It appears the son of baptists wants to be Australia's next Prime Minister. Treasurer Peter Costello asked John Howard to make way for him after details of a strange arrangement became public last week. As Costello tells it, and he has a witness, in late 1994, when the Liberals were a mess, the younger man allowed Howard an unhindered run at becoming party leader. In return, and the P.M. disputes this, Howard promised to retire after serving a term and a half (four to five years). "My parents always told me," Costello said, "if you have done nothing wrong you have got nothing to fear by telling the truth." But there are gaps in Costello's game; lessons our parents don't always teach us. If he is to convince Liberal M.P.s and voters that he is the real thing, Costello needs political fine tuning. For starters: Be Your Own Man. Costello is a team player; he's even allowed Howard to take too much of the credit for some of the government's best work: the GST, debt reduction and low interest rates. Not only has Costello toiled at Treasury, he's lifted his side's spirits in Parliament for a dozen years. His colleagues are comfortable with him in these roles. Yet repeatedly, to the disappointment of officials and his small number of backers, he's been run over by Howard's populism. Some times you wonder if Costello has the ticker to lead. In 2000, he was considering taking part in a walk for Aboriginal reconciliation in Sydney; he said he was sympathetic to the cause, and organizers were counting on his support. Howard did not want him to participate, so Costello stayed home. He has to prove that the chief isn't always right. Leave The Comfort Zone. Costello is a Melbourne parochial and a creature of habit in an era of change. Eleven Budgets on, he's run his marathon at Treasury and he should seek a fresh assignment. Someone else will need to be blood(i)ed in the portfolio if Costello becomes P.M. If he is determined to stay in Cabinet, rather than bringing down the House of Howard from outside, Costello must learn new tricks. He could bring his fiscal discipline to a portfolio such as health or social security, try his advocacy skills in workplace relations, flex his muscles (and display multi-agency expertise) in indigenous issues, or broaden his life experience in foreign affairs, defense, science, communications or education. Act Your Age. Costello wants his colleagues to think he is a safe choice, not too different from Howard. But Costello has squandered his youthful advantage. On the clock, he'll be a mere 50 next year. But you wouldn't know it. He appears pallid and drawn. Contemporaries like Tony Abbott and Brendan Nelson still seem boyish; slightly older colleagues such as Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop exude more energy and ideas. Generational change via Costello? It's more like trading a power walker in a tracksuit for a suburban Dad in a gray cardigan. But Costello is more politically experienced, quicker-witted and tougher than his rivals. He just needs to show some forty-something flair. Go Hard Or Go Home. Costello is a workaholic, but as Paul Keating once said, he's a low-altitude flyer. When did Costello stop being a man in a hurry? He reeks of impotence. Or is that just the burden of a long-time deputy to a successful boss? Still, these days he shows little of the passion (for a fight or cause) with which he first made his public splash. Remember the 1999 referendum on a republic? Many of those in the Australian Republican Movement have neither forgotten nor forgiven the Treasurer. Costello was expected to be the supreme political salesman for the "yes" case. But, knowing Howard had poisoned the chances of constitutional change through his choice of a referendum question, Costello didn't have his heart in the campaign. His insipid performance reflected it. When Costello mentions the republic now, it's a positioning device rather than a deeply held belief. (For "conviction" in politics, look under Howard, J.W.) If Costello doesn't own the republic issue, someone like Turnbull will. Make New Friends. Costello may be serious and dutiful, but he's also a good sport, funny and a bit of a dag. Loyal? He'd shame a dog. Why does Costello bother to huddle with the crew who've consistently given him so much dud counsel? Unlike his policy work, he has not mastered the art of managing his own ambitions. Each time the matter of succession comes up, Costello fails to achieve the right look. He needs to find new sources of career advice and strategy. During quiet lunches with confidant Michael Kroger at the Melbourne Club, he should visit a few nearby tables. Be Not Afraid. It's the motto of successful people from politics to sport, religion to business. Another Keatingism is that Costello has a heart the size of a caraway seed. He's the man who won't challenge Howard for the leadership or resign from his post. Costello chips away and does not take risks. He's a cold warrior; his safety catch has been locked for years. People are still unsure about Costello's vision, achievements or ardor. He slumps in dejection when his long-view pronouncements don't stop the nation. Yet there's a palpable sense that when the chance for a political kill is there, he doesn't back himself. Costello has to trust his instincts and act on them, otherwise why would anyone follow him?