Liberal Party’s 14-year weapon of mass distraction
I have a friend in the Liberal Party. Not someone I agree with but a friend nonetheless. His name is Brian Loughnane and he is their Federal Director. Every so often I used to join him for coffee. In the beginning it was like a meeting in Panmunjeom (that hut in the Korean Demilitarised Zone) although the back verandah at the Kurrajong Hotel in Canberra was a bit less formal.
The discussion was not as intense. Most of the discussions were pre-negotiations about the leaders’ debate in the federal election. Nothing was ever given away, no information traded and loyalty to your leader was always a given (whatever the circumstances). After a few of these meetings we’d chat about politics (usually in the US and the UK) and I grew to like the bloke.
One of the reasons we got on was a mutual sense of how difficult our respective jobs could be. He had done tough stints as Downer’s Chief of Staff in Opposition and I was more than half way through a decade long stint at the ALP National Secretariat. Both of us had seen politics and politicians at their best and their worst.
These days when I see the federal opposition behaving as federal oppositions do, I think about my Liberal friend. Lately I’ve been wondering what he would make of Peter Costello’s lurking around the Liberal Party room in Canberra and how this has boxed Malcolm Turnbull in on policies such as the CPRS and Workchoices.
Here at Auspoll we decided to have a look at what the public made of all this. In March we asked a representative sample of more than 1000 Australians whether Peter Costello should challenge Malcolm Turbull immediately, challenge sometime in the future, remain a backbencher, retire at the next election or retire immediately.
The results were only good news for the Labor Government.
The Australian public was deeply divided over whether Peter Costello should stay in federal parliament (58 per cent) or go (42 per cent).
They were also divided over when he should challenge or leave - 15 per cent said he should challenge Malcolm Turnbull immediately, 17 per cent said he should challenge in the future, 26 per cent said he should remain a backbencher, 17 per cent said he should retire at the next election and 26 per cent said he should retire immediately.
Given the larger number of conservative voters in 55 plus age group, it was interesting that a majority of them thought he should go - 51 per cent - of whom 35 per cent said he should retire immediately.
We released the results in March. A couple of days before Joe Hockey had gone public to declare that the issue of Peter Costello’s intentions remained “a weapon of mass distraction” for the federal Liberal Party.
Joe was spot on. While Peter Costello continues his marathon, 14 year “will I, won’t I” leadership musings, the Liberal Party will appear divided, the public will be confused and Malcolm Turnbull will have to deal with the constant reference to the leader-in-waiting in his midst.
My friend Brian must be tearing his hair out.
- Tim Gartrell is the CEO of Auspoll and a former National Secretary of the ALP.
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