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Spring 2001 cover

National Observer Home > No. 50 - Spring 2001 > Editorial Comment

Mr. Peter Costello: a Poor Man's Paul Keating

Mr. Peter Costello clearly is not as intelligent as Mr. Paul Keating, the former Prime Minister, but reflection reveals that there are essential similarities in their respective personalities and policies.

Mr. Keating was of course a Labor Party politician, but Mr. Costello's early associations with the Labor Party are very significant and should not be forgotten. It has been commented of Mr. Costello by a biographer, Tracey Aubin,1 "The record shows that in the late 1970s, his links to the A.L.P. and significant figures in it were close and substantial . . . Labor was beginning to count Costello as one of its own as early as 1976." She states, "Costello's involvement with young Labor at this time was an active one. In 1976 and 1977 he was an energetic member of a team campaigning to take control of the Shop Assistants' Union from the National Civic Council and reaffiliate it to the National Labor Party." She states that Mr. Costello took part in Young Labor Conferences, where he was seen voting, and that in May 1978 he attended an intensive Labor "school" or training camp, which Mr. David Cragg has described as being "for full-on member activists". At a similar school in 1979, Ms. Aubin states, Mr. Costello's name appeared just above that of Mr. Paul Keating. It will be recalled also that Mr. Costello's brother, the Reverend Tim Costello, is generally perceived to have a leftish rather than a conservative position, and has actively criticised many policies of the Coalition government. Is this merely a coincidence, or does it have substantial significance?

In economic policies there are more similarities than differences between those of Mr. Costello and those of Mr. Keating. Further, in social matters, Mr. Costello's views are closer to those of Mr. Kim Beazley than to those of social conservatives. For example, it has been commented that Mr. Costello "unlike John Howard, has sympathised with saying 'sorry' to the (mythical) 'stolen generations' and . . . 'marched' in Melbourne in support of that jejune view" and that he "having previously allowed himself to be seen as a constitutional monarchist, subsequently thought  it politic to opt for a republic".2 

Mr. John Stone, perhaps Australia's leading commentator on economic and social principles, has raised the question whether traditional Liberal voters could now go on voting for a party led by Mr.Costello "whose cultural views appear more in line with those of Beazley than of Howard".3 This position has been exacerbated by Mr. Costello's left-of-centre economic policies, whereby he inappropriately introduced an unnecessary and badly-conceived goods and services tax. Likewise in 2000 Mr. Costello supported the introduction of legislation on trusts which was badly conceived and which was directed primarily against the small-business and small-investor community.4 The draft legislation was so harshly drawn, and led to such criticsm and determined opposition, that Mr. Costello was forced to withdraw it. The wonder is, not that it was withdrawn, but that Mr. Costello tried so hard to enact such ideological legislation from a left-of-centre position. Mr. Stone has rightly pointed out,5 "The divide between conservative voters (whether of the Right or Left) and the New Class crowd who now dominate Labor and who, under Costello, would also dominate the Liberal Party, is not about economics. It is about cultural values national sovereignty, judicial activism and the rule of law, crime and punishment, the role of the family in society, the work ethic, the continued appeasement of the Aboriginal 'industry' and the 'victim' industry more generally, immigration and refugee policy, old-fashioned patriotism versus internationalism, and so on."

On all these issues Mr. Costello stands squarely with Australian Labor Party and New Class prejudices. Indeed, if he replaces Mr. Howard, the Liberal Party will compete with the Australian Labor Party as a party of the social left.

These matters have long been appreciated by the Australian media, whose political commentators are almost uniformly pro-Labor. There has been a lengthy campaign by for example "The Age" (one of the most politically  biassed and dishonest Australian newspapers) in Melbourne to belittle Mr. Howard and to support Mr. Costello, and further support for Mr. Costello has been lent by commentators in "The Australian" and "The Sydney Morning Herald" in particular.6 

It will be recalled that from the 1980s much damage was caused to the Liberal Party by the destabilising  conduct of Mr. Andrew Peacock. Mr. Costello, however, now provides cause for even 

National Observer No. 50 - Spring 2001