and Defence Minister Robert Hill would replace
career diplomat John Dauth, who finishes up early next year as
Australia’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York. Now Hill
tells everyone who asks that he wants to stay put.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Senate deputy
leader Nick Minchin have had a special interest in Hill’s future. Downer wants
to become deputy and treasurer under Costello, or under Howard if Costello
leaves the front bench. Minchin wants to step up to Senate leader (an
appointment the PM makes). Downer, Hill and Minchin are all South Australians.
It would help Downer’s prospects and advance Minchin’s ambitions if Hill weren’t

Back to
Milne. He points to South Australian right wing Senator Jeannie Ferris’s health
in a much better piece in The Australian today. If she goes, will the moderate Hill go,
too – letting the party chose two new generation Senators, one from each

Milne also talks up Malcolm Turnbull’s obvious claim to a
frontbench spot today – which makes Grattan’s comments from yesterday even more

For Howard the backbenchers, whether the
wannabe-ministers (such as Malcolm Turnbull), the have-been ministers (Danna
Vale, Judi Moylan) or those who will never be frontbenchers (Petro Georgiou),
are one of the special challenges of his fourth

Consider last week. Georgiou (and to a lesser extent
Turnbull) used the parliamentary debate on the counter-terrorism bill to urge
more changes. Vale told Howard in the party room he should get onto George Bush
and demand the return of David Hicks, and followed this with an article in
yesterday’s Age. Judi Moylan and Wilson Tuckey had an almighty party room
brawl over the Government’s welfare changes.

The Turnbull-Costello clash over tax reform has
polarised opinion in the party and has become something of a surrogate
Howard-Costello divide. While the Costello camp is critical of Turnbull, saying
that by arguing for more tax cuts he is diminishing what the Government has
given, many others in the party, especially those from NSW, will tell you that
Turnbull’s first parliamentary year has been a very good

There is no sign of the backbench returning to
quiescence. It’s an open question how Costello would handle a backbench willing
to stand up and on occasion speak out on issues. There would be forces operating
in opposite directions, though. Costello is less patient with dissent than

But backbenchers, driven by ambition, fear, or a desire
to give a new leader a fair go, might feel more inhibited in kicking

they might feel it’s better sticking with the devil you know – particularly when
he’s already won four elections.

Gallery won’t be facing a copy drought this