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 25/09/2001

TRANSCRIPT
of
HON PETER COSTELLO MP
Treasurer

2GB with Philip Clarke

Tuesday, 25 September 2001
8.15 am


SUBJECTS:
Polls, War Against Terrrorists, Ansett, Football

CLARKE:

Well, joining me in our Canberra studio is the Federal Treasurer, Mr Peter Costello. Mr Costello, good morning.

TREASURER:

Good morning Philip, and you're well?

CLARKE:

I am well. You've, you must be having a chirpy kind of morning I suppose, looking at those polls this morning. I mean, you, a while back claiming under-dog status. Well, you can hardly claim it now on the basis of those polls which show the Coalition streets ahead.

TREASURER:

Oh well, they bounce around a lot Philip. A couple of months ago we were, the polls told us that the Labor Party was well in front. Today the polls say that the Coalition is in front, they bounce around. I wouldn't take too much out of them, except to say that they are bouncing around and either party could win the election. I think that is the biggest point that comes out of the polls.

CLARKE:

Umm, what, you'd still see Mr Beazley as a chance on, based on those figures this morning?

TREASURER:

Well, Mr Beazley has been in front in the polls in the earlier part of this year. I think his problem was always going to be, once we get to the business end of the electoral cycle, the fact that he hasn't had any policies after 5 ½ years, I think, would cause trouble for him. And unless he can come out and announce his Rollbackwards policy, and some other policies, I do think he will be in trouble when the campaign comes, because people want to know, if he wants to be Prime Minister, what he stands for. And after 5 ½ years I don't think they know yet.

CLARKE:

I mean, I wonder whether that is going to happen. I mean with, there has been, obviously, huge distractions and maybe it is a little flip, I suppose, to be talking about political advantage and so on, in these circumstances, but I wonder whether the debate will switch back once we are near a campaign date to some more nitty gritty domestic details here in Australia. Do you think it will?

TREASURER:

I think it will. I think when the campaign arrives, people will want to know what the vision of the leaders is, what the vision of the political parties are, what they are going to do, how they are going to build a better Australia. And that is why, I think, when they do switch back to those sorts of issues, unless he can come up with some policies I think he will be in a lot of trouble. I think his real problem has been, for 5 ½ years now he hasn't had any policy, and it starts to catch you out after a while if people don't know what you stand for.

CLARKE:

Eighteen past eight, this is the Federal Treasurer, Mr Costello, 2GB 873. Mr Costello, what are your advisers telling you about the economic situation at the moment. I mean, it is most uncertain, I must say. I just spoke to an insurance expert a while ago who said, look, you know, this is going to impact on premiums everywhere around the world. I mean that is just one small, small part of it, I mean that is another cost into the economy. But there are bound to be others as America, essentially, puts itself on a war footing. You have seen the Australian dollar, you know, slide. I think it was 49 cents a short while ago. I mean, what are they saying about the implications to the Australian economy of what has happened?

TREASURER:

Well, as far as the terrorist attacks are concerned the most direct, economic effect will be in the insurance industries and the aviation industries, because insurers will face massive claims rising out of the loss of life, and damage, and destruction to buildings. One of the consequences of that is that the insurers, the worldwide insurers withdrew coverage, except up to $50 million on the aviation industry, so all of a sudden, the aviation industry couldn't get insurance. You can't fly a plane without insurance. So, in those two industries there have been very, very direct and immediate affects from an economic point of view. The worrying thing would be if the terrorist attacks, and the carnage and the loss of life that we have seen on our television screens, and experienced first hand, some of us, were to go round into consumer confidence and business confidence.

Because if they were to affect consumer confidence and business confidence, then that would have a much broader effect on, first of all, the United States economy, and then the world economy. You have got to remember this, Philip, that the United States economy had stopped growing anyway and was facing the prospect of contracting. And along comes this shock. It has already had dramatic affects on aviation, insurance, big falls on Wall Street. Wall Street recovered overnight, but last week the biggest weekly fall on Wall Street since 1933 in percentage terms. And if that were to feed back into business and consumer confidence, then it would affect things more extensively. From Australia's perspective, we were doing better than the United States. The United States economy had stopped in the second quarter. Ours grew stronger than the United States, and Japan, and Europe, we're growing at about 0.9 per cent. So, we are coming off a stronger base, but, you have heard the old adage, that when America sneezes the world catches cold. The fact that the United States was turning down was weakening world growth and that was already giving us challenges.

CLARKE:

Twenty and a half past eight. I wonder, I mean, I know we have invoked the ANZUS Treaty, and Mr Howard has certainly given the United States Australia's commitment to supporting this, and has mentioned the use of troops and so on. I mean, we don't know the size, or the nature of our commitment as yet, I mean, that has got to worry you too, hasn't it?

TREASURER:

Well, the ANZUS Alliance says that an attack on either of the partners is considered an attack on both and both within their constitutional obligations will come to the defence of each other. So, I don't think there is any doubt that the ANZUS Treaty applies, and it even talks about an attack on the metropolitan territory of one of the partners. That is obviously what happened here, it was an attack on New York, which is the metropolitan territory of the United States, and under the Treaty that is considered an attack on Australia, and within our constitutional processes we are obliged to engage in mutual defence. Now, the shape that that mutual defence will take, depends on the nature of the American response and the request that they make of us.

