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When Old Friends Collide and Don’t Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

Peter Costello and Michael Kroger, probably the two biggest names in the Liberal Party in Victoria are now two former friends who have managed to cause a temporary rift in the Liberal Party the day after Tony Abbott’s budget reply. The largely behind-the-scenes falling out, in a somewhat dramatic and at least fairly unexpected manner emerged this morning in a radio interview with one of the protagonists, Mr Kroger.

We know that Peter Costello never got along with John Howard in a personal sense, famously never sharing a meal together at the Prime Minister’s residence in the entire time that Mr Howard was Prime Minister. So stories between and involving them were never a surprise, with the occasional breakout in basically muffled hostilities that were rarely, until the later Howard years, aired in public.

But this story is different. This is about a man, whom Michael Kroger (and probably many in the general public) sees as full of ego, a man that holds a grudge and just bloody well needs to get over it for the good of the parliamentary party and to simply heal old wounds.

But above all else, this is about, as Kroger alleges, the constant sniping at the leadership of Tony Abbott by the former Treasurer and could’ve/would’ve been Prime Minister. The claims of seeking a return to parliament should really be taking a backseat.

Why should the claims of Mr Costello wanting to make a return to the parliament not be seen as the main game in this whole debate? Well, simply because they have not, regardless of the level of truth to the allegations, come to fruition. Costello has not announced his intention to return to the parliament and indeed denied it in a statement released today on his website. When something doesn’t come to fruition why treat allegations that it was going to as the focus of attention?

What is relevant are the potshots being taken at the current leader by the former Treasurer Peter Costello. In the long run that probably won’t change much and evidently hasn’t given the consistently strong poll standings for the Coalition led by Tony Abbott.

But like it or not, the events of today are at least a minor ruction which must not continue to develop.

Michael Kroger has to accept some of the blame for the temporary public ugliness that has escalated today. At the very least, until recent days the idea of Peter Costello being around in the public discourse, whether in parliament or allegedly talking about a return to Canberra was so slim as to be completely non-existent.

If the reported outcome of a return to parliament didn’t transpire and as it turns out, it hasn’t, then why the need to air the dirty laundry in such a loud and public way? It could be that it was thought that bringing the matter to the public would terminate the matter in a prompt way and cause Mr Costello untold embarrassment. Maybe the matter threatened to explode? We’ll never know.

Peter Costello must though indeed cease for the good of the party from any future attempt at undermining the position of a leader who has for a long time maintained an election-winning lead. Of less importance is a reconciliation between Costello and Howard and even Downer who has also attracted barbs from Mr Costello.

What we do know now is that two friends are no longer and Peter Costello has not signalled a return to the parliament and that’s where it should be left, but it probably won’t be and may play out for a few more days yet in the media, even though the issue appears to have been exhausted.

Costello Gets a Gong That Will Make Him Feel at Home Even Though it’s in Queensland

In politics, not many come any bigger than Peter Costello, long-service Treasurer in the Howard Government and despite their personal relationship, one of his strongest political lieutenants. His political stature above all else is what he is known for. He and Howard were confronted with a budget in deficit in 1996 and $96 billion in government debt accrued by the Labor Government before them. He did that and did that well delivering surplus after surplus in the decade-plus of the Howard Government. He was a big-hitter with a big ego that was matched by big performances in his portfolio, in the parliament with his stinging attacks on the long-term Opposition, and also outside of it against the same team, his humour often dry and biting when in full flight.

But yes, aside from his personality it was his performance as Treasurer that won him and the government he represented the most support from the Australian people. Just recently against advice he was knocked back as the next chairperson of the Future Fund that he created in the later years of the Howard-Costello partnership to fund future costs of the public sector superannuation.

Costello missed that gong just a short period of time ago and with an incoming LNP Government under Premier Campbell Newman and Treasurer Tim Nicholls in Queensland, which was swept to power in such a dramatic fashion on Saturday night, has found himself in a position to do what he does best. The former Australian Treasurer will chair a Commission of Audit to recommend a path or paths forward for a new LNP Government looking to take the Queensland economy forward after 20 of the last 22 years under the Australian Labor Party.

At the end of the year it is projected that Queensland will find itself in $62 billion dollars of debt as reported by the new Queensland Treasurer, Tim Nicholls in his statement today while announcing the appointment of Mr Costello as commission chair. Looking at the state of the books and how to reduce this  debt so LNP promises can be delivered will be part of the task ahead for the audit committee where he will be joined by Dr Doug McTaggart of QIC and Professor Sandra Harding, former Under Treasurer of Queensland and now Vice Chancellor of James Cook University.

