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 23/08/01

TRANSCRIPT
of
HON. PETER COSTELLO MP
Treasurer

Interview with Catherine McGrath
AM Radio
Thursday, 23 August 2001
8.00am

 

SUBJECTS: Singtel/Optus takeover, Kim Beazley, health, Budget

McGRATH:

Treasurer, thanks for joining us this morning. Kerry Stokes says this could be an issue that could be the biggest sleeper of all time and could cost you Government. What do you think of Kerry Stokes' attack?

TREASURER:

Well, Kerry is entitled to his opinion. He put submissions in, I gave them due consideration, but on the national security issues the Department of Defence put in place various covenants and a Deed of Agreement. The bid was cleared by ASIO, our counter espionage organisation, and other security organisations, and all of the Australian Defence organisations which have the expertise in this area, after due consideration, recommended that having these conditions in place would protect Australia's national security.

McGRATH:

Well Professor Des Ball and Professor Ross Babbage, two highly respected Australian experts on international intelligence gathering, say that Singapore has a record of spying and we shouldn't be naive about that.

TREASURER:

I don't think we are naive about any country with which we deal, that is a separate issue. The issue that we are dealing with here, is, we have a foreign controlled corporation, which is called Cable and Wireless Optus, and the question is whether you would have different foreign control. It is already under foreign control. Let's get that fact on the table. This is already a foreign controlled company. Now it's not passing from Australian control to foreign control. It is in foreign control. The question is, should it be under one current foreign control or a new foreign control. So there is no question of losing any Australian company here...

McGRATH:

And the question has been raised about (inaudible).

TREASURER:

Well, let's go through it, and then the question is, Defence uses some of these satellites and our security agencies use telecommunications agencies generally. Can their interests be protected? Well they say they can, and if they say the conditions on which they can, and that having been accepted, our security agents have cleared it.

McGRATH:

So on that point then can you guarantee to Australians that their private telephone conversations will be protected? That defence interests will be protected and that, you know, business secrets, commercially sensitive information, won't be compromised? Can you guarantee that?

TREASURER:

Of course. Full privacy laws in Australia, apply to this company. They applied to this company when it was under its current foreign control, and will apply to this company if it is under new foreign control. It is the Australian law which protects not ownership, it's the Australian law which protects Australians' privacy when they use networks, and it is provisions for fines and penalties on servants and employees and company directors, that is designed to protect their privacy.

McGRATH:

Now there is a Deed of Agreement that has been signed between the Government and this new Singtel organisation takeover of Optus. Also between the Defence Department and ASIO. Now what is in that Deed of Agreement, can you tell us what the protections are?

TREASURER:

The protections are, that as to confidentiality, the Defence Department has the right to step in and take control under certain circumstances if that were necessary on the basis of national security. The ability of agencies, which they currently have, to use telecommunication services for law enforcement are protected, and those Deeds of Agreement ensure that our security agencies have the full panoply of powers that they currently have in relation, not just to Optus may I say, but in relation to Telstra as well.

McGRATH:

Treasurer if we can move on, the Government launched a very scathing attack yesterday on Kim Beazley and the issue of the medical treatment of his daughter Hannah. But it also led to, you know, hours of debate about hospital waiting times, about the state of public hospitals around the country. Talk back calls have been, you know, inundated and a lot of them are supporting Kim Beazley and saying, hey, I have been waiting too. Now, I am wondering how you see this as a positive for the Government?

TREASURER:

Well, Kim Beazley has declared that it is a positive for him and that is really our point. He was prepared to drag his own daughter into political debate for political advantage. And when he dragged his daughter into political debate for political advantage he did not tell the truth. That is the point, and Australians are going to want to know what kind of a man draws his daughter into political debate to try and score a cheap political advantage...

McGRATH:

(inaudible)

TREASURER:

...and when he does so, falsely misrepresents the facts. Now...

McGRATH:

(inaudible)

TREASURER:

...you may say it's a brilliant tactic point.

McGRATH:

Won't the electorate also wonder what sort of party plays the man here and not the ball? What sort of party spends hours questioning, you know, how many hours Hannah Beazley waited in the waiting room, you know, whether or not, you know, she allowed herself to go to the private hospital, whether she was, you know, told straight away she couldn't go. I mean, you are arguing about quite small points, the point is she waited, there wasn't a bed...

TREASURER:

Let's just make one thing clear...

