NEWS AND VIEWS
Wednesday, 15 August 2007
At Least Peter Will be There
There must be some Liberal Party members this morning pondering whether Peter Costello really does have the stuff to be a successful leader of the party come the day that John Howard departs. Presumably the person who had $10,000 on Malcolm Turnbull to get the job at Sportingbet's price of $6.50 last Friday would agree with the doubters. Yet we should not take too much notice of the betting market from this single bookmaker which has a substantial theoretical profit margin built in. The only way Mr Turnbull could be value at the current price of $3.10 is if you think the Coalition Government is going to be returned to office for if the Government is defeated it is highly likely that he will be going down with the ship in his seat of Wentworth.
Which is why Peter Costello, despite everything being said this week, still deserves to be seen as Mr Howard's likely successor. He at least is certain to hold his seat come what may when the election is finally held. And when you take out the bookmaker's margin he still is favourite as our Crikey Liberal Leader After Howard Indicator shows:
Not There is the Best Place for a Real Journalist to Be
That not being there is sometimes the best place for a journalist to be was something I learned early on in my career as a Canberra journalist. The occasion was a press conference by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam when he prefaced answering a question, it was about security if my memory serves me correctly, with the declaration that his answer would be something that could not be reported. I did not fancy that restriction because I thought I already knew the answer, excused myself and went to the non-member's bar. It was not many drinks later, after the arrival of my peers, that the conversation turned to what Whitlam had talked about. Armed with this "secret" information my readers read as an exclusive what was common knowledge to all in the Parliamentary Press Gallery.
There were a few mutterings the next day about the propriety of my actions but to me they just confirmed that most journalists ranked being part of the political club higher than any obligation to the audience that read or heard them. Confirmation of that came at another Whitlam press conference back then in the early 1970s when Graham Freudenberg stormed out proclaiming that the leader he had diligently served for so long had been "snowed" by the public service. To me that was a pretty good yarn - PM's top aide criticizes his boss - but I was alone in writing it. The general consensus was that Freudie was just tired and emotional, did not mean what he said and therefore it should not be reported.
Perhaps that is what went through the minds of the current generation of journalists who were privy to the reflections of Treasurer Peter Costello when he spoke so boldly over dinner, presumably with a glass of something in hand, about his intention to challenge John Howard for the title of Prime Minister and then sent his press secretary around the next morning to say all those comments had been off the record. I know how I would have reacted to such an entreaty but then I would never have been asked to dinner in the first place!
The only surprise to me is that someone who was not present at that Costello confessional dinner did not hear about what was said and write about it. I certainly benefited from not being at the annual press gallery dinners when two aspirants for the leadership of the Labor Party signaled their intention to challenge before an audience committed to keeping what was said from their audience. At the first of those held at the Lobby Restaurant Bob Hawke told the gallery members that he was still seeking Bill Hayden's job and I, a loyal Hayden man, had the details within hours that I could then make public.
The second, and more famous, was when Treasurer Paul Keating delivered his Placido Domingo speech behind the closed doors of the National Press Club.
For old times sake listen in here to the maestro Keating's performance with a delightful commentary from former Keating adviser Tom Mockridge
The journos present that night could not contain themselves from retelling the Keating lines to anyone who would listed to their private conversation. It made a wonderful story for me in the Sunday Telegraph and with hindsight did no harm to Kesting's chances of becoming Prime Minister either.