The Prime Minister slipped out the news that Geoffrey Cousins was being appointed a director of Telstra on Friday afternoon just a few minutes after the entire board hopped on a plane from Townsville, where they’d held a two-day board meeting.

Clearly, the PM thought the board would not have the courage to openly oppose Cousins’ election at the AGM on November 14.

A storm has now erupted and whilst The AFR has well documented the close political ties between Cousins and John Howard this morning, they’ve missed one fascinating aspect of the relationship.

Many Liberals believe that it was Cousins’ poor advertising campaign which cost Andrew Peacock the 1990 Federal election.

Remember that unfortunate slogan “The Answer is Liberal”. It was openly derided along the lines of: “It must be a stupid question then.”

Cousins was running advertising agency George Patterson and developed the campaign for his mate John Howard. However, he was reluctant to change it when a coup saw Andrew Peacock installed as leader in 1989.

Given that official interest rates were 15% at the time, a campaign on economic management would have made more sense.

Peacock almost snatched victory thanks to a huge swing in Victoria, largely due to the incompetence of John Cain’s state Labor Government. However, few people realise that Victorian Liberal hard heads such as Petro Georgiou refused to run Cousins’ direct mail campaign.

Victorian voters were instead deluged with material on interest rates and economic management, which clearly worked. Whilst John Howard wasn’t openly destructive, many Liberals remember how un-cooperative he was during the 1990 campaign

If John Howard had worked as a team player and Geoff Cousins had adjusted his advertising pitch, it may well have been Prime Minister Andrew Peacock, which would have meant we’d probably never have experienced Prime Minister John Howard.

It would take a twisted Machiavellian mind to suggest the PM has been thanking Cousins ever since, but politics does indeed throw up some lovely ironies.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey