When he announced his intention to leave politics earlier this year, Peter Costello declined to rule out leaving early.  During much of his post-2007 tenure as Opposition Leader-in-exile, Costello made much of the fact that he thought it important to serve the people of Higgins as well as he could.  But, he said, if it served his party’s interests, he would step aside in advance of the Federal election.

So today he pulled the pin, opening the way for the highly-regarded Kelly O’Dwyer to replace him before the year is out.

Thus end the last faint hopes of a handful of Liberals that the nightmare that began in November 2007 would be brought to an unexpected end.  There will be no Colin Barnett-style resurrection, no Lazarus with a quintuple bypass, no last-minute return of Costello to snatch victory from a stunned Kevin Rudd in 2010.

Quite possibly, Costello will end up working for Kevin Rudd in a suitable international financial role.

This should be the happiest day of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership.  The column of smoke with whom he wrestled so painfully from the outset of his stint in the top job has now vanished entirely.

But for Turnbull, enduring an extended period of torment as the unpopular leader of an unpopular, divided and confused party, it’s merely another distraction.  Neither Higgins nor Brendan Nelson’s seat of Bradfield will fall, but fighting another expensive by-election, with the possibility of an anti-Liberal swing, would not have been high on Turnbull’s To Do list.

Today brought more turmoil for Turnbull.  Julie Bishop gave a serve to Peter Dutton, just when that issue looked like dying down, and agreed with Nick Minchin and Wilson Tuckey about filibustering the ETS bill, contrary to the position of Ian Macfarlane, who has to negotiate with Penny Wong.  Fran Bailey announced she wouldn’t be re-contesting McEwen next year, more or less guaranteeing that seat will fall to Labor, given her personal vote was the only thing that saved her in her victory by a handful of votes in 2007.  And Joe Hockey revealed he’d been approached by colleagues about taking over from Turnbull if the latter, for whatever reason, left the scene.  Hockey has had a shocker as shadow Treasurer.  There’s no reason to think he won’t be equally bad as Leader.  And that view is widely held in the business community.

Hockey isn’t the only frontbencher who has been sounded out in recent months.

There are people within the Liberal Party – and this is the view of some of their senior colleagues – who believe that playing musical chairs with the leadership is a profitable use of their time, and a substitute for doing the hard work of Opposition.  How long will it take them to work out that it ain’t and never will be?

No wonder Peter Costello has had enough.

This is the statement from Costello.

Statement Concerning Higgins Electorate

When the House of Representatives resumes I will tender my resignation to the Speaker as Member for Higgins.  This will allow a by-election to be called this year and for it to be held at the same time as the by-election for Bradfield.

It has been a privilege and honour to serve as Member for Higgins for just on 20 years – the longest period of any of its Members since the seat was established in 1949.  I have always considered my representative duties as my first priority – one of the reasons I maintained my residence in Melbourne during a long Ministerial career.  During the last two years, the first I have served without a frontbench position, I have had the chance to work daily from my suburban Electorate Office and spend more time than ever with constituents.  I will be sad to say farewell.  Although I will return to private life I hope to continue some measure of service to the public in the future.

The Liberal Party has now chosen an outstanding candidate for election in Higgins – Kelly O’Dwyer.  I believe she will be part of the renewal which the Liberal Party now needs to undertake.  Successful organisations plan for succession and engage in renewal.  I will give her every support as she campaigns for support in the electorate.

I wish my colleagues in the Parliamentary Liberal Party every success in the Federal election next year.

I thank my Electorate Committee comprised of the finest people I have ever met and I thank the Liberal Party Members in the Electorate of Higgins who have given me total support.  I acknowledge with gratitude my many friends outside of politics who have stood by me in difficult times.

I thank my Electorate Staff:- Aly, Louise and Merryn for their loyalty and dedication.

Especially I thank Philippa Campbell who has been an outstanding person to work with.

Most of all I thank my greatest supporters:-  my dear wife Tanya and our wonderful children Seb, Maddy and Phoebe.  Now removed from the relentless cycle of the political life we will have the chance to spend a brief time together as a family before each of our children steps out into their own independent stories.