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Australia's treasurer dealt new leadership blow

Written by: Staff

CANBERRA, Mar 1: Australian Treasurer Peter Costello suffered a new leadership blow today as the government celebrates 10 years in power, with bookmakers saying he was unlikely to become prime minister for another three years.

Long considered John Howard's heir apparent, Costello's leadership hopes have been on hold since Howard -- whose government marks a decade in power tomorrow -- announced three years ago he had no plans to retire.

The government feted the anniversary with a gala dinner on Wednesday, with Howard showing no sign of wanting to hand power to Costello, his anointed successor.

''If I go under that bus, which I furiously avoid every day, Peter Costello is the logical successor,'' Howard told Australian television on Wednesday in his only comment on the leadership.

Newspapers have given blanket coverage to the anniversary of Howard's 1996 election victory, but Costello, Howard's patient Liberal Party deputy, has received little cover for his 10 years as the nation's chief finance minister.

Instead, Costello addressed the National Press Club on Wednesday to spell out his economic achievements over the past decade in a speech which carefully avoided any mention of the leadership and which did not mention Howard's name.

Costello hinted at his leadership frustrations in answer to a veiled question about his favourite football club's decision to replace a ''proven, popular, premiership captain with a relatively untried'' leader.

''I don't think I agree the new captain is untried,'' a smiling Costello said. ''The new captain is very well tried and has been a leading goal kicker over a long period of time.'' That was the only leadership question from reporters, signalling that even the local media appear resigned to Howard, 66, remaining in power for some time to come.

Bookmakers Centrebet said on Wednesday that gamblers believed the leader of the centre-left Labor opposition, Kim Beazley, had a better chance than Costello of being the next prime minister.

''Kim Beazley has got a much better chance than Peter Costello of succeeding John Howard in the short term,'' Centrebet's Gerard Daffy said in a statement. ''Centrebet's book says that Howard is more likely to be PM in 2009 than he is to depart this year.'' An economic liberal, moral conservative, Australian Rules football fan and a devoted family man, Costello has been deputy leader of the Liberal Party, which governs in coalition with the smaller rural-based Nationals, since 1994.

But polls repeatedly show voters oppose Costello becoming prime minister. A poll on Monday found more than half of those questioned want Howard to stay on, while only about 30 percent believe Costello should be given a chance at the job.


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