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Does Costello want to lead the Liberals? -

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Does Costello want to lead the Liberals?

Broadcast: 04/08/2008

Reporter: Michael Brissenden

With Brendan Nelson's political wounds increasingly being portrayed as terminal, Liberal Party MPs
are now preoccupied with second-guessing Peter Costello.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: For all the policy positions and debating points, economic arguments, and
climate change challenges, national politics is currently dominated by a backbencher who hasn't
said anything publicly for many months.

With Brendan Nelson's political wounds increasingly being portrayed as terminal, Liberal Party MP's
are now preoccupied with second guessing Peter Costello.

Dr Nelson is refusing to pressure the former treasurer into declaring his plans to stay or go, and
the other obvious leadership candidate, Malcolm Turnbull, is playing a straight bat.

Peter Costello could put an end to it all in an instant, but so far he's remained tight lipped, and
seems unlikely to clarify his position until his memoirs are published next month. In the meantime
the publicity is great for the book.

His colleagues say they'd be happy if he did decide to stay in politics but the patience of some is
beginning to wear a little thin.

Political editor Michael Brissenden reports.

BRENDAN NELSON, OPPOSITION LEADER: This issue with Peter Costello and other things is more an
obsession with elements of the media.

MARK ARBIB, LABOUR BACKBENCHER: I mean is Peter Costello serious? Is he going to take the
leadership or is this a marketing campaign for his book?

MITCH FIFIELD, OPPOSITION BACKBENCHER: Labour are working themselves up into an incredible lather.
They're so easily spooked.

BRENDAN NELSON: Obviously I wouldn't be human if I didn't say that in some, there are some times
when you wonder what is in the mind of some people.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN, REPORTER: For weeks now Brendan Nelson's troubles leadership has been stalked
by a possibility; haunted by the background talk about the prospect of change.

By the continuing speculation about the return of the man who eight months ago publicly declared he
was leaving.

Dr Nelson's own stumbles and the fact that Peter Costello still hasn't kept the speculation alive.

There's not a politician on either side in the federal or for that matter in the state arena, who
can front a camera at the moment and not be asked about the former treasurer's intentions.

RADIO HOST: Are you really going to wait until Peter Costello's book comes out in September to find
out what he's going to do?

BRENDAN NELSON: Well yes I am. I am going to wait.

RADIO HOST: Really?

BRENDAN NELSON: Yeah, look you might well say that it's in my interests if you like to put demands
on Peter Costello or the otherwise.

Peter Costello in my view has earned the right to make a decision in his interest and that of his
family, and the electors on Higgins in due course and announce it when he's ready to do so.

WILL HODGEMAN, TASMANIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: Obviously we need to get our house in order. I just
don't think we need to do it on a daily basis via the media.

In my view it's detrimental to our prospects at upcoming state elections; I don't believe it's in
the best interests of the party to have this media circus played out day in day out.

BARRY O'FARRELL, NSW OPPOSITION LEADER: The biggest lesson that we learned here, and it took a
while, was you need to be united; you need to be focused; and you need to stop believing that
there's a Messiah or miracle leader around the corner.

Ted Baillieu, VICTORIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: Brendan Nelson has my full support.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But there's only one man who can put an end to it all, and his silence is
deafening.

PETER COSTELLO, OPPOSITION BACKBENCHER: Have a good day. All the best. Have a good day. Thanks, all
the best.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So what are Peter Costello's intentions? Many of his colleagues say they'd
welcome him back.

Dr Nelson says he's be happy to have him on the front bench. But what job could he possibly take
other than the leadership?

Does he now want the job he rejected last November? Or is he simply enjoying the fact that those
who stood in his way when they were in Government are now hoping he'll lead them back.

Again, no-one seems to know. But one of those closest to him says there is nothing left to know
anyway. Nothing's changed.

MITCH FIFIELD: Peter was very up-front the day after the election. He did the right thing by the
Party; he made his intentions clear. And that was that he wasn't available for the leadership of
the Party. That remains the case today. Nothing has changed.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well would argue that actually quite a lot had changed since then. But before
we explore that, it is worth going back to have a look at exactly what Peter Costello did say the
day after the election his side lost.

PETER COSTELLO (NOVEMBER 25, 2007): I've discussed this with my family, and my wife Tanya who is
here with me today. And we have decided in fact the time has come for me to open a new chapter in
my life. I will be looking to build a career post-politics in the commercial world.

As a consequence of that I will not seek, nor will I accept the leadership, or the deputy
leadership of the Liberal Party. I want to spend more time with my family and do something for
them.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So if that is still the case, it's pretty easy to settle. You'd think a simple
restatement of fact wouldn't be too hard. After all the politics has moved on considerably.

The economy has started to turn; Brendan Nelson's handling of the climate change response has
undermined his own leadership; and there's a strong suggestion that if Peter Costello doesn't stand
the numbers would quickly drift to Malcolm Turnbull.

Is that alone enough to keep Peter Costello in the game? His colleagues point to his years steering
the Australian economy as proof of his management skills, and of the public's likely support.

But then they said that about Gordon Brown in Britain as well. And his popular appeal proved
fleeting to say the least. But for the moment it's all academic. And many of the former treasurer's
colleagues are starting to wonder how long this uncertainty can continue.

Certainly had to see them weathering another six weeks of it until his memoirs hit the shops.
Understandably enough none of it seems to be worrying the publisher.

LOUISE ADLER, MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY PRESS: Oh it's a publisher's dream.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: As CEO of Melbourne University Press, Louise Adler has had the lion's share of
the big political books of the past few years; The Latham Diaries, and the Howard biography to name
just two.

She says like them, this book has generated feverish interest. But she says she's not yet running
any sort of structured publicity campaign. At the moment of course, she doesn't need to.

LOUISE ADLER: Really our attentions' have been focused on producing the best book possible. We
think it's an extremely important book. The book is really a political memoir about an
extraordinary political career from his period, from Mr Costello's period at Monash University,
through the dollar sweets campaign, through issues like the republic, reconciliation, GST,
obviously the leadership issues, and the future of the Liberal Party.

So it's a wide ranging, and deep analysis of Australia's political culture, through the prism of Mr
Costello's vantage point; which was as Australia's Treasurer for eleven and a half years.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And the book is seen as a key part of how successful any future Costello
leadership would be if he does decide to stay.

Any wholesale trashing of the former Prime Minister John Howard would almost certainly kill off any
political ambition Mr Costello might still have.

Louise Adler says this is not that sort of book.

LOUISE ADLER: It's a different kind of book than the Latham Diaries. This is not a revenge manual.
It's a serious account of the issues that Australia has confronted. And some suggestions and a blue
print for the way forward.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Does the blue print include a big roll for the man himself? As it happens the
story may not yet be over. And the last chapter may not yet even be written.

Louise Adler says she can take any last minute additions to the manuscript for another eight days.
And she says she has no idea is there's any more coming.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And in the meantime we'll just have to wait. Political Editor Michael Brissenden.