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A Week Is A Long Time In Politics

The past week has been one of the more interesting in recent Australian political history, demonstrating a number of key elements of the power structures in Canberra.

Here’s how the week unfolded:

Tuesday February 27

A party-room meeting sees government backbenchers criticise the government.

A dozen government backbenchers have dinner at The Lodge, urging the Prime Minister to do something about petrol prices. This comes after criticism was aired at a party-room meeting earlier in the month.

Internal party polling around this time shows a swing of over 10% against the Liberals in Ryan, due to face a by-election in two weeks time. A traditional Liberal electorate in an affluent area of western Brisbane, Ryan has never been won by the ALP.

Wednesday February 28

A “leadership group” dinner is held at The Lodge. Apart from Howard, those attending are Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson; Treasurer, Peter Costello; Trade Minister and Deputy National Party leader, Mark Vaile; Government Leader in the Senate, Robert Hill; and Communications Minister, Richard Alston. There were no public service officials at the meeting.

The ministers agreed to cuts in the petrol excise worth $2.6 billion.

Thursday March 1

A special Cabinet meeting is held at 9am. There is little discussion and the decisions are rubber-stamped by the Cabinet, highlighting the power of the leadership group.

The policy changes are announced publically. Howard gives a press conference before attending the funeral of Sir Donald Bradman in Adelaide.

Friday March 2

Howard and Costello put the government’s case in a number of radio and television interviews. An obviously annoyed Costello warns Howard and his party about the forthcoming May budget: “I’ll be looking for the support of all of my colleagues and the Prime Minister to ensure that we continue to deliver low tax, proper targeted spending and keep the Budget in the black.”

Howard flies to Brisbane to launch the Liberal Party’s by-election campaign in Ryan.

Senator Aden Ridgeway announces that he will nominate for the deputy leadership of the Australian Democrats. The party’s National President, former Senator Michael Macklin, actively promotes Stott-Despoja’s candidacy.

Saturday March 3

Newspaper reports focus on new opinion polls showing the government struggling in Ryan, and on tensions within the government over the policy backflips. Several newspapers discuss Peter Costello’s leadership prospects in the near to medium-term.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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