I have often written that Costello is an impatient, lazy, sometimes drunken man of large talent and smugness and verbal wit who believed always that he did not need to lift a phone or shout a drink or collude a policy double-shuffle to be elected Leader and so become Prime Minister. His closest lifelong comrade-in-arms and ideological bedfellow Michael Kroger seems now to share this view.
‘I’m at my wit’s end with Peter,’ he told Jon Faine. ‘He could have been Prime Minister… now for five years he’s been like a bear with a terribly sore head … attacking everyone. Lunch with Peter is an agony. It’s a nightmare. You sit and listen to him unload on Howard … He doesn’t like Hewson, he doesn’t like Turnbull, he has never been all that friendly with my former father-in-law, the great Andrew Peacock … he doesn’t like Alexander Downer .. and he’s been publicly critical of Tony Abbott, calling him a DLP stooge and an economic illiterate … he was a Rhodes Scholar, for God’s sake.’
This is the equivalent of Chifley bagging Curtin, and it may go back a fair way to, say, when Kroger married Ann, the daughter of Costello’s factional enemy Peacock, ally of his sworn foe Kennett, a betrayal, surely, of the blood-brothers oath they swore as boys to take over the country, Kroger as a Liberal, Costello as Labor, if I’ve got that right. Or it may go, in its present intensity, back to Abbott’s unexpected getting of the leadership, and to the bizarre court case Costello confected against me and Random House, and dragged the nervy, wriggling Abbott into.
The facts were that Abbott took Tanya Coleman, later Tanya Costello, out on eight ‘dates’ (according to Abbott’s close friend Christopher Pearson in The Courier Mail at a time when Abbott was sexually active, wrongly thought he had engendered a child and left the bride, as it were, at the altar and was known as an arse-baring student rowdy and football jock and up on a charge of sexual assault, later thrown out. It was not explained why there was no ninth date.
And it may have preyed on Costello’s mind. And he may have got the case up, despite his wife’s avid protests — she might have to testify to her unbreached virginity in 1978, an unfashionable year for it, and on her wedding night, and Abbott might have to admit the pregnant girl he shared with her landlord — because he had to be free of the doubt, and publicly free of the doubt, that Tanya had been in some sense Abbott’s girlfriend before she was his.
Why it should matter is hard to say. A girl in the 1970s goes out with one brilliant student and then, a few years later, with another and marries the latter and talks politics to both, luring the latter, Peter Costello, away from his Labor friends and into the Liberal Party of which her father was leader in New South Wales.
The usual view is Costello didn’t like being outed as a Labor defector (after his affiancement to Tanya he changed not only his party friendships but his religion), but it is possible, just possible, that some resentment of his wife’s connection to Abbott was at the heart of it. As I said on the court house steps that week, ‘I myself would not humiliate my wife in public for even a million dollars, but tastes vary’; and it was widely thought then (by, for instance, Kerry O’Brien) that Costello in thus exposing her to unsavoury scrutiny had made a fool of himself and bruised, if not sunk, his chances of the Prime Ministership. And he may think this himself, and resent Abbott doubly for having thus distantly deprived him of the Lodge by taking out his wife so long ago and rousing him into fatuous litigation and nationwide suspicion and catcalls.
Or it may be for some other different reason he lately despises Abbott and says so at lunch, in drink, to whoever is listening, frequently by the look of it. The net result, though, is the preferred leader of the Liberal Party calling the present leader of the Liberal Party an ‘economic illiterate’ and a ‘DLP stooge’.
Can Abbott survive this? Maybe. But on top of the Class War utterances of his party, and the money coming in June to the parents of schoolchildren, and Craig Thomson’s manifest innocence, and the libel actions he will then launch against Abbott and Pyne, and page 68 of the Duffy book, he will find it harder now.
And so it goes.