CLARKE:

If they request ground troops, should we agree?

TREASURER:

I, look, if the United States requests assistance, Australia, within the capabilities that it has, will respond. The Prime Minister has made that clear. I don't think it is useful to speculate on what the nature of the request is going to be, but, if a request is made and we have capabilities, we have indicated that under the ANZUS Alliance we consider it our obligation to do so. Just, Philip, it works the other way, just as if there was an attack on Australia, and there was of course, back in the 1940's, we would want the Americans to consider that an attack on them. And when . . .

CLARKE:

(inaudible)

TREASURER:

. . . we requested them to assist we'd expect them to do so.

CLARKE:

Would you personally be comfortable with the commitment of Australian ground troops to go and fight in Afghanistan, for example?

TREASURER:

Well, I would be very comfortable, well, not comfortable, comfortable is not the word. I would consider it Australia's obligation to honour the ANZUS Alliance. And I would consider it Australia's obligation to join the worldwide fight against terror. I don't think anybody is ever comfortable about engaging in these sorts of activities. But, I think it is our obligation and our duty, and I think it is the right thing to do.

CLARKE:

I mean, you would be aware that, that, you know, generally, there is a debate going on as to whether or not the United States just hasn't seen what the reality of the hatred against it, is. That perhaps it should do a bit more soul searching as well as a bit more bomb dropping. Do you see, do you see what people are on about when they make those remarks?

TREASURER:

I don't agree with this proposition. Some people take that a step further and say, oh well, they brought it in themselves. I don't agree with that for a moment. Here were a whole lot of innocent people going to work in the World Trade Centre. Cleaners, and clerical office workers, and people that sat behind computer terminals, and they were murdered. And why were they murdered? They were murdered in someone else's cause, someone who wanted to spread terror through New York, and the United States. Now, bear this in mind, Australians were murdered too. It wasn't just Americans, there were Australians that were killed as part of this. The terrorists didn't draw any distinction and say, you are an Australian, you are free, you know, walk out of the building. All Australians out now, because we only want to kill Americans. That is the thing about terror, it is indiscriminate. And I think the Americans are right to respond to terrorism and to try and restrict and ultimately eliminate that threat, and I think Australia has a very definite national interest to protect its citizens in seeing the restriction, and hopefully the elimination of these terror networks.

CLARKE:

Yes, I just wonder whether the Australian reaction should, perhaps, be more tempered than the US reaction? You can understand their position, and their right to do as they see fit, whether or not we should necessarily be going all the way with them, is another matter.

TREASURER:

Well, we'll make a contribution, as requested, within the limits of our capabilities. But, bear this in mind, Australians were killed too. And there is every reason to think that if terror goes unpunished, it will spread. We have had some terror incidents here in Australia, previously, we know that, we have had some risks. And we have a very direct interest in protecting our citizens and our country as well.

CLARKE:

Alright, Mr Costello, just two other matters before, before we close. The Ansett matter, should the Government have seen it coming a long way off?

TREASURER:

Well, I think that the Government was informed like most interested parties that Ansett was in trouble. The Government had no access to the books, had no knowledge greater than the shareholders, certainly less, no knowledge greater than the managers, and no knowledge greater than the directors. And I, the point about this Philip, I keep coming back to, is, Ansett was owned by a private company. It was owned by Air New Zealand. Air New Zealand is a private company. And that parent which owned Ansett, allowed Ansett, essentially, to be run into the ground. If you want to look for fault here, look for the people that were running the company. The Government has made it clear that we are very keen for our corporate watchdog to run the ruler over all of the directors and managers. And, if there is a possibility of legal recovery for the employees against, either the parent - Air New Zealand - or against its directors and managers, we will be encouraging that all the way. At the end of the day, if you want to be a director of a company, if you want to take the directors fees, and if you want to take the profits, your obligation is to take the losses.

CLARKE:

Yep.

TREASURER:

And that is what the law says.

CLARKE:

Twenty-seven past eight. Just finally, back to a much more important matter, of course. Who is Kevin Sheedy going to put on Akermanis in the centre on Saturday afternoon? I mean, unless you counter him you are done for, aren't you?

TREASURER:

I have this theory, Philip, they shouldn't allow footballers to bleach their hair, because it is obviously a technique to attract umpires' attention and to win Brownlow Medals. You saw that with Woewodin last year, bleached hair, gets the umpire's eye. Akermanis has obviously learned it there might be a tip there for Kim Beazley. Perhaps he ought to put his hair orange or pink, and try and attract the voters attention, Philip.

CLARKE:

Maybe James Hird should do a Funky Miller and get somewhere.

TREASURER:

Well, Funky Miller has probably decided that is the way to get a tip for selection as well. What are you doing with yours?

CLARKE:

I am trying to keep it there. Nice to talk with you Mr Costello.

TREASURER:

Good, thank you.