, Victoria , Australia
|| August 14, 1957
|Last Modifed||Karma Policeman|
Nov 25, 2007 04:48pm
Moderate-to-Conservative - Pro Environment - Pro Free Trade -
|Info||Peter Howard Costello (born 14 August 1957), Australian politician, was Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party from 1994 until 2007, and was Treasurer in the Australian government from 1996-2007, making him the longest serving treasurer in Australian history. |
Costello was born in Melbourne, into a middle-class family of practicing Christians: his brother, Tim Costello, is a prominent Baptist minister and current CEO of World Vision Australia. He was educated at Carey Baptist Grammar School and attended Melbourne's Monash University, where he graduated in arts and law. During his student years he was active in student politics as a socially radical Christian, and was for a time an office-bearer of the Social Democratic Students Association of Victoria, an affiliate of the Victorian Branch of Australian Young Labor. After graduating he became more conservative, while retaining liberal views on some social issues.
During the 1980s Costello became a well-known and frequently briefed junior barrister, representing employers in some of the best known industrial relations cases. He became counsel to the National Farmers' Federation and to organisations representing small business. Costello made his name in the 1985 Dollar Sweets case, as junior counsel assisting Alan Goldberg QC, successfully representing a confectionery company involved in a bitter industrial dispute. In the late 1980s he was identified as part of the New Right movement, which was organised to some extent in the H. R. Nicholls Society, a political discussion group focused on workplace relations of which he was a founding member.
In 1990, having defeated the sitting Liberal member (Roger Shipton) in a preselection ballot for the safe Liberal electorate of Higgins, Costello entered the House of Representatives at the age of 32. He was immediately promoted to the Opposition front bench and proved an effective debater against the Labor government of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. By 1992 he was shadow Attorney-General, and in 1993 he became shadow Finance Minister under Dr John Hewson. He was a strong supporter of Hewson's policy proposals at the 1993 elections, including the goods and services tax (GST).
Hewson's shock defeat at the 1993 Australian Federal Election brought Costello into consideration as a leadership contender. When Hewson was deposed as Liberal leader in May 1994, Costello supported Alexander Downer for the leadership, and became his Deputy Leader and shadow Treasurer. But this "dream team" soon proved a disappointment. In January 1995 Downer resigned, but Costello decided not to seek the leadership himself. Instead he supported John Howard's return to the leadership. It was revealed in July 2006 that this may have been due to a December 1994 meeting between Howard and Costello where, Costello and Ian McLachlan (the only other person present) claim Howard agreed to stand aside after one and a half terms as Prime Minister in return for Costello's pledge not to challenge for the leadership.  However, Mr Howard has denied ever making such a deal.  Public dislike for Prime Minister Paul Keating and his 13-year-old Labor government gave Howard and Costello a relatively easy run to power in the March 1996 elections.
As Federal Treasurer, Costello oversaw the return of the budget to surplus, and has kept it there since. This reduced the level of government debt, and the governments resolute early budgets may have been a factor in insulating Australia from the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997-98. Inflation continued to fall, interest rates reached record lows, and unemployment also fell.
The Howard Government's major economic policy has been tax reform, despite the fact that Howard had gone into the 1996 election promising that he would "never, ever" introduce a GST. The GST returned in the government's 1998 election policy, and Costello was an effective campaigner for it. When the GST legislation was passed through the Senate with the help of the Australian Democrats, however, it was Howard, rather than Costello, who took the credit. Costello's own agenda of labour market deregulation remained blocked by the government's lack of a Senate majority, until July 2005.
Costello became Treasurer aged only 38. Despite this he expected to gain the Liberal leadership some time during Howard's second term as Prime Minister, as per Howard's alleged December 1994 offer . After the 2001 election, however, he began to show signs of impatience, and was visibly disappointed when Howard announced in July 2003 that he intended leading the government into the 2004 elections.
He supported the 1999 referendum to make Australia a republic. After the 2001 election Howard gave Tony Abbott the key Workplace Relations portfolio, and in 2003 promoted him to the even more important Health portfolio. However, the contradiction on the Medicare safety net by Abbott has been a major embarrassment for him, and has led to speculation by Julia Gillard on May 10, wondering how Abbott "might explain how [Costello] has forced you into a position where you have not kept your word".
Costello has been to some extent the victim of his own success. The strong performance of the Australian economy during his time as Treasurer meant that his political mettle was never really tested, as Abbott's certainly was in the demanding Health portfolio. During the 2004 election campaign, Howard avoided saying whether he would serve a full term if re-elected, saying only he would remain as long as his party supported him. His success in winning control of the Senate raised further speculation that he would delay his retirement, and the prospect of a Costello leadership succession appeared to recede, although Costello remains the likely successor.
In February 2006, Costello caused controversy during a lecture at the Sydney Institute when questioned about the government's refusal to legally recognise same sex marriage. He stated, "I think we do recognise the rights of gay and lesbian people in Australia. We do not criminalise [their] conduct or behaviour." He also pointed out that the law was changed in 2004 to recognise same sex couples with regards to superannuation. He stated that marriage should only be recognised between heterosexual couples. Also during the same speech, Costello criticised "mushy misguided multiculturalism," warning immigrants that the acceptance of Australian values was "not optional."
In July 2006, the alleged Costello/Howard succession deal of the 1994 deal was made public by McLachlan, and Costello soon after confirmed the incident occurred and that he shared McLachlan's interpretation of events. Howard denied the claims repeatedly, stating the continued public drama was displaying "hubris and arrogance", and that the leadership was the party room's to decide, not a prize to be handed over by leaders to successors.
Long time Press Gallery columnist Michelle Grattan, summed up the consensus analysis of the gallery in describing Costello's actions: " Costello doesn't have the numbers to blast John Howard out. But he does have the dirt to make him look bad, and he's throwing it. He's attacking the PM's integrity and honesty, painting him as a man who offered an undertaking - without being asked - and then welshed on it. Mr Howard is left with just repeating that there wasn't a deal to give over the leadership."
Despite the open conflict between the two most senior members of the government, nothing further came of the events, with neither Howard nor Costello taking any action to remove the other from office, and Costello did not opt to resign his ministerial portfolio. Costello remains Treasurer and, at this stage, looks set to remain there until the next election some time in 2007.
In 2007, Labor won the election, and Costello soon after announced that he would not stand for the Liberal leadership, and would resign.