Let the man say goodbye to his international friends this week and bid him farewell as Prime Minister the week after. That surely would be the thought of sensible Liberal and National Party members this morning as they contemplate another disastrous set of opinion poll numbers. Newspoll this morning is pointing to a real wipeout for the Coalition when the election finally comes. Translated into seats, a two party preferred vote of just 41 per cent would leave as few as 30 on the opposition benches of the new parliament and give Labor a majority of around 90!
APEC was designed by John Howard to be his crowning glory. The chance to play host to the world’s most powerful rulers was undoubtedly a major factor in his terrible decision not to step down as Prime Minister.
Now the one slim chance many Liberals and Nationals have of remaining members is to tell Mr Howard to do the decent thing as soon as his moment of international glory is over. As gracefully as he can manage, the PM should go and take the Foreign Minister Alexander Downer with him.
For if there is a secondary message in the Newspoll numbers it is that the Australian people did not appreciate the crude attempt at smearing Labor Leader Kevin Rudd that Mr Downer helped orchestrate. Instead of damaging Mr Rudd’s popularity, the episode at the girlie bar enhanced it with an overwhelming majority now saying he would make a better Prime Minister than Mr Howard.
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Peter Costello might not be an identikit candidate for Prime Minister but his immediate elevation to the job would at least pander to the apparent desire of voters for someone or something new. Time might be short but Mr Costello could give some clear signals that life under an administration led by him would be markedly different.
For a start he could whack a signature on the Kyoto agreement, set some real targets to limit green house gas emissions and bring forward the promised carbon trading scheme. A quick apology to the stolen generation and a heartfelt sorry to Aborigines for past wrongs would undo much of the suspicion that has accompanied the federal march in to the Northern Territory.
The one remaining strength that the pollsters show the Coalition still has would not suffer. Mr Costello could promise to allow his successor as Treasurer far more freedom than he had to continue down the path of economic liberalization. By all means keep going with the moves towards centralization in the areas of hospitals and education but promise to speed up the process.
And while on the subject of federalism, promise to look at ways of abolishing altogether state governments as we now know them by moving towards more sensible regional governments. The people outside the capital cities would love that.
A little dash of excitement under Mr Costello would probably not be enough to retain government for the Coalition but it would surely do better than letting the team slide in to oblivion under Mr Howard.