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

Peter Costello

Treasurer

11 March 1996 - 3 December 2007

Transcript No. 2001/011

Hon. Peter Costello MP
Treasurer

Address to Melbourne Press Club Lunch - Q & A
Wednesday, 14 February 2001
2.00pm

SUBJECTS: Election, regional Australia, One Nation, petrol

QUESTION:

Just to get things rolling, Ben Knight from ABC Regional Radio. Victoria, for the Coalition, is a State where I think you have the safest and at least two of the most marginal seats in Victoria. We are having an election this year. How many seats do you expect to lose there? And which ones?

TREASURER:

I’m not sure that I agree we have the safest seats in Victoria, unless you were talking about Mallee which is a National Party seat. Certainly as far as the Liberal Party goes, if I could just interpose here, the Liberal Party doesn’t have incredibly safe seats in Melbourne as it does, for example, in Sydney where you can get seats of 17 to 18 per cent, it just doesn’t work like that. I think, the distribution in Victoria is much more even. Let me give my assessment of Victoria. The election, the Federal election will be a tight Federal election. I’ve always said that. The last one was close, and you are coming into a third term. Third terms are difficult to win. It was the third term that defeated the Kennett Government. If we’d have done a poll here, who thought that the Kennett Government could be defeated a day before the election, you wouldn’t have got that many people who had said: I do. And it was in Western Australia, where the Court Government was seeking a third term. It’s very difficult. And there is a certain view in the electorate that we change Governments over every now and then and as you’re running into a third term, that it makes it a difficulty. In Victoria that means that we have to concentrate very squarely on our marginal seats. One of the things that I think we were able to do in Victoria well at the last election was to answer the One Nation challenge. But the case needs to be argued over and over again. I wouldn’t take anything for granted in relation to that. And I’ll finish by saying I hope we get them all back.

I’m working to get them all back, and I am certainly not going to give away any seats in Victoria at this stage of an election year.

QUESTION:

Treasurer, Derryn Hinch 3AK. Being Valentine’s Day I was tempted to ask you have you worked out yet who you are sleeping with?

TREASURER:

It’s not you Derryn. I don’t know if that was the proposition.

QUESTION:

But who has taken the blame or the credit for the mantra, a vote for Pauline Hanson is a vote for Labor?

TREASURER:

Look, I wouldn’t call it a mantra, Derryn. The fact of the matter is, in Western Australia, and it would be the same in Queensland, those people that regarded themselves on the conservative side of politics who voted for One Nation used their vote to help elect a Labor Government. That was the outcome. Whatever the intention, that was the outcome. The same result would occur in Queensland. Queensland has optional preferential voting, you can go into Queensland, ballot paper, and you’ve just got to mark one. You don’t have to go one, two, three, four. So if you just mark one, One Nation, your vote wastes, it is no longer counted in the Queensland election. And if you vote One Nation rather than National Party that means that the National Party seats will go down and it would have that consequence of directly benefiting Mr Beattie. Now, whether you want to take credit or whether you want to take mantra, I think it’s very, very important to explain to people that that is the effect. And to say to them if you don’t want that to be the effect then don’t vote that way. That is the point we are trying to make. Don’t vote that way. There may be some people that do want it to have that effect, there may be some people that do want to vote out the Queensland Liberal Party or the Queensland National Party, but at least we want to explain what the consequences are. Now, whether it’s a credit or whether it’s a mantra I think that is a collective view of a number of people. On the sleeping thing, I walked into my office this morning and I called all the staff in and I said change of policy from now on, we do want to know who you are sleeping with. We only said it for sixty seconds, Derryn – it was a joke.

QUESTION:

Pam Robinson, Mr Treasurer, I’m a rural person as well as an urban person having lived in northeast Victoria. I’d like to follow on from your first and second question. A couple of things just to set the scene, I worked for four years as a travelling, as a person in the travelling (inaudible) with the Regional Forest Agreements doing the social assessment of this State and my equivalent in New South Wales, Western Australia, Queensland, we all picked up enormous information not just to do with forestry, obviously, it’s to do with regional economic development and the issues in the rural areas. One of the things that I think has come out of Western Australia is that in fact that very good information which is the most current social assessment that’s been done has not gone further than the Department that I was associated with. And I think one of the issues is, that there needs to be greater inter-Departmental information. For instance, whilst we are being asked to look globally and think globally and look at the big picture, we also have to really work at it locally. And it’s very hard, if you look at East Gippsland for instance where the average family income, the average family income is $23,000 a year. I’d like to know how you convert some of what you are saying into this, because otherwise really what Pauline Hanson stands for is the empty signifier. It needs to have a new spin on, one step forward, two steps back. If you go forward with the big picture you have to go back and (inaudible) those people. So the question is, how are you going to, with the global picture, get down to local things that people can associate with?

