Modia Minotaur

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Friday, November 25, 2005

Well, Is He Or Isn't He?

Why is it that Federal Liberal leadership speculation always creeps to a head as soon as the PM's out of the country? Do he and Costello loathe each other that much that their animosity has to be confined to separate time zones? A more logical explanation is that there's only so many news stories they can run about Howard toddling around in a funny APEC tunic or shaking hands with troops, thus giving the media-starved Costello's stories some oxygen (though you can never discount things coming from left field, such as the famous Athens Declaration ...)

Peter Costello's announcement, that, along with `sweeping tax law reforms' (which amount to little more than cutting out the pages which, for example, entitle every stonemason and blacksmith to three plump piglets if he gets his tax return in before St Swithin's Day) he `expect [s] to be in a position to announce more good things for the Australian public' by the time of next year's Budget has created slightly different perceptions amongst Australia's pollie watchers.

The 7.30 Report's Michael Brissenden reported yesterday that Costello's supporters have simply intesified their pressure. However, later that night, over on Channel 9's Nightline, Laurie Oakes went a step further and suggested that Howard is actively considering retirement.

Could he be planning to do a Carr?

I've said before that I can see no real reason that Howard would retire. I can still see no major reasons - though there are thunderclouds on the horizon, and the captain of the ship is in a better place to see these than us punters. Compare to Carr's case. Had Carr retired only 18 months earlier, he would have gone out a golden boy. His fall from grace was that swift, and the raft of problems he has bequeathed his successors goes to show he got out at just the right time. Howard is currently dealing with a similarly tricky hand - Telstra, the AWB scandal, and overwhelmingly, industrial relations. Yes, he has the Senate, but all this means is that he can implement his agenda. It doesn't mean people will like it. The Howard Government doesn't have the massive majority that will make it difficult to oust them if they don't like things.

There's currently two schools of thought - the `bedding down' theory and the `getting out' theory. One - Howard will stick around to bed down the 25 pieces of major legislation that will be rammed through parliament in the next two sitting weeks, because he doesn't want to wait a whole political lifetime just to see it all fall to bits as soon as his back is turned. Two - Howard will wait around just long enough to watch them pass through quicker than curry through a duck, and get the hell out.

Of the two scenarios, I still believe the first is the more likely. However, if a third scenario - the government getting voted out - is becoming more likely, he'll become increasingly likely to plump for the second. Will IR be Howard's Waterloo? Only time will tell, and it's still two years out from the election. On the other hand, if this gentleman should decide to etch his name on history ... (go on Barnaby, you know you want to ...)

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