How are we supposed to react to Glenn Milne’s “explosive” leadership revelations from yesterday?

the great man himself has been at pains today to say the yarn did not
come from Camp Costello. Talking to Virginia Trioli on ABC Radio in
Sydney this morning, Milne said it was all just a matter of asking the
right people the right questions at the right time. Milne told Trioli
former defence minister Ian McLachlan initially said he knew nothing
about the meeting, but rang Milne back the next day after thinking
about it and confirmed the story.

Yet after distancing the
Costello crew from the yarn, Milne then made it a test of Howard’s
character, effectively accusing him of being the chief of weasel words,
answering questions in the present tense “there is no deal” and such

Milne is a controversial character nowadays.
He is scarcely considered to be objective. Some junior members of Camp
Costello need to learn a bit more about handling the media – surely
even they would have realised how a story like this would have looked
coming from a Costello courtier?

Crikey understands that we
should ignore excitable rumours that the story came from interviews
recently conducted by academics Wayne Errington and Peter van Onselen
for the John Howard biography they are preparing for Melbourne
University Press.

Let’s take the yarn on face value. McLachlan
has been seen as a Howard supporter. It’s noteworthy that someone once
rusted on is now peeling off. A sign of division? Well, there might be
an ever bigger indication in the piece. This par has been overlooked:

At that time, Mr McLachlan was an avowed Howard loyalist.
But he has since told senior Liberal figures, and one of Australia’s
most respected businessmen, there was no question the Prime Minister
had clearly indicated to Mr Costello at the meeting that he would serve
only two terms.

Who’s the businessman? Crikey has
been told it is Liberal powerbroker Ron Walker – one of the men who
delivered the prime ministership to John Howard. If Walker is engaged
in this type of leadership game, things are really hotting up.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey