Tuesday, May 03, 2005

And now the gloves come off...

Wow, Australia's (evil) health minister has just demonstrated that the gloves are absolutely off in the leadership dispute between Prime Minister (the lying rodent) Howard and his deputy, treasurer Peter Costello. OK for those of you who don't follow Australian politics closely, let me give you a quick refresher course.


Costello is deputy leader of the Liberal party, he steps aside to let Howard have a clean bid at the leadership of their party in the leadup to the federal election - which Howard then wins. Apparently they make an agreement that Howard will stand down after a term or two and give him the leadership.

1996 - 2004:

Costello proves he's a pretty good treasurer, he keeps Australia's economy going strong through the Asian economic crash of the late 90s. He is a dedicated economic rationalist that is anti-union and very pro "user pays" arguments for everything. I don't like him, but plenty of people on his side of politics do. Howard is a pretty popular Prime Minister, he's shrewd and power-hungry. He appeals to neo-con crazies and those that wish Australia was still in the 1950s (somehow not letting any side of the conservative bandwagon believe that their various philosophies contradict each other in many ways). While this is happening, Tony Abbott gains a reputation as Howard's chief head-kicker. He's the guy who does the dirty work that Howard wants done but doesn't want associated with him. Abbott is a neo-con. He's a relatively young fundamentalist Catholic renowned for his ruthlessness. Again, the right loves him (and so does Howard).

2004 - 2005:

The Howard and Costello team wipe the floor with the Labor party in an election in late 2004. They get control of both houses of parliament. All of a sudden, they can do anything they want. Their party has a hell of a lot of idealists, economic rationalists, neo-cons, and just plain cons. It gradually becomes apparent that a lot of tension has been simmering for a long time between these factions, this tension has never really created any problems before because they have all known that they can't implement idealist policies without control of both houses. Now they have it and they are realizing that their various ideologies contradict each other in several crucial ways. This is now beginning to show publicly.


Costello is the king of the economic rationalists. He feels he is owed the Prime Minister's job after being loyal for years, and, well, he was promised it and it's time for Howard to deliver. Howard is realizing that he could just hold on to his job, he's damned popular and he likes the idea of finally being able to do what he wants. Abbott now has a lot of support from the Howard camp, a lot of people on the crazy-con side of their party like him a lot more than Costello, as does Howard. Anyway, on the weekend Howard dropped a bombshell on Costello - he said that he wouldn't mind having a go at the next election in three years time. He says this a week before the budget is to be delivered by Costello, now Howard has hijacked the press cycle in the lead-up to the budget.

People have been debating for days now as to whether this was a mistake (very rare for Howard) or intentional. My guess is it's intentional. Why do I think this? Today Tony Abbott said this:

"I don't always get my own way, not even the Prime Minister even gets his own way, it's part of being a team," he said.

"Now sometimes different members of the team would prefer to do things one way rather than the other way, in the end it all gets worked out and people support the decision."

Basically, he's very publicly trying to suggest that, Costello, the ultimate team player who has always stuck by Howard, isn't a good team player. He's forcing his hand. He's publicly attacking him in order to see what he does. It's the political equivalent of walking up to someone in a bar and shouting "What are you looking at!". It tells me that Howard's comments are planned. Howard wants Costello to have a go at the top job because he still has the numbers. Costello will probably lose, and probably be disgraced in the eyes of the party. He will have to stand down as deputy and Abbott will get the job. It's the classic "put up or shut up" political play. If Costello does nothing, he's admitting that he's been acting like a spoilt brat who has designs on the top job but without the heart to put anything on the line to take it. If he acts, he loses. Howard wants to get rid of him and his faction of the party. It's going to be an interesting few weeks...