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Howard Survives Party-Room Meeting Without Challenge

The leadership of the Prime Minister, John Howard, has survived a parliamentary Liberal Party meeting in Canberra today.

Following a day of crisis yesterday, it now appears certain that Howard will take the coalition to its fifth consecutive election under his stewardship.

The Treasurer, Peter Costello, has broken his silence on the issue today, claiming his position has not altered since last year and that he was not privy to the meetings and discussions within the Liberal Party over the past week.

Reacting to days of speculation that he might stand down to allow Peter Costello to become Prime Minister, Howard went on a media blitz on Monday to reassert his leadership and to claim that his government was not finished. He committed the Parliament to sit until the end of next week, implying that he would not call an election before then. This means that October 27 is now the earliest possible date for the poll, with November 3, 10, 17 or 24 also in contention. An election on December 1, 8 or 15 remains an outside chance.

Howard’s leadership came under renewed pressure yesterday after Sky News reported that senior ministers had told him he should consider his position. The Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, and Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Malcolm Turnbull, were reported as having lost confidence in Howard’s leadership.

By the end of a day of frenetic speculation, senior Cabinet ministers signalled that they were falling in behind Howard. Downer, Minchin and Abbott all gave media interviews to this effect. They followed a declaration by Howard that he had never run away from a fight “and I don’t intend to start now”.

It has since become known that the discussions over Howard’s leadership stemmed from the Prime Minister authorising Downer to sound out Liberal Party sentiment. Downer held a number of meetings with ministers during the APEC conference, notably on last Thursday evening. Some reports suggest that a majority of the Cabinet believe they cannot win with Howard as leader. These sentiments were conveyed to Howard who has confirmed that he discussed the matter with his wife and family on Sunday evening.

At his media appearance today, Costello sought to distance himself from the turmoil of the past week and spoke of his policy vision for the future. However, it appears that the Treasurer’s political ambitions have taken another hit with many commentators discussing his lack of willingness to seize the leadership. Costello was questioned about his courage at his media appearance today.

  • Listen to Peter Costello’s comments on the Liberal leadership crisis (Sep 12):
  • Listen to Alexander Downer’s interview on Sky News (Sep 11 – 5.30pm):
  • Listen to Tony Abbott’s comments on the the leadership (Sep 11 – 4.30pm):
  • Listen to Howard’s Press Conference at APEC where he commented on his leadership (Sep 09):
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Malcolm Farnsworth
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