The former economic manager in the Howard Government will also, through charting possible ways of cutting down debt and inefficiencies in the government spending, hopefully plot a course back to a AAA credit rating with Queensland, despite its mineral resources and the wealth they create, being the only mainland state without the full credit rating.

The cuts look like being deep and hard, with some programs already being dismantled by the newly sworn Premier Newman and his Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney and Treasurer Tim Nicholls. Tomorrow the other ministers responsible for government departments will be named and will get to work after being sworn in by the Queensland Governor early next week, doing the same to already identified programs in their respective gambits of responsibility.

One thing is for certain, Mr Costello will be at home examining the Queensland economy and government spending and the budget priorities of the current and past governments and just where they fit in terms of efficiency and priority and helping to navigate Queensland to a better fiscal position along with the rest of his team and with the LNP Government who will make the final important decisions after being provided with the learned advice.

The Sunday Sandwich (That’s a Wrap)

The hostilities in the battle that is Australian politics have ceased for the week as our politicians rest and recuperate for the last sitting week until the May budget begins next week. It was a frantic week in Australian politics with plenty of vigorous and often over the top debate. Parliament this week welcomed (well mostly), Senator Bob Carr, the new Gillard Government Minister for Foreign Affairs, a former NSW Premier and more recently private citizen who brought some public commentary baggage to the role and created controversy with comments this week on Papua New Guinea. Our politicians, particularly Coalition, ALP and the Greens were engaged in fierce debate over tax cuts to big and small business related to the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) before the Senate. There was also debate over the appointment of a new Future Fund chairperson and for a time, debate on customs and border protection.

Sadly, Saturday saw the passing of Margaret Whitlam, wife of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam at the age of 92 not long after a fall which saw her hospitalised. Gough and Margaret Whitlam shared an enduring partnership, a testament to their undying love for each other which lasted almost 70 years.

Parliament House in Canberra saw the arrival of a person who Labor seem to be resting an amount of their hopes on, Senator and new Foreign Minister, Bob Carr. The Senator sat on the back-bench for his first day of parliament after being officially welcomed as a member of the Senate on the first sitting day of the week. Later that day Senator Carr was sworn in by the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce as a minister and member of the Executive Council.

It didn’t take long for the newly sworn minister to create controversy with comments threatening to impose sanctions on the PNG Government if their political woes are not resolved. This quickly drew rebuke from the government in Papua New Guinea and just as swiftly led to a political backdown of sorts with the Senator saying his comments were taken out of context.

The Minerals Resource Rent Tax, or MRRT for short again took a central role in the political debate of the nation, a part that it has played since the Gillard Government re-negotiated and re-framed. The MRRT, before the Senate has caused the Greens and the Coalition, according to the Labor Party at least agree that higher taxes for big business are the go, even though the Coalition have clearly stated that they oppose the tax and therefore the tax cuts associated with the package. The tax will go to a Senate vote next week.

The Future Fund has received a big focus this week through the Gillard Government selection for the role, businessman and recent education review chief David Gonski getting the gong. A government nomination for a public board is usually a political appointment so there is nothing new from this angle on the appointment of Mr Gonski.

What is different though about this is the utterly shambolic process entered into by the government and the fact that the ALP Government did not listen to the recommendation of the board. David Gonski was appointed to search for a replacement to the outgoing head of the Future Fund and to  consult with other members of the board for their thoughts. The board wanted current member, Peter Costello, the former Treasurer and creator of the fund and the government then went ahead this week and announced that the man who was to search for the replacement, Mr Gonski himself would be appointed to the role, ruffling feathers.

Customs and border security earned a place in Question Time and political debate in Canberra this week and in the NSW Parliament after an Australia Post licensee in the Sydney suburb of Sylvania Waters was charged with importing and selling 150 Glock firearms since August 23 last year police allege. Both Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell linked this crime to customs and border security.

Parliament returns again next week for the final sitting week before the budget is handed down by Treasurer Wayne Swan in May and looks set to continue to be a fiery affair. The Minerals Resource Rent Tax will face a vote this coming week in the Senate and looks set to be the focus of most debate in both chambers for the week and undoubtedly outside of the parliament. The Fair Work Investigation into Craig Thomson will surely share some of the focus at least as fair as the Coalition strategy goes. The only question remaining is what unknown issues will take up the remaining attention of our parliamentarians as they race toward the major fiscal announcement in May?

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