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Last updated on March 6th, 2018 at 12:31 am
It’s a two-fisted leadership throwdown in the nation’s capital! A quick update on events:
This strategy was reassuring, though not critical, for Costello. “Essentially, three principles underpinned the transition to Howard back then,” says one insider. “First, Downer was to be allowed to go with dignity and he’d be looked after, which he was, and there would be no retribution against the moderates. Second, John, the more experienced of the potential leaders, would take over, hopefully win the next election and would serve two terms – he’d go probably mid-third term. Third, there’d be plenty of time for Peter. It seemed like a good plan – you know, everyone wins.”
Sunday: News Ltd journalist Glenn Milne claims confirmation of the plan:
For 12 years it’s been hinted at, whispered about and denied. Now we have confirmation: John Howard and Peter Costello did discuss the future of the Liberal leadership at a meeting in 1994.
Monday morning: A denial from Howard:
John Howard told reporters in Sydney in the morning he had not agreed to any “deal” over the leadership with Peter Costello in a conversation in December 1994.
Monday afternoon: Costello calls an extraordinary press conference, during which he repeats the phrase “what happened” about 17 times:
Mr Costello told a Melbourne press conference that Mr Howard had told him, on December 5, 1994, “he intended to do one and a half terms as prime minister and then would hand over”.
“I did not seek that undertaking, he volunteered it and I took him at his word. Obviously, that did not happen,” Mr Costello said.
Late Monday: Former defence minister Ian McLachlan, a witness to the 1994 Howard-Costello conversation, makes public his notes of the event:
The text of his note of the conversation reads: “Meeting Monday Dec 1994. Undertaking given by JH at a meeting late pm in PC’s room that if AD resigned and Howard became PM then one and a half terms would be enough and he would hand over to PC. IMcL.”
So that’s where we’re at, more or less. Media reaction, first from the Age’s Michelle Grattan:
Peter Costello doesn’t have the numbers to blast John Howard out. But he does have the dirt to make him look bad, and he’s throwing it.
An unnamed cabinet minister quoted in the Australian:
Those who know John Howard well would say he’d never say anything like that. He’s too careful. In this game you don’t expect someone of John Howard’s experience to give that sort of guarantee.
The Age’s Michael Gordon:
Yesterday, Costello told the public what he had kept private for more than 11 years — and dramatically ratcheted up the stakes in the simmering Liberal leadership tensions.
An editorial in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph:
In the space of four hours and after two press conferences, any pretence of partnership between John Howard and Peter Costello was blown apart yesterday.
Just before 11am the Prime Minister stood in the Sydney sunshine to deny ever offering the Treasurer a deal on the prime ministership.
After lunch, Mr Costello braved freezing Melbourne winds to publicly challenge Mr Howard’s version of events.
Dennis Shanahan and John Lehmann in the Australian:
Within minutes of Peter Costello setting his own moral probity and credibility against the Prime Minister’s yesterday, the telephone calls began in Canberra questioning his integrity.
And Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus in the Age:
John Howard and Peter Costello will face off today after effectively accusing each other of lying.
Beats me how this will turn out. Over to the (mainly left) blogsters:
* Ambit Gambit: “When will Peter Costello resign? This afternoon’s press stories make this necessary …”
* BeerWulf: “If John Howard is 100% about his ‘staying for as long as his party wants him as their leader’, then I’m afraid that Johnny will be Prime Minister for as long as the Liberals are in government. Because NOBODY ON THIS EARTH wants Costello in power.”
* Harry Heidelberg: “Yawn.”
* John Quiggin: “As the government’s supporters will no doubt hasten to point out, the whole idea of a ‘one size fits all’ truth, the same for everyone, smacks of socialism. In a modern market system of politics, everyone can pick their own truth, as desired, and have more than one available for different occasions.”
* Urban Creature: “So he promised Costello the leadership? Big deal. When was the last time Howard kept a promise?”
* Mark Bahnisch: “Costello has a tin political ear, I’ve always thought, and if he thinks this will blast Howard out of office, I reckon he’s nuts.”
* Tim Dunlop: “Given that Mr Costello has basically called him a liar, it is hard to see how Mr Howard can avoid sacking his Treasurer.”
* Fraises: “It’s 2006, not 1994. We’ve moved on. If nothing else you know what electoral promises feel like. Politicians seem to forget we are supposed to be a democracy and we are supposed to have a say.”
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