Today’s Costello leadership revelation should come as no surprise. Over the past three years we have gradually seen the opinions of the prime minister-(still)-in-waiting seep through the cracks in his public loyalty to the PM.
This artificial loyalty — and subsequent dismal failure to make a public stand for the leadership — is precisely his problem. As The Age’s Michelle Grattan describes the situation today: “[Costello] was not willing to shoot [Howard] in the front — mostly because he knew he did not have the ammunition in the form of party room numbers. Costello was disloyal but unable to be disloyal enough.”
In light of today’s developments, we have compiled some moments in time of Costello’s disloyalties – small individually, but combining to form quite a colourful picture of a weak, frustrated, wannabe PM.
5 March, 2005: Costello’s tongue loosens at a private dinner with three reporters. ABC reporter Michael Brissenden, present at that dinner, now says that Costello set a deadline of April 2006 for Howard to go. If the deadline was not met, Costello allegedly planned to “carp” the PM from the backbench because he did not believe Howard could beat Beazley in the 2007 election. He purportedly commented: “He can’t win; I can. We can, but he can’t.” The comments came just days after reports of the so-called “Athens Declaration” which saw Howard declare he wanted to run for the 2007 election, angering Costello.
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July, 2006: A supposed 1994 Costello/Howard leadership deal was made public by former defence minister Ian McLachlan. Costello holds a special press conference on 10 July. Costello: “He told me that he intended to do 1½ terms as prime minister and then would hand over … I did not seek that undertaking, he volunteered and I took him at his word. Obviously that did not happen.” Costello maintains that he did not push McLachlan to make details of the meeting public, but noted: “His account is entirely accurate. That was precisely what happened, they are the full facts of what happened”. Costello also noted, “my parents always told me if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear by telling the truth.”
July, 2006: Costello speaks, on the record, to Peter van Onselen and Wayne Errington, authors of John Winston Howard: The Biography. He states: “The Howard treasurership was not a success in terms of interest rates and inflation … He had not been a great reformer.”
October, 2006: Costello, in a second interview with Howard’s biographers, expresses concerns about the “sustainability” of the PM’s election spending: “I have to foot the bill and that worries me. And then I start thinking about not just footing the bill today but if we keep building in all these things, footing the bill in five, and 10 and 15 years and you know I do worry about the sustainability of all these things.” On the topic of Howard reneging on his 1994 deal: “What do you expect me to do? I don’t cry myself to sleep … The dogs bark but the caravan moves on.”