There is little doubt in my mind that John Howard is planning his orderly retirement as Prime Minister. For a start he is engaging in an orgy of international travel which is not at all surprising. If you want to be remembered as a major player on the international stage you have to tread the boards in foreign parts as well as having foreign leaders starring in your own political theatre.
Then there is the fascinating spectacle of John Howard taking the rap for the decision to blatantly abandon a key part of last year’s re-election strategy. Substantially increasing the Medicare safety net will cause considerable anger and that anger will grow as the months go by. A Prime Minister considering yet another term in office would have flicked the announcement to his Treasurer or his Finance Minister. Instead the PM is doing the decent thing by his successor in the hope, perhaps, that the anger will depart with him.
The third indication of departure was the offer of the Australian ambassadorship in Washington to Mr Howard’s long serving chief of staff Arthur Sinodinos. Decent politicians care about their loyal employees and the decision by Mr Sinodinos not to accept the post does not change the fact that the offer was made. Presumably he has another future in mind that he finds more appealing.
Exactly when the departure will come is probably in no one’s mind other than Mr Howard’s but the relaxed nature of Treasurer and heir apparent Peter Costello suggests another year at most.