McGRATH:

Won't the electorate be concerned about that?

TREASURER:

Let's make one thing clear. Who brought Hannah Beazley into political debate in Australia? Kim Beazley. Not only did he do it by sharing with, what, 120 of his closest friends in the Labor Party Caucus, who then went out and briefed the story, one of whom was on radio and repeated the story, Jenny Macklin. He goes down to Merimbula - now let me make this point - Hannah Beazley has had the misfortune to have an appendicitis that has been treated, Mr Beazley is upset with her treatment. He could have raised that with Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital but chooses not to do so. He could have raised it with the Government that runs Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, the West Australian Government - after all the Premier of Western Australia is one of his closest friends. But no, he doesn't choose to raise it with Sir Charles Gairdner hospital, nor does he raise it with the West Australian Government, he tries to make out that this is the fault of John Howard and the Federal Coalition. What kind of a man does that?

McGRATH:

Well, can I ask you this? In the big political picture this week and in the last, you know, few weeks, there are several issues also running. Now, last weekend the incumbent Country-Liberal Party was decimated in the Northern Territory election. A huge swing against Dennis Burke. It raises questions about support for your Government, what the federal implications being, also in Queensland you have a situation where former National Party candidates are planning to run against city Liberals, you have internal divisions, you know, many, many issues that are, two days of very strong debate on health issues in Parliament, suddenly those things aren't being talked about, the Government's problems aren't being talked about, you are talking about Kim Beazley's problems. Now, how did you successfully put your concerns off the national agenda?

TREASURER:

Catherine, let's be clear about this point. Who brought Mr Beazley's daughter into Australian political debate? Not John Howard, not Michael Wooldridge. They didn't know about Mr Beazley's daughter. What happened in Canberra this week, happened because Mr Beazley chose to bring his 22-year-old daughter into Australian politics. Not only that, but he chose to falsely misrepresent the facts. And I think Australia wants to know, does he think this is a clever tactic? This is what he is saying, or would he prefer to come clean and now correct the facts, and I think apologise for the fact that he did not tell the truth in relation to this. I think the Charles Gairdner Hospital deserves an apology...

McGRATH:

Well, can I move on to economic matters. The Budget surplus is estimated for this financial year to come in at $1.5 billion. Now as you are considering what will be offered in the up-coming election, what sort of, you know, sweeteners will be considered, how important is that Budget surplus to you? How much would you like to have left, after you have offered, you know, your campaign offerings this time round?

TREASURER:

Well, we would like to return a Budget surplus this year. It would be the fifth consecutive Budget surplus, something that has not been done since the 1970's.

McGRATH:

But can we have figures? How much would you like to see in there?

TREASURER:

Well, if you are looking at the actual election, the election won't be in relation to measures for this financial year. I would think what would happen in the election is people would be putting down what they would be doing in the next financial year. That is, you would go to the election, you would come into a Budget and you would put down the next financial year. And I think, and this would be certainly the Coalition's view if re-elected - we have to continue to run strong Budget surpluses. We have been re-paying Labor's debt. We have now re-paid...

McGRATH:

Will half a billion be enough?

TREASURER:

Well we have now re-paid $60 billion of Labor's debt...

McGRATH:

Would half a billion be enough next time round?

TREASURER:

...and we want to continue to do it. But I can assure you of this, we would not be going back to the days of deficit. That is the Labor Party policy. That is what we got Australia out of, by putting the Budget into surplus.

McGRATH:

Overnight the news has come from the United States, they have slashed their Budget surplus by, their surplus projection by nearly $250 billion, the Australian dollar rallied overnight in response, you know, possibly to the Optus takeover, are you concerned about, you know, you talked yesterday about the international economy, does that increase your concerns at all?

TREASURER:

The US economy is very weak, yes. In the most recent quarter growth was near zero and the US Fed believes that things are still slowing, so it could be less than that in the current quarter. Obviously we don't know until the current quarter finishes. The US economy is weak and the world is weak at the moment. Japan is in near recession and has been for years, Europe is weakening, and that will take growth off Australia, but in that context Australia is growing faster than the United States, and the United Kingdom, and Europe and Japan. We would be growing faster still if the world was stronger but we are growing faster than those economies. But it makes the point, we have to keep good economic policy going.

McGRATH:

Treasurer Costello, thanks for speaking to AM this morning.

TREASURER:

Thank you.