Peter Costello’s failure to attend Brendan Nelson’s two day Liberal-National strategy meeting last week was perhaps the strongest sign yet that the former Treasurer’s days in Parliament are drawing to a close.

While we shouldn’t begrudge Costello an opportunity to enjoy a holiday with his wife in Bali, there was plenty of time to do this in December and January (when a Crikey insider spotted them walking down the Toorak-end of Melbourne’s Chapel St together).

Costello’s office confirmed this morning that he will be back for the opening of Parliament tomorrow, which is appropriate, especially given his high-profile march across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 2001 supporting reconciliation.

However, there is little point in Costello being in Parliament if he is going. The Member for Higgins was unequivocal on that Sunday after the Federal election:

The time has come for me to open a new chapter in my life. I will be looking to build a career post-politics in the commercial world.

That was 79 days ago. The SMH reported on 12 January that Costello had been offered a big job at Macquarie Bank – the same Millionaires Factory which he had privately derided over the years. Maybe the Bali holiday was to make a final decision, although Costello was said to be particularly hostile towards new Macquarie chief Nicholas Moore.

Weekend press reports suggested that Costello had received better job offers overseas, which is not surprising given his international contacts and the plaudits he received for helping bail out South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia during the Asian economic crisis.

It is also true that Costello treated many Australian business leaders with contempt during his time as Treasurer. He did the same to his Labor opponents in Parliament, as Alister Drysdale noted on Business Spectator.

While former Victorian Treasurer Alan Stockdale was appointed to the board of the NSW TCorp by the Carr Government, there is no way Costello can expect such cross-party support.

As for corporate gigs, the sad reality of Australian business is that so many of the big players are inwardly focused and government-dependent. The likes of Woolworths, Telstra or the big banks would not want to antagonise the Rudd Government by hiring Costello.

Costello watchers say that he has struggled with the new reality of being an emperor with no clothes. He backed Brendan Nelson whilst his supposedly loyal clique of followers voted for Malcolm Turnbull.

When delivering his Higgins victory speech, Costello sounded faintly ridiculous urging the Rudd Government to honour his $260,000 pledge to install security cameras outside night clubs on Chapel Street.

However, it was also interesting that this indulgent promise did not make Lindsay Tanner’s hit list last week. Labor is clearly conscious that with a margin of 8%, Higgins would be winnable in a by-election.

With Parliament back, it’s time for Costello to declare his hand. Peter, stop treating the people of Higgins with contempt. Either quit this week or commit to serve a full term.

Tomorrow’s AWB AGM will be cracker, so check out this scene-setter on The Mayne Report.

Peter Fray

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