Ross Fitzgerald’s efforts in The Australian yesterday to float the idea
of a portfolio swap between Alexander Downer and Peter Costello are not
entirely wacky. Certainly that’s the strong vibe within DFAT, where
Downer has been clamping down on any spending initiatives or funding
increases for his department.

Foreign Affairs and Trade has also
been pared to the bone with staffing cuts – all in the name of Downer
being able to show off his rigorous financial credibility.

As
for Costello, his choices next year are (a) to challenge – and that’s a
no-no, because he’d be murdered; (b) wait for Howard to retire – and
the PM’s showing no sign of going nowhere; (c) go to the backbench and
agitate – and he’s no Keating, and doesn’t appear to have the cojones
or; (d) accept that he’ll have to wait another few years – he’s fed up
with the rigours of Treasury so a stint on the international stage will
do him no harm. And he’d probably shine in that role and be able to
broaden his image.

Look for some serious speculation along these lines over summer.

Peter Fray

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