Peter Costello yesterday broke his silence on the RU486 bill, drawing on his personal experience to give it his strong support. The bill is expected to pass
the House of Representatives today, although there is still a small
chance that Andrew Laming’s amendment, which would weaken the bill
without destroying it, will be approved.

It has been a bad few months for Costello, with his backdown from a
leadership challenge and negative publicity over tax cuts and the
Robert Gerard affair. But yesterday he was back to his best,
reminiscent of the glory days of the 1999 republic referendum and the
following year’s march for reconciliation, when he was seen as the
great white hope of the Liberal Party’s left. This morning he has had to deny that the speech signalled a renewed leadership push.

Costello’s enemies often try to paint him as a religious fanatic, but
there is little evidence for it. It’s true that the Kroger-Costello
group in Victoria has provided a home for the hard right, including
those linked with the National Civic Council, but they remain a small
minority.

The RU486 debate has shown how different Victoria is from the rest of
the country. In other states, the Liberal Party will split evenly or
vote slightly against the bill, generally along left-right lines. But
in Victoria, being pro-choice is almost de rigeur; last Sunday, even before Costello declared his hand, The Age could find only three Victorian Liberals who were planning to vote no.

Costello still insists
that the bill is “not about abortion”, but that’s true only in the
sense that the abortion debate itself isn’t about abortion, it’s about
choice. One can be against abortion in a personal sense, as Costello
is, but still believe in people’s right to choose it – just as one
might think, for example, that religion is an evil thing but still
defend the right to practise it.

Peter Fray

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