Australians have witnessed former Federal Treasurer Peter Costello’s gradual awakening from his self-imposed political comatose state in recent months and with it renewed and possibly false hope for the Liberal faithful across the nation.
The former Treasurer’s awakening will continue to ignite leadership speculation, and generate ongoing instability within the Liberal Party and broader Coalition ranks until such time as Costello takes upon himself to achieve what he failed to do when Howard was Prime Minister - have the courage to challenge for the leadership.
Behind closed doors, the Federal Labor Government will also be feeling some anxiety on Costello’s re-emergence into the political limelight. As the longest serving Australian Treasurer, private whispers will be echoing along the corridors of the Federal Labor offices that Costello has the economic credentials and political potency to threaten Rudd’s re-election to a second term in office.
Costello has unfinished personal business in his ultimate aspiration in becoming Prime Minister of Australia. Arguably, Costello selfishly expected the prime ministership to be handed on a silver platter by the Liberal Party without having to mount a challenge, and subsequently turned his back on his own Party when the Coalition government lost power on November 24, 2007.
But perhaps 17 months in the political asylum ward has enabled Costello to reflect and inwardly confront John Howard’s and the Liberal Party’s political betrayal, his own personal fragilities, and to rekindle his unfulfilled personal ambition.
With the next Federal election at most 18 months away, Costello will likely time his run within the next several months to capitalise on Malcolm Turnbull’s inability to cut through on policy issues not only against the Rudd Government but within his own party. This is clear to see on key policy areas, including on asylum seekers, industrial relations, climate change, Labor’s extravagant broadband network proposal, and Labor’s handling of the global financial crisis.
In contrast to current Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull, Costello is deemed to offer greater policy credibility and strength in Australian voting minds and greater effectiveness in challenging the Rudd Government on key policy issues. This is evidenced by The Australian newspaper’s News Poll published on March 10 revealing Costello as the preferred Opposition leader as well as the preferred Prime Minister ahead of Malcolm Turnbull by 45 per cent to 38 per cent and 24 per cent to 13 per cent respectively.
Costello appears the singular Coalition member with the ability to extract political mileage from Labor’s management of the global financial crisis, differentiate the major political parties along economic philosophical battlelines between neo-liberalism and Rudd’s social capitalism, and diminish Rudd’s credibility as an “economic conservative”.
At a minimum, Costello has the political capital to reduce Labor’s parliamentary majority in the House of Representatives at the next election, and to position the Coalition to arrest power from the Federal Labor government by the 2013 election.
In Costello, Australians see a politician who presided over an economically prosperous and fiscally stable nation for more than 12 years, ensuring the Reserve Bank’s sound monetary policy of a relatively low interest rate environment, a low unemployment rate, job security, wages and stock market growth, increased home ownership, and increased personal financial wealth.
Under the Rudd Government, Australians have witnessed a ravaged economy, higher unemployment, increased job insecurity, a collapse in share market wealth, including significant declines in people’s retirement savings, increased home foreclosures and declines in house prices, and the disintegration of a $20 billion plus budget surplus into a significant budget deficit potentially in excess of $50 billion in less than 18 months in government.
In fairness to the Rudd Government, the global financial crisis has been the core contributing factor in the decline of the Australian economy, loss of employment and personal wealth, and family instability with it. However, it will be the response to the crisis by which the Rudd Government will be judged, and the ability of the Coalition to politically capitalise and cut through to the Australian voting public on the Rudd Government’s handling of the crisis.
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