Here's how bad things are for the Liberal Party: at the moment unemployment is rising, growth is falling, and yet the front bench of the ALP are damn near running into Question Time, and having the time of their lives during it.
Malcolm Turnbull's first question asked Rudd about Rudd saying to the Australian public to "spend, spend, spend" the first stimulus package, and that given the savings rate in Australia rose what does he now say to Australians worried about the risk of a "Rudd recession"?
Before he sat down Lindsay Tanner had piped up saying that "someone's taught him alliteration, well done!" (Tanner had just delievered a speech at the press club, so he was already warmed up).
Obviously "Rudd recession" has been used in some Liberal Party focus group, because Joe Hockey gave it a go as well. But Rudd just laughed at the question and proceeded to real out figures about increases in home approvals and how there were real signs that the December stimulus package was having an impact in the face of the global economic "cyclone".
At this point Turnbull made a point of order saying that "The PM, playing as usual to the cameras..." whereupon the Government front bench fell about laughing - as it was a particularly odd criticism from a man who never looks at Rudd when he asks a question, but instead looks straight at the TV camera to be sure he gets a good grab for the nightly news. Turnbull criticising someone for caring about TV cameras is like an alcoholic criticising someone for enjoying beer.
It was a pretty bad day for Malcolm, and little wonder - when you have Peter Costello making life hell, why would he expect anything else?
This morning on AM, he was interviewed by Lyndal Curtis and her first eight questions were about Peter Costello. Only four of the questions in the interview were on IR policy, meaning that by the time Turnbull got around to pointing out the opposition's (pretty logical I must say) concerns about the Government's description of small businesses as constituting 15 employees, rather than 15 full-time employees, the issue was lost and all impetus from the interview gone in a fuzz of leadership speculation.
The Government of course has been observing this and is not prepared to just sit back and laugh. It is actively gunning for Turnbull to be toppled. Rudd in an answer to a Dorothy Dixer on the Government's response to the financial crisis drew attention to an interjection from Costello. Rudd responded:
"The Member for Higgins interjecting again. Come on down to the front Pete!"
Come on down! Pete! Geez, Rudd show a little respect! Yep, Rudd is real scared of 'Pete'.
There's a lot of bull said about Costello by Liberal Party supporters, but the biggest one is that Rudd and the ALP are afraid of him. Bullshit I says. They are more afraid of a Liberal Party united behind Turnbull, because Turnbull carries little baggage from the Howard years - he had little to do with Work Choices - and is socially moderate.
For the ALP the best thing is to either have Turnbull removed and the easy-to-tag-with-WorkChoices Costello up front ), or even better, to needle Turnbull about how Costello is the real leader of the Liberal Party, and to keep harping on about the split between the two.
And do you think the ALP might have a few quotes by Costello to wheel out at a moments notice? - heck today Wayne Swan was quoting Costello from 2001 as being in favour of an early stimulus package in the face of a world economic slowdown. The real winner though was Tanner who ridiculed Costello as being some great economic prophet and calling him the "swami Costello".
Today's performance makes me think Turnbull's days are numbered. But a couple doubts on this still remain:
1) Costello would actually have to challenge - and he doesn't have any form to suggest he will do this.
2) The Liberal Party would have to embrace a man who declined the leadership only to then destroy the man who did take it out of pure spite.
People like to compare Costello to Keating, but Keating never declined the leadership - he wanted it, and everyone knew he wanted it. He challenged Hawke and lost, but Hawke knew from that point on he was on notice to either perform or face another challenge. Hawke was beaten by Hewson's "Fightback" policy, and the ALP was in trouble, and so Keating did indeed challenge.
Keating didn't wreck the ALP; he saved it. Check out this from the great ABC documentary Labor in Power:
There is also no point for an opposition party to change leaders if their policies aren't getting the party within cooee of the Government on two-party-preferred. Changing leaders at such a time just burns another leader and makes the party look even more of a rabble.
Costello always likes to make big about how he didn't want to challenge Howard because the division would wreck the party. The truth is he would have got about 10 votes, been sentenced to the back bench and promptly dismissed as a threat. By not taking the leadership last year, and by not then signalling his retirement from politics, he is now wrecking the party much worse than he ever could have during Howard's leadership.
As an ALP man, I say keep it up Pete.