Peter Costello and carbon credits were two areas of intense debate in private discussions at Australian Leadership Retreat at Hayman Island.
Peter Costello and carbon credits were two areas of intense debate in private discussions at Australian Leadership Retreat at Hayman Island. Costello was a late cancellation and so the meeting of many of Australia’s top executives at Hayman was dominated by the new Labor ministers led by Prime Minister Rudd, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Treasurer Wayne Swan, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese.
But there were a few odd coalition members there who were listening intently to what the Prime Minister had to say and suddenly saw an opportunity. The first opportunity was that if the Federal Government imposed a $40 to $50 carbon tax, then the Alcoa Point Henry aluminium refinery would almost certainly shut. With it would go two or three key seats in the Geelong area. That would almost be enough to make Peter Costello prime minister, if he were leader of the Opposition.
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While the overwhelming view at Hayman was that carbon was causing the world to warm, there was a view held by the minority that for the last seven years the world has not increased in temperature and that carbon may not be the contributing factor. Among the business people at Hayman there was a view that if Australia were going alone it should start with a low carbon tax that wouldn’t result in the closure of Point Henry and other plants. It’s the kind of issue that’s tailor made for Peter Costello.
And there was a second pro-Costello story canvassed – that Four Corners would be talking about Malcolm Turnbull’s past, which would make it hard for him to challenge Brendan Nelson for the top job. The publicity was expected to raise doubts about him – perhaps unfairly. The report aired on Monday night but it didn’t pack enough punch to knock Turnbull out.
At Hayman, Rudd was the first to admit that what Australia did on greenhouse gases would not change the level of carbon in the atmosphere if others did not follow. But the Australian action was designed to be an example to the region, over the longer term it would help the economy because we would already have made the required changes ahead of the rest of the world. He admitted there would be a price to pay for this benefit.
The prospect of an economic downturn and the potential to gain a few seats after the closure of the Alcoa plant sent Coalition supporters at Hayman into rare smiles. But Costello was not there. Instead the Costello family was represented by his brother, World Vision chief Tim Costello. The Liberals know that while Brendan Nelson might have good political instincts the community has been turned off him, just as they had been turned off Kim Beazley. Once that happens you have no hope.
The rumour around Hayman was that he has done a deal with Brendan Nelson whereby Nelson will hand over to Costello – just like Alexander Downer passed the baton to John Howard. Costello would be a formidable foe at the helm of the Liberal party at a time when Australia’s prosperity was being threatened by an economic downturn and the daunting prospect of carbon constraints were just around the corner. But alas, he is not.
Nor was he at Hayman, so there is still a lot of wishful thinking among the Liberal party.
This article first appeared on Business Spectator