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Australia Latham's Law

Latham’s law

19 May 2012

5:00 PM

19 May 2012

5:00 PM

For those who study the succession to the throne, last Friday was a red-letter day. Britain’s Prince Charles gave a wonderful cameo appearance reporting on Scotland’s weather, his most socially-useful function since he declared himself to be a reincarnated tampon. Down under, Australia’s Prince Charles also burst back into the news, with reports that he wanted to be reincarnated into the House of Representatives. Just when we thought it had gone the way of Number 96 and Prisoner, Australia’s longest-running soap opera, the Peter Costello will-he-or-won’t-he saga, took another surprising turn. PC-PC is on the comeback trail.

Michael Kroger’s devastatingly authentic intervention has changed the balance of history in the feud between Costello and John Howard. Previously, PC-PC was the aggrieved dauphin, a man unfairly denied the leadership of the Liberal party prior to the 2007 election. Even though Howard knew his government was heading for defeat, he refused to hand over to his deputy, seeking the views of his cabinet but then defying their judgement that he should stand down. The result, to use the words of Labor’s Stephen Conroy, was the election of a ‘complete and utter fraud’, Kevin Rudd.

The difficulty with Costello’s ongoing resentment about these events is that it portrays him as a man of entitlement, someone who always expects plum positions to land in his lap, regardless of personal effort and fortitude. After all, he could have been leader in 1994, 1995, 2007 and 2009. All he had to do was nominate for the Liberal leadership. Never in the history of Australian politics has someone been so closely associated with a position he has never actually contested. Certainly, he should blame Howard for the shemozzle in 2004-07. But he should also blame himself for the no-shows in 1994-95 and 2007-09.

Unhappily, both princes have a serious wind problem. For Britain’s Prince Charles, it’s the squalls blowing over Balmoral. For Australia’s Prince Charles, the ailment is that of a blow-hard, someone who has always coveted the Liberal leadership but never had the courage to run for it.


Just as Costello wants to be the comeback kid, the royal press secretary has returned to the pages of the Australian. As usual, Glenn Milne outlined Prince Peter’s case, insisting ‘he has moved on [and] deliberately distanced himself from politics’. There was just one tiny, incy-wincy omission in this regal decree: Costello’s fortnightly columns in the Fairfax press attacking the Gillard government and its economic policies.

I have long marvelled at how PC-PC gets away with it.

One of his post-parliamentary roles is to be a Guardian of the Future Fund, which aims to maximise investment returns to meet the cost of public sector superannuation liabilities. This requires confidence in the Australian economy and the Federal Government’s stewardship of economic policy. Costello’s commentary, however, is designed to diminish public trust in the government’s financial management, thereby jeopardising investment returns.

Labor has not said anything about this problem publicly but, in the recent controversy about the Future Fund’s chairmanship, its position was clear enough. The party took its revenge by refusing to promote Costello to the Fund’s vacant chair. The Prince, of course, was outraged. He expected to be feted and promoted by ministers he had attacked as incompetent fools — further evidence of his sense of entitlement.

Another Howard government minister has been busy. Nick Minchin has emerged as Australia’s leading climate change sceptic. Some of his arguments, however, are hard to follow. In a letter to The Spectator Australia last week, he said he accepted ‘the existence of the greenhouse effect’, narrowing the debate to a question of temperature levels. The problem for Minchin is that, at various times, he has spoken of the planet warming, its temperatures stabilising and even the possibility of a ‘cooling phase’. He’s had more positions than the Kama Sutra.

This is typical of the sceptics’ technique. On any given day, they will say whatever it takes to obscure the scientific facts of global warming. These spoiler-sceptics are highly skilled at targeting the weakest link in the scientific community. In Australia, their greatest gift has been the hare-brained mammalogist, Tim Flannery — in public relations terms, a bigger disaster than climate change itself.

The spoiler-sceptics frequently confuse fact with fiction. For instance, on The Bolt Report recently, James Delingpole used the movie Avatar as an example of the excessive influence of climate change science. Someone needs to tell him: it’s just a movie, a fictitious piece of Hollywood pap designed to entertain the masses on a doleful Sunday afternoon.

By the Delingpole thesis, the true significance of Nasa’s scientific achievements was not the moon landing but Tom Hanks bouncing around in a tin can on the set of Apollo 13. So too, when Louis Pasteur and Marie Curie made their scientific breakthroughs, they weren’t thinking of the health and wellbeing of mankind, but the need for shows like ER and Grey’s Anatomy. 


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