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Costello comments please some, not others -

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Costello comments please some, not others

The World Today - Thursday, 11 September , 2008 12:52:47

Reporter: Lyndal Curtis

ELEANOR HALL: But we begin with politics in Canberra. And he says he doesn't want the Liberal
leadership but Peter Costello is still refusing to leave the federal parliament.

This morning some of his colleagues said his failure to clarify his intentions earlier, as
leadership speculation swirled around him, was "unhelpful".

But senior Liberals now say their current leader, Brendan Nelson, has been given room to do his job
and Dr Nelson is certainly trying his hardest to bat away any further leadership speculation.

In Canberra, chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis reports.

LYNDAL CURTIS: There was so much talk of clear air this morning, you could be forgiven for thinking
it was another stage of the climate change debate.

But the clear air this time came from Peter Costello's decision to say thanks but no thanks to
those calling on him to stay in politics and take up the party's leadership.

Senior Liberals Nick Minchin on AM and Andrew Robb on Radio National kicked off the clean air
frenzy.

NICK MINCHIN: The speculation about the possibility of Peter remaining in parliament and putting
his hand up to be leader has not been helpful for Brendan so I think Peter clarifying his position
as clearly now clears the air for Brendan.

ANDREW ROBB: I think the intent of everybody is to give Brendan every possible opportunity. Well,
you know, he's had his hands tied to some extent in recent months because of all of this sort of
speculation. I think now that the air is cleared, I think it gives him a real opportunity to get on
and lead the party.

LYNDAL CURTIS: While Mr Costello does not want to be leader, he's not put a timetable on when he'll
leave parliament for his post-political career.

But the frontbenchers were having none of any further speculation that while Mr Costello is in
parliament, there's still hope for those wanting him to lead.

NICK MINCHIN: He's removed from public debate speculation about him putting his hand up to be
leader. He has made it absolutely clear that is not his plan or intention. It is his plan to leave.

ANDREW ROBB: I do think though that, you know, he's made it clear that at some stage he will be
moving on to the next chapter in his life and that's the important thing. It cleared the air on
that.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Brendan Nelson who has for some weeks now acted as a man who knew what Peter
Costello would do has told ABC local radio in Melbourne the former treasurer has drawn a line under
all the speculation.

BRENDAN NELSON: He said that he would not be seeking the leadership, that he supported me and me
leading us through to the next election and that he will continue to serve the people of Higgins.

I am very resilient and I'm very determined and I will be leading us through to the next election.

LYNDAL CURTIS: There's no question that Mr Costello's actions which saw the party effectively held
hostage to his book deal have done him some internal damage. Liberal backbencher Don Randall says
it has been a distraction.

DON RANDALL: Well whether it's teasing or just playing a bit of a game, that in itself hasn't
necessarily helped the current leadership.

LYNDAL CURTIS: But while the Coalition's and Dr Nelson's opinion poll ratings are still in the
doldrums, there's still an undercurrent of possibility about a change.

Liberal frontbenchers and backbenchers are saying they are supporting the current leadership and
are dismissive of any talk of an imminent challenge by the shadow treasurer Malcolm Turnbull.

Don Randall says Dr Nelson should be left alone to get on with his job.

DON RANDALL: I think if the media start leaving him alone a bit and letting him get on with his
job, you'll find the real Brendan out there and showing what a good sort of person he would make as
prime minister.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Some but not all of the damage done to the party has been ended by Mr Costello
having finally, publicly ruled himself out as a leadership chance.

But with the party wanting to get back to the topic of the future, Mr Costello's memoirs will
continue to see it haunted by the past for a while.

Brendan Nelson and Andrew Robb are trying to turn the focus forward.

BRENDAN NELSON: Personally I think it would be much more productive if we were focused on petrol,
cost of living pressures, pensioners trying to live on $273 a week, a faltering economy, people
losing their jobs and Australians being worse off under Mr Rudd.

ANDREW ROBB: We need to move on. I mean that will be interesting history but we are now, I say to
you, very much focused on the future.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Part of Mr Costello's memoirs do look at what he believes the party needs to do for
the future. Part of that, he says, is changing party structures to end the cult of the leader that
surfaced during the Howard years. But Nick Minchin says that's just the way the party has always
been.

NICK MINCHIN: We do imbue in our leader enormous authority. That is just a statement of fact. That
can be an advantage that we have over the Labor Party in many respects but I acknowledge Peter's
observation and I think it has been true of the Liberal Party since its formation.

ELEANOR HALL: And that's the Liberals' Nick Minchin ending that report from Lyndal Curtis.