TREASURER:

Look, the experience in rural and regional Australia is mixed. You know, some people will tell you that every rural community is now experiencing economic difficulty. That is not the case. There are some rural communities that are doing well under current conditions. There are some towns in western New South Wales that are being quite prosperous, there are some in Victoria and there are some that aren’t. And it depends to a large degree on what the local economic base is and, I wouldn’t like the impression to be given that every rural community is somehow on its knees. There are a lot that are and there are a lot that aren’t. That’s the first proposition I’d like to make. The second thing is, I know from an economic perspective that it is much better for those local communities to be paying in their businesses 12 per cent interest rates than 22. And anybody who thinks that we ought to go down the road of an economic policy which would take those interest rates back up to 22, wouldn’t be thinking about the welfare of rural and regional Australia. I know this, that by giving diesel rebates which have taken 24 cents a litre of tax off heavy transport in Australia, you have helped rural and regional Australia. I know this, taking taxes out of exports is better than leaving them in place. I also know this, that fighting for Australian industry in the world environment is in the interests of rural and regional Australia. I know that. And the Australian Government’s case against the United States over lamb, for example, in the WTO is very important. And there is work that has to be done in other areas as well. One of the things that we announced today was telecommunications, to give the same kind of telecommunications opportunities in rural and regional Australia as exists in the cities. We’ve got a tender out there, $150million, right at this moment, to make sure that we improve those services. So, I think it is important that we get down and actually analyse different areas bit by bit. There is no uniform pattern. I think that was your first point. I agree with it, there is no uniform pattern. But I also know that from an economic perspective the strong application of good economic policy compared to what could be the case, is much more in the interests of rural and regional Australia.

QUESTION:

Farah Farouqe from The Age newspaper. Your coalition partner, the Nationals, and particularly certain key individuals, have expressed a willingness to do preference deals with One Nation. How helpful do you find that stance? Or do you wish they would shut-up?

TREASURER:

Oh, look the Liberal Party, of which I am the Deputy Leader, has made its position clear, and the Liberal Party position is that we do not preference to One Nation. We do not preference to One Nation and we have not done preference deals and that I believe will be the position of all of the State divisions of the Liberal Party. I have no significant doubt about that. The National Party, of which am not a member, nor am I the Deputy Leader, makes its own determinations. The Leader of the National Party has made his position clear. I believe under their constitutional structure their divisions make these decisions, and I am sure that they will. But I have no doubt, that it is not my place to be able to direct them, and that is a matter that the leader will be discussing with his colleagues and I think his position and his leadership on this has been very strong and very firm.

QUESTION:

David Cumming, RACV. Very pleased hear you use the term; short-term, medium-term and long-term. It gives the RACV heart that perhaps your motorists policies are currently in the short-term basket, and need to go a bit further. You are probably aware of the Audit Report that came out last week. If you go beyond the $2.7 billion, that report is quite damning of the Government’s handling of how they allocate road funds to Australia. So, we see it as flawed. You look at the rural and regional index, which leads to subsidies to country areas, an index based on how close you live to a hospital. The BP Service station at Tullamarine receives the 1 cent discount, the same as they do in Mildura. We then have the broken GST promise, in relation to the fact that taxes wouldn’t go up as well as the GST, so the RACV’s question is will you, between now and the election, look at the medium to long term as to how we can resolve what are genuine issues for the public in relation to petrol taxes and road-funding allocation, or will you go to the next election with these flawed policies?

TREASURER:

Well, of course I don’t agree with your assertion about a broken GST promise and nor does asserting it make it a fact. I won’t go down that path. I just can’t answer without picking up the premise which you tried to insert, so delicately, if I may say so, into your question.

In relation to the remote area index which you raised, I am not familiar with the Tullamarine example, but where you decide to give a subsidy to remote areas and regional areas, you need an index, to determine what is regional and what is remote. We, the Government could have tried to construct our own index. We could have started from scratch and tried to build it up and it would have taken a long period of time and no doubt the subsidies would not have flowed for an even longer period of time. What we did is we took a pre-existing index, which had been developed by, I believe, the University of Adelaide, which took into account a whole series of factors. We thought it was the best index that was going and we worked off it. Now, with all of these indexes, when you draw lines on a map, you can quibble about the details and we can feed more information into the University of Adealide to improve their index. But I want to make this clear - we wanted an objective standard. We thought the most objective standard was not ours, but somebody else who had tried to do it. You always run into this problem in politics. Wherever you seek to draw a dividing line, someone will fall on the other side. And if you move it back from this street, to that street, there is still somebody on the other side of the street. And if you move it back another street, there is still somebody on the other side of that street. So we took somebody else’s index, we thought it was the best index around. I am not aware that anybody has suggested that there is a better index. If you wanted to do so I would be happy to receive it. You probably think of constructing your own, well, we would have a look at it. But, I do not want the suggestion to be that the Government, somehow, drew those lines to either aid politically, or not. We knew that if constructed the index the charge would then be that we had somehow drawn lines through marginal seats, or had somehow drawn them to try and advantage one area over another. And so we took somebody else’s index. As you also know, the Government has paid out even far more than it ever budgeted for under that subsidy. We did not go around and say after we applied the index, well, that is in excess of the amount we budgeted. We accepted the index. We accept all indexes, in relation to petrol pricing and we pay accordingly. And you have got to take that into account. I think, from memory, we budgeted $500 million, I think we are paying out $800 million, something like that, over a four year period. So, if you have particular areas, I would be happy to receive them, but I think we most probably would refer them to the University of Adelaide to have a look at.

MITCHELL:

Okay, final question.

QUESTION:

A final one, Mr Treasurer. I have always wanted to ask this question, there is a touch of facetiousness in it. An eighteenth century satirist has made a couplet about politicians, I will let you know who it is in a moment, and it goes as follows: "Do you agree or do you not disagree; politicians, devoid of honour, wisdom or wit, not one is worth a pinch of shit." Thank you.

‘Gullivers Travels ‘, (inaudible). Not all of you are like that but I just mean…(inaudible)

TREASURER:

Well, thank you for the accolade and thank you for, obviously, something that you have thought very deeply about, and you have given us the advantage of your wisdom and I have given you the advantage of mine and I have enjoyed it very much. Thank you very much.