Is John Howard ready for a sea change? If – if – we’re going to take the Prime Minister’s current overseas jaunt
as a lap of honour, if – if – we’re going to presume that he’s about to
announce his retirement, then we also need to take this trip as a job
interview. John Howard’s fit and obviously has an enormous capacity for
work. Which means it will be very hard for him to stay in Australia.
Just think of the dynamics of John Howard, retired PM.

There are the domestic imperatives. When he became Prime Minister, he still had kids at home – that’s changed.
Indeed, when he was first elected, Howard wanted to stay at home in
Wollstonecraft. Security made that impossible in 1996. It’s infinitely
more impossible now – and there’s no retirement house a la Thatcher or
Blair ready for him to move into.

Then there are the political
imperatives. After 10 years running the country, John Howard’s presence
would loom large. Maybe too large. He could overshadow his successor.
His presence – or his absence – in debate would always be open to
misinterpretation. All of which leads to one logical conclusion. If
John Howard is going, John Howard, empty nester, is off preparing to
become John Howard, sea-changer, at the helm of some supranational body

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But surely not before the APEC summit? There’s
plenty of talk in the corridors of the Min Wing about reshuffles and
leadership changes. Discussion keeps on coming back to next year’s APEC
summit in Sydney. Surely the PM will stay around for that, an
influential school of thought says. Its advocates point to talk – well
sourced talked – that both John and Janette Howard are taking an active
interest in the preparations.

Indeed, the inhabitants of the Min
Wing see little sign of their leader retiring. They’re more concerned
about a reshuffle, with the old front bench making way for more energy
and ideas. Then again, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

And what about the deputy’s job?
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – the most interesting
contest if John Howard goes won’t be for the leadership, but for the
deputy’s job. Alexander Downer is interested. So is Dr Brendan. Malcolm
Turnbull could have his hat in the ring. And the Mad Monk might still
be mad enough to run. But the current favourite is Education Minister
Julie Bishop, who’s out there skilfully and subtly broadening her profile.

there’s a new argument being put towards Bishop’s cause. What do you do
with Julia Gillard’s appeal? Provide someone more appealing.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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