Peter Costello obviously fancies himself as a wordsmith these days. There’s speculation that the former Treasurer is so confident in the power of his prose that he has insisted on payment for his semi-regular columns in The Age, despite the convention that MPs who write on public affairs do so freely as part of their job description.

While it is not officially confirmed that Costello is receiving payment, the word from within Fairfax is that the troops are unimpressed that the member for Higgins might be paid to write what amounts to party political material.

Crikey understands the decision to commission Costello, with or without payment, was brokered by Age editor, Paul Ramadge, who insisted on Costello as a contributor over the heads of senior editors, some of whom objected to the column because they don’t think it stacks up editorially and because they don’t share the same opinion of his writing prowess.

The gossip around the traps is that Costello is being paid above the normal rate for opinion pieces, although Crikey has been unable to confirm this.

Mr Costello has not listed any income from opinion pieces on the parliamentary register of pecuniary interests but has listed income from his book, The Costello Memoirs.

If the speculation is right and Costello is receiving payment, perhaps he is directing it to a good cause in his electorate or some other charity, as occurred during the launch of his memoirs last September when he raised funds for Very Special Kids.

But, as insiders point out, almost every corner of Fairfax Media has faced budget cuts, including the opinion pages, so it seems a bit rich to be being paying an already well-funded federal MP at the expense of other contributors.

But for Costello’s fans and political strategists alike, the decision to commission Costello might turn out to be a clever investment. It’s possible they may even appreciate his turn of phrase, with pearls like this:

When I first heard Kevin Rudd before Christmas urging people to “spend, spend, spend” I thought he sounded like one of those pay-nothing-until-2011 spruikers, but that he was being less frank with the customers. There was no mention of when the repayments would start. In fact, there was no suggestion that there would be repayments. It was all so good — immediate consumption without any consequences.

Things don’t work that way.

Neither Paul Ramadge nor Peter Costello were available this morning.

Peter Fray

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