The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Peter Costello

Peter Costello

Treasurer

11 March 1996 - 3 December 2007

Transcript of 17/03/1999

Transcript No. 99/16
Treasurer
Hon Peter Costello MP

Television Interview - Interview with Steve Liebmann on Today Show

Wednesday, 17 March 1999

6.45 am

E&EO

SUBJECTS: Tax reform, Senate

LIEBMANN:

Kim Beazly has outlined the Labor Party’s broad new policy directions in a major speech he delivered in Melbourne yesterday and among them is a proposal to curb the power of the Senate so that it couldn’t block important legislation. To the Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello, they were fighting words and in fact he’s challenging Mr Beazley to back the Government now on tax reform. Mr Costello joins us from our studios in Parliament House in Canberra.

Treasurer, good morning, thank you for joining us.

TREASURER:

Thanks very much Steve.

LIEBMANN:

You and Peter Reith have come out with both barrels firing following Kim Beazley’s speech yesterday. What is wrong with a political party leader articulating a broad vision for the country he would like to lead.

TREASURER:

I think that’s an important thing to do and if you’d have seen something concrete in the speech yesterday it would have been Mr Beazley’s first chance of doing that. But the fact, Steve, that there wasn’t any real proposal in yesterday’s speech, apart from one which really interested me, which was Mr Beazley saying the Senate should stop obstructing Budgets and major legislation. And of course he is currently in the process of obstructing Budgets and major legislation. So I felt that if he was serious about that and that was his concrete proposal he ought to do something about it. He ought to announce now that Labor will cease obstructing the Government’s tax reform and will cease trying to attack our Budgets.

LIEBMANN:

Well on that point, do you support Constitutional reform to limit the Senate’s power to block the Budget and do you support four year terms?

TREASURER:

Well I think that there’s a lot in some of those proposals, but the point I made yesterday is you wouldn’t have to limit the Senate’s powers if the Labor Party wasn’t intent on using those powers to try and destroy tax reform. You see, you can go the long way around these things and say take away the powers of the Senate to obstruct. Or you can go the short way which is for Labor to sit down and say we will now recognise the outcome of the election and pass the legislation.

LIEBMANN:

And yet back in 1975 the Coalition, the Conservative Coalition, did exactly the same thing to destroy a government.

TREASURER:

Well, back in 1975, it’s true that the Coalition took action to try and call an election in the Senate, I freely acknowledge that. But back in 1975 you had a totally different situation on the subject of tax reform. Before the last election we knew that if we didn’t go to the people with a clear mandate and ask for a clear endorsement of policy we’d have trouble getting tax reform in Australia. It had defeated governments for 70 years. And so we said to the electorate, look, if you want tax reform vote for us. Here it is, we put it out there. We dotted every I, we crossed every T. That was in October of last year. It’s less than six months later. We were elected to do that. The legislation in the Parliament enacts that to the letter and all we’re asking for is to be able to implement what we’d promised. Now Mr Beazley says he’s against Senate obstruction. There wouldn’t be Senate obstruction if it wasn’t for Mr Beazley.

LIEBMANN:

So is the Treasurer inclined to say to the Opposition Leader, look, I’ll do you a deal, pass the tax reform package and then we’ll sit down and talk about reforming the Senate.

TREASURER:

Oh look, I’m very happy to talk about reforming the Senate, but to reform the Senate, Steve, you’ve got to get a Bill through the Parliament, you’ve got to call a referendum, you’ve got to hold a referendum – you know that might be a five year process …

LIEBMANN:

Sure.

TREASURER:

I don’t know it might be a ten year process. Looking at referendums in this country it might be a 50 year process. But I’m quite happy to do that, but in the interim you could have a vote in the Senate next week.

LIEBMANN:

Right.

TREASURER:

Senate obstruction in this country could cease on Monday of next week and all Mr Beazley has to do is say one word. So, look, let’s talk about a five, a ten or a fifteen year plan but let’s all talk, let’s focus for the moment on next Monday’s plan. Could we focus on next Monday’s plan. On next Monday these tax bills are in the Senate. All Mr Beazley has to say is Senate obstruction is ended and they go through.

LIEBMANN:

OK. Just one final question. Talking of talking. You’ve also got to talk and convince Senator Brian Harradine and I’m wondering whether you’re getting sick and tired of all the attempts to deal with him, all the efforts to talk to him, as far as the reform package is concerned. I mean the latest is this proposal to water down a safe sex education package that the Government is funding. Are you sick of playing games with him?

TREASURER:

Well, look, I’ll go on talking to Senator Harradine as long as is necessary to accomplish tax reform. And ….

LIEBMANN:

No matter what then?

TREASURER:

Well I’ll go on talking to him, I’ll go on talking to him. But, you say are you sick of talking to him. You don’t want to blame Senator Harradine for all of the Senate obstruction. The one reason why Senator Harradine at, the moment, calls all the shots in the Senate is that Mr Beazley votes against everything. If Mr Beazley wasn’t obstructing everything, then Brian Harradine’s vote wouldn’t be the key vote. Now, if Mr Beazley next Monday says tax reform goes through, Senator Harradine can’t stop it. It’s only because Mr Beazley votes against everything that you get this situation. If you have this situation I’ll go on talking to Senator Brian Harradine as long as he’ll talk to me.

LIEBMANN:

OK. And thank you for talking to us.

TREASURER:

Thanks very much Steve.

LIEBMANN:

Thanks Treasurer.