NSW versus Victoria. Should the MCG or
the Olympic Stadium host the 2018 World Cup final? The compromise
location of Canberra? Such battles have long characterised the
Australian federation and the tussle between John Howard and Peter
Costello has an element of this old Melbourne vs Sydney struggle.

Look
no further than the stranglehold of votes the PM has from fellow NSW
MPs and the fact that the Treasurer’s strongest party room support
comes from Victoria, where he has been assiduously supporting backers
into safe seats for the past few years. However, you have to wonder
whether Costello has a hope in hell of toppling the PM, given that he
has such weak support in the broader Victorian firmament.

The
state’s most influential conservative columnist, Andrew Bolt, might be
a constituent of the Treasurer’s in Higgins, but he is a close friend
of Adelaide’s Alexander Downer and a rusted-on backer of the PM. Look
no further than this demolition of Costello in yesterday’s Herald Sun.

On
the same page of Australia’s biggest selling paper today we had 3AW’s
Neil Mitchell, Victoria’s most influential broadcaster, launching an
equally devastating attack on Victoria’s best chance of having a
genuine Victorian in The Lodge since Malcolm Fraser. Mitchell bemoaned
the past three days as “the most destructive political tantrum this
country has seen” and then unloaded with adjectives such as “petulant”,
“arrogant”, “indulgent”, “tarnished” and “immature” before declaring
Costello’s “world-class tantrum” to be “like a toddler stamping his
foot”.

Mitchell probably feels indebted to the PM for giving him
a regular interview on his 3AW Morning program, just like he backed
Jeff Kennett to the hilt while receiving a one hour studio visit from
the Premier each Thursday morning for seven years. Whatever the motive,
the impact is all bad news for Costello because it will feed into the
published opinion polls, which is the strongest argument the PM has for
breaking his word.

Costello has also been brutally attacked in
recent days by Jeff Kennett, who still wields plenty of influence.
Victorian Liberal leader Ted Baillieu, a Kennett mate, is no friend of
Costello’s either.

Costello had no bigger media backer than
Melbourne-based Crikey in our first three years, but then the notorious
glass jaw emerged and we’ve been banned from the last two budget
lock-ups.

Peter Costello has been a good Treasurer, he’s
straighter than most politicians and he’s the best performer in the
Federal Parliament. He should be in The Lodge by now but what chance
does he have if he can’t even shore up his power base in Victoria? Even
close supporters complain that he surrounds himself with sycophants and
only really has James Packer as a close business confidant.

Peter Fray

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