Mar 9, 2004

Adjournment: Howard Government: Leadership

ADJOURNMENT: Howard Government: Leadership

9 March 2004

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (9.09 p.m.) —Someone said the other day that Peter Costello was the last person, apparently, to realise that John Howard would be staying on past his 64th birthday.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—I ask the member for Grayndler to refer to members by their seats or their titles.

Mr ALBANESE —It is not a bad line, because the Treasurer seems to be the last person to know quite a few things on that side of the parliament, not least of which is that just about all of his colleagues over there have him worked out. What they have worked out is a clear pattern of behaviour that just as clearly makes him the impossible prime minister. It is that clear pattern of behaviour I want to describe here. For one, the Treasurer is a man who likes to stand aside. He stood aside for the Kennett forces when they lost in 1999, failing to put his stamp on the Liberal Party in his home state. He stood aside for John Howard in 1995. Worst of all, he even stood aside for the then leader, Alexander Downer—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I ask the member for Grayndler to refer to members by their seats or their titles or I will sit him down.

Mr ALBANESE —now the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in 1994. Anyone who stands aside in a leadership queue for the most unsuccessful political leader Australia has ever seen really likes to stand aside. The reason he likes to stand aside is that he likes things served up to him on a silver platter. It is how he got Higgins; it is how he got the deputy leadership; it is how he would like control of the Victorian branch; and it is how he expects to get the prime ministership. He likes receiving things on a silver platter because he does not like a fight.

We on this side of the House have had a chance to watch him for many years standing over there doing his `Kmart Keating’ routine. He is a big tough guy in question time when the questions take 15 seconds and the answers take five minutes. But in both of the election campaigns that he has done as Treasurer he has been famous for lighting exploding cigars in public. In 1998 he was caught fiddling Labor’s costing figures to include everything short of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. In 2001 he decided what a great idea it would be to reveal the price he was expecting to get for Telstra shares when he flogged off the rest. His bush colleagues gave him a free character analysis that would make even Jeffrey Kennett blush.

And he loves carrying the can. Who can forget the Shane Stone memo? You can just imagine the Prime Minister and his mate Shane sitting down to write that one like two schoolkids painting a big `kick me’ sign to stick on the Treasurer’s back. We worked that one out, but he still has not. And he was out there with his old mate the can again last month, defending the politicians’ super scheme on national radio while the Prime Minister’s office was putting the finishing touches to the backflip package for cabinet. It begs the question: why didn’t the Prime Minister protect him by letting him in on the secret before he made a fool of himself on national radio? The Treasurer might want to ask himself that question. Why indeed? Can it be true that he is the last to notice the member for Warringah being groomed in a soft and cuddly portfolio; the last to notice the nurturing of the member for Bradfield; the last to notice Malcolm Turnbull laying claim to succession from outside the parliament—the biggest merchant banker of them all, who will need the doors of the parliament widened just to get his head in.

From close range, the Treasurer is the last to spot another big-spending pre-election budget to shore up the Prime Minister and mess up the Treasurer’s budget figures and the last to notice the Prime Minister’s increasingly obvious Napoleon complex—the increasingly palatial extensions to Kirribilli. The only dip into the public purse the Prime Minister has not tried yet is the catering bill for the ceremony where he crowns himself emperor for life. When the Treasurer said, `Work till you drop,’ in response to the intergenerational crisis, he did not think the Prime Minister would take him literally. Yet the Treasurer seems to always be the last to know. We have all noticed it: the member for Warringah has; the member for Bradfield has; and Malcolm Turnbull certainly has. But it is not just them: Tony Smith, gone from his office in the parliament; Mitch Fifield, ditto; Niki Savva, giving up; and Michael Kroger—

Mr Hardgrave —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I do not believe the member for Grayndler has acknowledged your earlier interruptions or suggestions to him about using the names of members’ seats in their description. The fact that he has not used the member for Casey’s name in this regard—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The minister will resume his seat. I think the member for Grayndler has got the message. If he has not, I will sit him down.

Mr ALBANESE —It is often said that in politics knowledge is power. That being so, being the last to know is a very safe place to be. Peter Costello is the impossible prime minister. The Prime Minister has been talking about—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Grayndler will resume his seat and will be named if he does not.