There’s no arguing with Glenn “Fight Club” Milne’s green credentials. Yesterday he again demonstrated his commitment to recycling with another go at the Rudd-Burke story in the Sunday Telegraph. But it was his effort (not online) to extract some further mileage from his long-term role as spear-carrier for Peter Costello that showed up some of the basic problems of the cloistered world of federal political journalism.

In what appears to be a final service to the man whose ambitions he so enthusiastically promoted for so long, Milne was keen to explain the story behind the story behind the story of the Howard-Costello agreement, which was given another airing in last week’s rather limp Four Corners.

There’s no doubt Milne has a thrilling tale to tell. One moment he’s at a bash celebrating the anniversary of Dollar Sweets, next he’s mixing it with Australia’s most senior businessman at a property outside Canberra (gosh, coming from a News Ltd journalist, I wonder who that could be), or he’s lunching with lobbyists and the Liberal elite, as he tracks down Ian McLachlan’s account of Howard’s undertaking. Costello, Milne is anxious to explain, had nothing to do with it.

If Milne’s original scoop was quality journalism, this effort was astonishingly egocentric. And we’ve seen it all before. Journalists getting cozy with politicians. Journalists eager to be seen as having a role in the politics they are supposed to be reporting on. Journalists, in short, who want to be players. It’s a condition that seems particularly prevalent at, but by no means limited to, The Australian.

Milne’s piece also continues the emerging myth that, but for the revelation of the contents of Ian McLachlan’s wallet (one hastily-scribbled aide memoire from 1994, a shopping docket for 11 Seasprites, an old two-dollar note), John Howard would have graciously handed over to Peter Costello in 2006, and subsequent political history would have been very different. This may well become the Liberal Party’s very own Lost Cause, the chance they had to save the 2007 election. 

Pity that Costello himself thinks it’s rubbish. “I don’t think he was ever going to stand down,” Costello told Four Corners. Costello, at least, appears to have understood his enemy.

There was nothing in John Howard’s entire career that ever suggested he would stand down from the Prime Ministership. Howard was a man willing to do anything to obtain the leadership of his party, including wrecking it in the 1980s and junking many of his own ideological obsessions in the 1990s. That he would walk away from it, simply out of a sense that it was Peter’s turn, beggars belief. Especially when he knew that his party would never have the guts to turn on him.

Milne concludes by lamenting his own role in apparently preventing Costello from obtaining the Prime Ministership. Sorry, Glenn, but Costello didn’t need your help to ruin his chances. He did that perfectly well by himself.

Peter Fray

Save 50% on a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

The US election is in a little over a month. It seems that there’s a ridiculous twist in the story, almost every day.

Luckily for new Crikey subscribers, we’ve teamed up with one of America’s best publications, The Atlantic for the election race. Subscribe now to make sense of it all, and you’ll get a year of Crikey (usually $199) and a year’s digital subscription to The Atlantic (usually $70AUD), BOTH for just $129.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW