June 23

Where there is a throne, there is an altar

I always thought the Howard Government Treasurer Peter Costello’s conversion to republicanism had more to do with product differentiation from John Howard than any strong belief in the need for constitutional change. So notwithstanding his considerable and unequalled competence in matters economic, I saw it as a flaw. 

It was interesting then to see that Christopher Pearson takes a similar view.  He wrote in The Weekend Australian (20-21/6) that Peter Costello's decision to leave politics is a great triumph for the fourth estate.

“Malcolm Turnbull, the preferred candidate of everyone in the left-liberal commentariat from Phillip Adams to Michelle Grattan,” he continued “is now ensconced as the least conservative leader to head the conservative side of Australian politics. Whether Turnbull has the prudence to conciliate the right wing of the party remains to be seen.

“I suspect he does but, if not, my guess is that he won't stay long in parliament unless he wins the next election. A timelier question is whether Costello, as John Howard's heir apparent, is as much of a conservative champion as he was generally held to be or an exceedingly cautious Whig.

“For many, the decisive test is where you stand on constitutional questions and, at least since the heyday of imperial Rome, the notion of a conservative republican has always been an oxymoron. In his defence, it's often said that Costello's republicanism was mainly a matter of product differentiation and appearing more modern than Howard, rather than a passionate conviction. Certainly, he has had nothing much to say on the subject in recent years.

“Just before the republican referendum, he told me that only one of my many published arguments in favour of the monarchy had cut much ice with him: ‘that where there is a throne, there will always be an altar as well’. Temperamentally, Costello is a religious conservative, having left behind the Baptist denomination of his youth, which his brother Tim rightly describes as a radical faith, in favour of the Anglicanism of his mother and his wife."





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