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When the Costello brothers first came to prominence, I was puzzled. Peter the economic rationalist and Tim the bleeding heart. One became Treasurer in a conservative administration. The other head of a charity. Clearly both able men. But I always wondered what their Christmas dinner conversation would be like.

Later though, when Peter became more established in his role as Treasurer, he’d occasionally give a speech about his vision. And just like his brother or other prominent conservatives in the past – Kennett, Hewson, Fraser – it became obvious that behind all the econocrat language and harsh policy that is required when one is hanging out with a bunch like the Tories, he had a vision for the country. Vision of the likes of Keating. And Keating’s vision was one of the things I loved most.

After my time working at the House, I developed the opinion that with economic credentials and a vision, Peter could be a very formidable opponent. If we thought Emperor John was tough to beat, he’d be a lot harder. Because he’d steal a lot of our vote. Him and his vision.

I put this theory to a couple of staffers from Labor. They scoffed. For they admitted Peter had “the vision thing” in a way John didn’t, but he never had the balls to put it out there. Never had the guts to take on a popular Emperor and take power in order to carry out his vision. “Plenty of vision, No balls” was the assessment. Unlike Keating. When the time came, Keating didn’t shy away. He felt Bob had to go, so he put him to the sword.

Last Saturday night, Peter started speaking about wanting “a nation with ambition as large as the continent on which we stand”, I thought “finally! After all this time, he’s going to start proclaiming his vision. And we’ll either have to have vision as grand as his, or be a one-term government.” At last we can live in a country that desires to be better than “relaxed and comfortable” and a lot better than the petty money-grubbing selfish xenophobic place we’d become in the last decade. We could be a land worthy of ourselves.

Then, Sunday, Peter quit.

As Keating said “Tip, and no iceberg”.


One Comment

  1. Well written Aurelius.

    I remember people always saying that they wouldn’t want to vote for Howard if he was going to hand over to Costello because, “Who’d want him running the country?”.

    I think I tended to just nod and agree because after all I wanted neither running the country, but I’m glad you’ve written this because as you say, I think there was a lot more to Costello than met the eye. Howard was self-serving, stubborn and frustrating, but we never got the chance to see what Costello could do and of course Howard would never let him get any lime-light at all.

    I think their relationship over the years is almost certainly an indicator of their differing ‘visions’.

    Of which, little Johnny had none.

    My first thought when Peter quit was, “Oh…so he would want to run the country but can’t handle being on the opposition”, but having thought about it, I guess he just realises that the road to getting back to a Liberal Government may be a long one, and by that time, he would probably not have the time to implement it.

    Not to mention the masses waiting in the wings for him to slip up.

    It all comes back to 1996. If Keating could have hung on, Howard may have quit there and then, and Costello could have taken over at the next election.

    We will never know now.

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