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Downer's retirement prematurely announced -

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ELEANOR HALL: Today in the nation's capital where it is smiles and support all round amongst
Coalition MPs - at least in public.

The Leader Brendan Nelson is heaping praise on both his Treasury spokesman and the former
treasurer, as he tries to downplay the internal division over the leaked email which has torpedoed
his fuel tax policy and blunted the Coalition's attack on the Budget.

Today Dr Nelson declared that Malcolm Turnbull is doing a good job as Shadow Treasurer - he has
defended Peter Costello - dismissing suggestions that the former treasurer might have been the
source of the leak.

But the leadership speculation has - if anything - intensified with an opinion poll out today
bringing more dire news for Dr Nelson and claims that Mr Turnbull has been manoeuvring to clear the
field for a challenge.

And now former Ministers, Alexander Downer and Nick Minchin have crossed swords with Mr Minchin
prematurely announcing the former Foreign Minister's retirement from politics.

In Canberra, Sabra Lane reports.

SABRA LANE: While Malcolm Turnbull has denied leaking details about his damaging email to Brendan
Nelson's office - his detractors argue it was done specifically to embarrass the Opposition leader
and take the focus off the public's views about the Budget.

And if that was the goal, it's had spectacular success.

In the Neilsen Poll, published in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age today, 57 per cent of those
surveyed thought the budget was fair.

28 per cent said they thought they'd be better off, about the same number said they'd be worse off
and 32 per cent just didn't know.

If he was disappointed, Liberal leader Brendan Nelson wasn't showing it this morning, instead, he
was sticking by his treasury spokesman.

BRENDAN NELSON: Well, Mr Turnbull is doing a very, very effective job. Malcolm will be at the Press
Club tomorrow in Canberra. He will be setting out a very strong case as to why the Budget of the
Rudd Government has failed Australians. Pulled the plug on pensioners and importantly that we are
the people that stand for lower petrol prices which will also mean, of course, lower grocery
prices.

SABRA LANE: Yesterday, a newspaper published details of an email from Malcolm Turnbull to Brendan
Nelson's office detailing Mr Turnbull's views about a proposed cut in fuel excise he warned it was
bad public policy.

Brendan Nelson was defensive when asked if the former treasurer, Peter Costello, might be the
source of that leak.

BRENDAN NELSON: Every Australian, when looking at your financial position over the last 11.5 years
should be grateful for what Peter Costello and his family have given for this country.

Mr Swan delivered the last of Peter Costello's tax cuts on Tuesday night. The only ray of sunshine
in Mr Swan's budget on Tuesday night was the last of the Peter Costello tax cuts and any suggestion
or any criticism of Peter Costello is something that will not be tolerated by me under any
circumstances.

SABRA LANE: Deputy Liberal Leader Julie Bishop.

JULIE BISHOP: Within the Liberal Party we are focusing on the Rudd Government policies and its
first Budget. The public are focusing on it and this focus on personalities and what went on within
the Liberal Party rather than the policies of the respective parties, is of little interest to
people.

SABRA LANE: While the Party leadership is trying to put its best spin on a bad situation it's now
claimed that Malcolm Turnbull issued something of a self-fulfilling prophecy in his now infamous
email.

He warned its contents would be leaked to the media.

Speaking on ABC radio in Melbourne, Mrs Bishop wouldn't say if she thought the shadow Treasurer was
foolish for putting his views in print.

JULIE BISHOP: I'm not going to pass judgment on my colleague's actions. There are always
differences of opinions within political parties. It is normal and healthy. It is to be expected
and it is the debate and the contest of ideas that produces better policies for the Australian
people.

SABRA LANE: Claims have also surfaced that Malcolm Turnbull has approached colleagues and potential
leadership aspirants and rivals - Joe Hockey and Julie Bishop - to quit federal politics, in favour
of a career in state politics.

Joe Hockey was unavailable for an interview this morning and Mrs Bishop certainly didn't rule out
that she had been approached.

JULIE BISHOP: Look I don't discuss private conversations with colleagues but I can make this point.
I have no intention of entering state politics.

JOURNALIST: You may have no intention but has he tried to get you there?

JULIE BISHOP: I won't discuss conversations I've had with any of my colleagues.

SABRA LANE: Former foreign Minister Alexander Downer pleaded on ABC TV last night for steely
discipline within his own party and he was half-hearted when asked if the contentious fuel excise
cut would be Coalition policy at the next Federal election.

For that he copped this back-hander from fellow South Australian and Liberal leader in the Senate,
Nick Minchin.

NICK MINCHIN: Well, Alexander is not on the front bench and he is retiring from politics.

INTERVIEWER: Is Mr Downer definitely retiring?

NICK MINCHIN: Well, it is my understanding.

INTERVIEWER: He hasn't said so. Has he spoken to you about it?

NICK MINCHIN: Well, my understanding is that he is retiring from the seat of Mayo. He will be a
great loss to the Coalition. He has been Australia's longest serving and most successful Foreign
Minister.

SABRA LANE: Mr Downer's issued a statement a short time ago saying that Nick Minchin suggestion
that he was retiring was presumptuous.

Mr Downer says he hasn't made a decision on his future and that when he does, he will announce it
himself and that it won't be a matter for other politicians.

ELEANOR HALL: Sabra Lane reporting.