On the mean streets of South Yarra, the lights are on…
While Peter Costello often cites his love of serving the people of Higgins as the reason for staying on in Parliament it’s unclear whether the feeling is wholly mutual.
The Punch spent last Thursday in the electorate of Higgins talking to the people caught in the middle of the Liberal Party’s domestic dispute and - frankly - there’s not a lot of concern about what Peter Costello does with his life.
Standing outside his sunglasses shop on Toorak Road I asked 42-year old Emidio what he thought of Costello’s indecision:
“I think he’s been a positive contribution to the country but that doesn’t mean he can’t be destructive to the party. But I think long term it can only be helpful to have someone like him; I don’t know whether that’s helpful to the Liberal Party though. But I don’t think he’s a bad bloke.”
Making my way down to the Chapel Street I accosted 24-year-old Sarah of Prahran while doing her shopping. So should Costello stay or go?
“I’d say stay on because that’s what he wants”.
Alice, 60 of South Yarra, was more or less in agreement but didn’t think it mattered a great deal to her as a Labor voter:
“He is very capable. As a Labor voter I think he should just do what is in the best interests of his party.”
Sometime later I managed to get 48-year-old Daragh of South Yarra to stop and chat:
“He’s had his go and he hasn’t made a fist of it when given the opportunity. Although he’s clearly intelligent”
Hanging around Chapel Street meant a lot trying to explain to people that I was not an undercover agent for the Wildlife Fund trying to pump them for cash and getting a shoulder charge from some inner-city type who thought dyed blond hair, leather jacket and sunnies would not make him look 55 (yeah - you know who you are).
I was beginning to question why Peter Costello wanted anything to do for the people of Higgins.
Eventually though I spoke to a helpful elderly Armadale lady who was of the age that you don’t really ask how old she is. At least 75, I would have thought. She also did not want me to use her name, so I’ll just call her kindly elderly lady. Kindly elderly Armadale lady had had this to say when asked what Peter Costello should do:
“He doesn’t seem to be doing much. I haven’t seen him around with his children for a long time. I sometimes used to . . . He should make his intentions known. Let it be known soon what his aspirations are.”
Having decided that Chapel Street elderly Armadale lady was probably the most helpful person I would find on Chapel Street that day, I decided to head towards Peter Costello’s electoral office. This would mean walking past one thousand numbers all the way up Malvern Road which dissects Higgins, and asking anyone who would speak to about Peter Costello.
Jason, 35, of Prahran was good enough to stop, perhaps out of some affinity with a fellow aimless wanderer.
“I wouldn’t even know he’s our member, and I’ve lived here a while.”
After several people telling me they don’t vote or didn’t speak English 27-year-old Zoe Partington of Toorak stopped to talk to me:
“I would never vote him, I’m a pinko leftie so probably shouldn’t be living in Toorak. But I would’ve preferred him if it was a case of him over John Howard. Possibly the book wasn’t a good idea though, it seemed like he was attacking other people in the party . . . Maybe it’s for some people as he is still a figure in the party, but I don’t know if that’s good for the others.”
Walking past more doctors surgeries, dentists and podiatrists than I think exist anywhere on the planet I walked into Vernis salon to talk anyone who might say something. When I asked the bloke at the front if anyone would want to talk about Peter Costello, I got a “wait right here” and a look of “you bet there is”.
I was introduced to the friendly owner manager Craig Hunter, 38, whose demeanour quickly changed when asked about Costello:
“I don’t understand what his role is. What is he doing? Is it his job to fix that glass window when it’s broken, because crime is just rampant around here. It’s going on with a lot of shops around here. What about the role in standing up for small business . . . I haven’t seen him around.”
Craig’s problem with Costello was two-fold, one as an ineffective local member and the other as the former federal treasurer who introduced the GST.
“Why should there be an extra tax on my services that I have to give back to the Government? They’re not doing anything to help.”
After being politely thrown out of a couple of other businesses out of fear that I was part of some Romanian gang selling-off opinions about Peter Costello on the black market I ran into Geoff and Mary Healy.
They had seen me walking up Malvern Road before they got on the tram and had seen me again when they got off. They complimented me on decision to walk but I informed them it had been forced on me by Peter Costello.
Even though they lived just over the border of Higgins in Caulfield I asked Geoff what he though of Costello’s argument about staying around for the people of Higgins:
“It’s is a reasonable argument, but I have no idea what he is doing. I think he has some agenda there and I don’t think it’s to represent the good burghers of Higgins. It would be better for the leader if he wasn’t there.”
Mary chimed in:
“I wonder if it does really have it? He has been there for such a long time.”
It was getting cold and I was tired of responses - as fair and correct as they were - like “well I’m not much into the politics” and “isn’t he in opposition now?”
Heading down towards the bottom of Malvern Road and through a series of up-market mechanics and a Jaguar dealership I came to a busy street corner where you see it: the office of Peter Costello Member of Higgins.
At this point I had little to lose and decided to drop in on the local member and just go for the entire scoop and get an interview with the man himself.
Outside I could see the lights on in at least two of the offices so I went around to reception. Completely locked up and nobody at the desk.
Standing freezing outside the office of the member for Higgins, I stood with my head squished against the glass hoping to see some sign of life but soon came to the conclusion that while the lights were on it didn’t mean that anyone was at home.
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