John Roskam: Is this the next member for Higgins?
If Peter Costello does decide not to contest the next election, the party will not have to look too hard for candidates to fill the blue-ribbon seat.
The executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs, John Roskam, is the first to confirm publicly that he will nominate should Mr Costello not meet the June 30 deadline.
At a meeting with The Punch at the IPA offices in Melbourne’s Collins Street - which Roskam describes only half-jokingly as “Australia’s neo-con headquarters” - Roskam makes it clear that he isn’t calling on Costello to chuck it in.
But the 41-year-old married father of twins says that, with the constant speculation surrounding Mr Costello’s leadership plans, there is a chance for the Liberals to opt instead for change and renewal.
Roskam, who placed second behind Costello loyalist Senator Mitch Fifield for Liberal pre-selection after Senator Richard Alston retired, confirmed his interest in running for Higgins next month.
“Peter was a good treasurer but right now it’s a question of how he can make the best contribution to the party,” Mr Roskam told The Punch.
“It’s for others to comment on whether he’s doing that.
“We have got a good leader at the moment in Malcolm Turnbull and I think everyone on the Liberal side wants to see him succeed.”
Prior to joining the Institute of Public Affairs - the conservative/libertarian think tank which supports market deregulation and labour market reform - Roskam was involved in many of the more dramatic ideological upheavals on the Liberal side of politics.
But he’s not part of Melbourne’s born-to-rule Liberal mafia. Far from it. The son of Polish and Dutch migrants grew up modestly in the non-dress circle suburb of North Dandeong, and went to St Xaviers College which he describes as “the last bastion of old-style Labor Right, DLP education.”
“My idols became Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II,” he says.
It was at St Xaviers that Roskam met and befriended now Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten when the pair were in grade six. He remains close with Shorten, who was best man at his wedding, but his list of jobs and circle of friends place him very much on the opposite side of politics.
After studying Law/Commerce at Melbourne University, where he was also president of the Law Students Society and active within the Liberal Club, Roskam did honours in economics and history.
“I was at a bit of a crossroads where I had a choice between law or going straight into politics,” he says.
The latter won out and Roskam went to work for Liberal MP Don Haywood who was then shadow education minister in the Victorian Opposition. After returning to the law for a year to do articles at Minter-Ellison, Roskam went back into politics with Haywood, who as Education Minister in the Kennett Government was reviled for his aggressive round of closures of non-viable public schools.
Roskam’s policy mind and political toughness caught the eye of the feds and he was lured to Canberra as chief of staff to the equally contentious then-federal education minister, Dr David Kemp.
The private sector beckoned with Roskam leaving politics again to head up corporate communications for mining giant Rio Tinto - but Roskam says he “could not shake politics” and “got sick of worrying about press releases” so when he received a call from then Liberal Party director Lynton Crosby asking him to head up the new Menzies Research Centre in Canberra he jumped at it.
“I had always wanted to do a PhD on Menzies, so I thought this would be the ideal job.”
He regards his move to the IPA as executive director in 2005 as a natural ideological progression towards an organisation that for almost six decades has been well-entrenched within Australian and, particularly, Victorian Liberalism.
Roskam says his side of politics should continue to draw strength from the Menzies legacy and not allow itself to be convinced that it “in worse shape electorally than it really is.”
“The challenge for us now is to carve out a new narrative,” he says.
“If you are talking about Peter I would say the challenge has been there, as it is for any leader, to present a vision.
“Peter will always be regarded as a terrific economic manager but I think Malcolm has been establishing his credentials very strongly around Kevin Rudd’s debt and deficit strategy.
“The public is well and truly on to him.”
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