John Howard has pledged to retire at some time during his fifth term as Prime Minister, assuming he is re-elected later this year.
Speaking on the ABC’s 7.30 Report, Howard said:
“If the Australian people are good enough and kind enough to re-elect me again, there are a lot of things I want to do, and I would want to approach those things with enormous energy. But I would expect well into my term, and after those things have been implemented and battered down, I would probably, certainly form the view well into my term, that it makes sense for me to retire, and in those circumstances, I would expect, although it would be a matter for the Party to determine if Peter would take over.
“…I’ve thought this through, and what I’m saying to the Australian people is I want to be re-elected, there are a lot of things I want to do for them. But well into my term, I would come to the conclusion that it would be in the best interests of everybody if I retired, and in those circumstances, I would expect Peter to take over, but that would be a matter for the Party. Now, that is the honest truth, and I think most of your viewers believe it would be the case.”
Questioned on whether this means the Australian people will be asked to vote for not one but two prime ministers, Howard said:
“They’ll be voting for a team, and I think that’s good. I think actually this election if it’s a contest between teams as well as a contest between Howard and Rudd is a good thing … I’m asking people to vote for somebody who levels with them. I don’t think Steve Bracks and Peter Beattie levelled with their respective publics. I mean, what changed their circumstances between their elections and when they retired? I mean, the glib thing is to say to people you’re going to serve three years even though you know in your heart that may not be the case. Well, I am not going to embrace the glib option. That was the approach taken by others, it’s not the approach that I am going to take.”
Howard’s announcement will alter the dynamics of the forthcoming election campaign. The ALP can be expected to argue against the value of electing a prime minister who will not see out his 3-year term, whilst capitalising on the negative perceptions the polls indicate the electorate has about Peter Costello.
The campaign in Howard’s Sydney electorate of Bennelong will also be affected by today’s announcement. In his ABC interview, Howard left open the possibility of remaining in the Parliament as a backbencher following his retirement as prime minister.