Peter Costello is now scarcely even trying to hide his undermining of Malcolm Turnbull.

Stung, perhaps, that Turnbull’s Budget Reply speech didn’t crash in flames, he appeared on Jon Faine’s program this morning. According to the ABC, Faine’s producer had been requesting an interview with Costello since January 2008. It was only on the weekend that Costello suddenly agreed to appear.

That it was on the morning when a new Nielsen/Age showing a sizable narrowing of the gap between the Government and Turnbull’s Opposition might be coincidental. But it gives the impression that the moment Malcolm Turnbull gets a break, the moment when the Rudd Government looks faintly vulnerable for the first time, Costello just had to demand attention.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eypEN06H7EY[/youtube]

He was at it last week, choosing the day of the Budget to launch his new website, where, incidentally, you’ll find no mention of the party leader other than in transcripts where journalists mention Turnbull.

According to Costello’s interview with Faine, transcripts are the only reason for the site. “I launched it because it gives me the opportunity to put media up on that website. I don’t have media advisers so we were running into the problem that the press would always ask me for my transcripts and articles and it’s much easier for me to put them on the website.”

Costello’s view of the press has evidently improved since his stunt press conference on Budget Day last year, when he told Michelle Grattan she needed new glasses and spat “I’ve got to say to you that after dealing with you people for 20 years I just don’t feel that I have to be at your beck and call.”

Faine asked Costello about the leadership, saying a number of influential Liberals had told him they expected Costello to remain in politics and challenge Turnbull.

“I find it hard to believe you rang around influential Liberals this morning because it’s only 8.30,” he replied.

“I remember Gareth Evans coming out the day after the 1998 election and announcing the day after he’d been elected that he was leaving that seat and I thought it was very poor form … being a member of Parliament is an honour in itself.”

That was it, not even a pro forma denial or refusal to discuss the leadership.

Costello went on to opine about the Budget, blocking the private health insurance rebate and a double dissolution election, matters that normally would be the province of the shadow Treasurer, the health spokesman and the leader.

Costello must be mortified that there’s a spark of life in Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership, a chance he could be competitive in an election that, in the event the global economy fails to start recovering next year, might be winnable. His response, a demand that everyone pay him some attention, is almost infantile in its reflexivity and petulance.

The last eighteen months has been a revelation regarding Peter Costello. The mantle of Treasurer imparted to him gravitas and leadership potential, or at least the illusions thereof. Without it, he has been revealed as not merely spineless, but a self-obsessed lightweight, increasingly like the logorrheic Tony Abbott but without the latter’s willingness to speak honestly. And most of all, he clearly couldn’t care less what he does to his party.

In someone like John Howard, that willingness to damage his own party was part of a ferocious drive to obtain its leadership. For Costello, his inability to challenge means he’s wrecking for the sake of wrecking.

Peter Fray

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