How patient is Peter Costello? He’s got
plenty to test him.

This week the Reserve Bank is expected to
up interest rates by another quarter of a percentage point. The Treasurer will
have to deal with four per cent inflation and its impact on home loans.

Leadership heat won’t
go away with today’s announcement. If anything, it will become even more acute.
Michael Costello flagged a logical Labor line in his column on Friday:

Costello
said on 3AW on Wednesday: “Once he (Prime Minister John Howard) makes his
announcement (on the Liberal leadership) we will all know where we stand and
we will all be able to make our announcements accordingly
“.

Note
the words in (my) italics. Costello recently showed guts for the first time in
not letting Howard bully him into a backdown over the 1994 deal over the
Liberal leadership.

If
Howard declares he is staying, don’t automatically assume Costello will
continue to sulk in his tent. There is a real chance we will see the rage of
Achilles. Costello may not be the most nimble of politicians but he must surely
know that if he cops humiliation from Howard again, his future as a leadership
aspirant is pretty well over.

Peter Costello is in
an awkward position. Can he sit it out? There’s almost as much pressure on him
for a statement on his position than there has been on the Prime Minister.

The top job now could be up to three years
away – to this stage in the election cycle after the next poll. Where will the
other contenders for the post be then?

The Howard/Costello partnership has been
the foundation of the success of this Government. If the Government’s economic credentials
weaken, Howard’s leadership ability may still carry the Coalition to another
election win – but where does that leave his Treasurer?

Costello doesn’t only need patience. He
needs to demonstrate a whole new set of political skills.

Peter Fray

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