Following a half-hour meeting with Mr Howard yesterday to discuss the Liberal Party leadership, and the treasurer’s ambition to possess it, Mr Costello has ruled out giving up his portfolio and moving to the backbench, saying he’s committed to public life for the long term.
But he’s refused to commit himself to standing as treasurer again, if the coalition wins the next election.
Mr Costello also says he Mr Howard that he believes the Liberal Party would be best served by a smooth transition.
But when asked if he was suggesting he would take no action to secure the leadership, Mr Costello only said that he was committed to Australia’s long term future. “And I want to give leadership in this country on the issues that will concern us in the 21st century.”
Mr Costello said Mr Howard did not reprimand him for confirming to the media secret talks held 12 years ago which allegedly contained a leadership deal between the two men.
He also brushed off the prime minister’s suggestion that he was guilty of “hubris and arrogance” saying, “You get called a lot of things in politics so I don’t let that worry me in the slightest.”
But the public spat may have damaged Mr Costello’s support in the party room, though he’s denied his actions were an attempt to undermine its choice in picking a successor to Mr Howard.
“This suggestion that somehow I don’t value the partyroom, no-one values the partyroom more than me. I’ve stood for election in the partyroom in 1993, in 1994, 1998, 2001, 2004. I absolutely value the partyroom.”
Speculation and mischief
Liberal backbencher Warren Entsch says Mr Costello has now damaged the government and himself, but he also says the prime minister’s failure to declare his intentions over the top job is fuelling speculation and mischief.
Capitalising on leadership problem in another party, federal Labor leader Kim Beazley has accused Mr Costello of orchestrating the leak about the meeting, so that the treasurer could put the issue on the agenda.
Mr Beazley has again called on Mr Howard to reveal whether or not he will run in the next election, telling Southern Cross Radio, the leadership crisis is keeping from their proper jobs, “They’re not concentrating on things which really matter to ordinary Australians while they’re fighting each other… There’s an awful lot that’s just not being done while Howard makes up his mind whether or not he wants to keep on being prime minister.”
Mr Beazley called the current crisis a sign of dangerous instability within the Howard government. When asked who he would like to go head to head against in the next election, he told reporters he wanted John Howard.
“What we need from Howard now is that at least he is prepared to take responsibility for the product of his deception, and that means he contests the next election, holds himself accountable.”