Back in March 2005, Crikey caused a stir when we reported on a rumour flying round rarified posts of power:

What’s better to retire to than a weekender at Hawk’s Nest? How about the job of president of the World Bank? That’s the gist of a particularly intriguing rumour surrounding John Howard’s future directions.

Incumbent James Wolfensohn told the Bank’s board back in January he would not seek a third stint in the top job … The job is effectively the gift of the United States Government, as a glance at the selection process shows. Who better to give it to than a reliable ally with a global profile — a former finance minister to boot?

In the end, the job went to former US deputy secretary of defence Paul Wolfowitz, but thanks to his problems in the pants department, the position will be free again at the end of June.

And the rumours will be back — but this time there are two options to choose from.

Version one says the PM is a contender. It would be a perfect — albeit sudden — ending to his political career. It would save him from the opprobrium of election defeat and maybe even the threat of becoming member number two alongside Stanley Bruce of prime ministers who have lost their seats. It would be a great face-saver.

But the second version Crikey has heard is much more interesting. It says that as the Americans want a friendly finance minister, someone who won’t be controversial, someone who isn’t a neo-con pants mans, they’ve asked Peter Costello.

Poor pouty Pete must be feeling particularly down at the moment. Gordon Brown’s about to get his dream job — and he’s only had to wait 10 years and doesn’t need to go to the polls until 2010. Costello’s been stuck as number two since 1994. All he has to look forward to is a nasty election within the next six months.

So, why not become president of the World Bank? Travel a bit, eat in nice restaurants, meet interesting people and enjoy international recognition — with a fraction of the scrutiny a politician faces. Costello’s not American and he’s not European, either. He’s a safe pair of hands — exactly the sort of compromise candidate who pops up at times like this.

It’s not as if he’d been retiring to the backbenches after a mauling in a leadership spill, like Andrew Peacock after he launched his tilt at Malcolm Fraser in 1981, or Paul Keating a decade later.

The perceptions would be fine. He’d be telling Howard to stick it, but removing himself from the game to go a very cushy job, indeed.

And just in case you think this is all a little far-fetched, remember that Costello was in Washington and London only last month to, according to his official media statement, “meet with Governor Mervyn King of the Bank of England”, attend “the Spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)”, and “meet with key US Administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson”.

It sounds like the job application went well.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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