The telephone was ringing all day on Monday from media people wanting me to predict the outcome of the contest between John Howard and Maxine McKew for the Bennelong seat in federal parliament.
The answer I gave was not the conventional one. I said I had no doubt that Maxine McKew would be the next member for Bennelong.
However, to make such an assertion does not really answer the question. After all it is possible that (as George Megalogenis suggested in his article on Tuesday ) Howard will win the seat at the general election, lose the office of Prime Minister, resign his seat and, therefore, hand Bennelong to McKew at a by-election win.
But pressed on this point I went one further. I predicted that McKew would win Bennelong at the October-November general election, defeating John Howard.
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I believe a majority of Bennelong electors want to rid themselves of their current local member. First, they dislike the way they were tricked by Howard (along with six million other Australians) into voting for the industrial relations revolution now known as WorkChoices, legislation of which they were given no notice, never wanted and still oppose.
Second, they believe Howard should, by now, have announced an intention to retire.
Third, they know what they would be doing if they re-elect Howard again – for what would be his 14th term. They would be creating a quick, unnecessary and costly by-election.
We Australians love a winner, but we reserve our special love for those who know when it is time to leave.
The only Prime Minister in my lifetime possessing that skill was Bob Menzies, who retired gracefully in January 1966 – in favour of the then Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Treasurer and member for Higgins, Harold Holt.
How John Howard must now secretly regret that he did not in 2006 retire in favour of the current Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Treasurer and member for Higgins, Peter Costello!
As everyone knows, Costello has a particular critic within the Victorian Liberal Party and his name is Jeff Kennett. Kennett has provided the contrast with Menzies. He has shown how NOT to exit from politics.
Kennett retained his seat of Burwood at the September 1999 Victorian general election but lost the office of Premier in October after the result became known of the supplementary election for Frankston East.
Kennett then resigned his seat, creating the Burwood by-election of December 1999 which was won by Labor. Burwood has been Labor ever since.
What I am suggesting is that Bennelong electors will short-circuit the process whereby Howard looks to Kennett for his precedent.
Bennelong electors will kick Howard out at the October-November general election, thus prevent a by-election early in the New Year.
Read the full version of this article on the website here.