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 13/02/2003

TRANSCRIPT
THE HON PETER COSTELLO MP
Treasurer

Doorstop Interview
Parliament House, Canberra

Thursday, 13 February 2003

12 noon

SUBJECTS: Employment, economy, Commonwealth Bank executive payout, health spending, petrol prices, leadership, RBA Board

TREASURER:

Well the good news in the month of January, another 111,000 Australians found work, and our unemployment rate fell to 6.1 per cent. And employment growth has been particularly strong over the last three months, and over the last three months the employment growth has already exceeded our forecast for the full year. There is a statistical blip in relation to this survey as the Bureau of Statistics moves to a new sample and that will have to be taken into account and worked out over further months. But trend employment has been strong and continues to show that the economy is creating good jobs growth. Since the Government was elected in 1996, 1.2 million more Australians have found work which is great news. As we look forward of course, there are still difficulties on the horizon with the drought and the international economy, but the good news is another 111,000 Australians found work in the month of January.

JOURNALIST:

Are most of these full or part time jobs?

TREASURER:

Most of the jobs are actually full time jobs. About 72,000 of the 111,000 that the Bureau reported were full time jobs. So, that is also welcome news.

JOURNALIST:

Can the jobless rate dip below the 6 per cent in this first half of '03?

TREASURER:

We forecast that the jobless rate would be at 6 per cent by June, it is 6.1. To be frank with you it is probably a false precision to talk about 6, 6.1 as if there are big differences, but we thought by the end of the financial year the unemployment rate would be around about what it is now and it is possible that it could improve on what it is now, over the course of the remaining part of the year. But the factors that will influence that are the drought, obviously the drought would have to break and the international economy which continues to disappoint.

JOURNALIST:

So how do these figures, these positive figures fit with recent surveys that show a slow down in activity, a slump in consumer confidence?

TREASURER:

Well, I am not surprised by the movements in consumer confidence. When you look back over the month of January, when nearly every front page, every day, was talking about Iraq and the possibility of war, and if it wasn't talking about that it was bushfires. January was a terrible month for bushfires, loss of property, loss of life, so I am not surprised that consumer confidence reacted in the way that it did. But what these figures will show you is that there is still real investment going on by business. And that is supporting good jobs growth. And we are seeing the good jobs growth coming through in January, largely as a result of business investment plans that were being laid down last year.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer do you advise Australians to believe these figures or wait for further evidence?

TREASURER:

I said earlier there is a statistical blip in these figures as a consequence of moving to a new sample and that will have to work its way out over forthcoming months. And also as you would know, you look at a participation rate of 64.7 per cent which is something that we have never seen before. And I would be very surprised if the actual participation rate was 64.7 per cent because it is out of kilter with the kind of figures that we have seen. But trending which tries to smooth all of that out, shows you that over the last three months there was good jobs growth. And I think all of the anecdotal evidence shows that there has been good jobs growth. And that is why I say that it is probably a false precision to say 6, 6.1, 6.2, these are false precisions.

But what you can say, is that at a time when the international economy is weak and Australia is affected by its worst drought possibly this century, the fact that job growth is continuing, the fact that unemployment is at levels that we haven't been at for ten years, ten year lows, shows you that there is a bit of underlying strength in the Australian economy.

JOURNALIST:

Would you expect a war to dampen the employment market?

TREASURER:

Look, the first, the first effect that we have already seen of the unstable situation in relation to Iraq is oil prices. Oil prices have risen. People know that, they have seen it at the bowsers. That is taking spending away from other areas. It is also an additional cost for businesses, so it is not helpful in an economic sense, yes, I can confirm that.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, do you think any of the people that have got a job in these new figures can expect a $32 million pay-out when they leave their job? What's your response to the Commonwealth Bank pay-out?

TREASURER:

Well, I find it impossible to believe that any executive is worth $32 million. I find it, I can't conceive of it, and I would say to the directors that are responsible for that, they better have a very good explanation for their shareholders. And I would say to the shareholders they have every right to demand some answers from their directors, every right indeed...

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

TREASURER:

...it is their money. Let me make this clear, this is the money of the shareholders of the Commonwealth bank and the directors are supposed to be husbanding those resources properly. I find it impossible to believe...

JOURNALIST:

Mr Costello...

TREASURER:

...that it was worth it.

JOURNALIST:

...should have David Murray re-negotiated Mr Chris Cuffe's contract when they took over Colonial First State?

TREASURER:

Look, I don't know whose contract it was, and I don't know what the contract was, and I am not getting into that because I'm not the Managing Director of the Commonwealth Bank. But I find it very difficult to be believe that any executive is worth $32 million. It is the shareholders' money and I think the shareholders have every right to expect a full explanation from those that are managing the Commonwealth Bank.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Costello, would you consider tightening regulations over disclosure of these huge salaries because it stands only senior officers have to have their salaries disclosed and quite often it is not the officers of the company which are earning the higher salaries?

TREASURER:

Well, we have tightened it, we have tightened it, and that is why there was disclosure. See, this was actually disclosed and we have tightened it and as a consequence these things are being disclosed. As I understand it this was entered into quite some time ago but under disclosure rules is now disclosed and that's because of...

JOURNALIST:

Yeah but the actual names...

TREASURER:

...disclosure.

JOURNALIST:

...don't have to be disclosed?

TREASURER:

Well, I think the fact that disclosure was forced, and I think the fact that now practically everybody in Australia knows the name indicates that there has been good disclosure.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, the AMA today has announced that in their Budget submission they want an extra $2 billion for health, including, they say, you should increase the Medicare levy in the Budget. Is that something you will consider?

TREASURER:

No, no we won't be increasing expenditures by billions of dollars, no we won't...

JOURNALIST:

... Medicare (inaudible)...?

TREASURER:

...and let me say that's because, in a difficult budgetary situation with troops already pre-deployed to the Middle East and the expenses involved in the Defence build-up, the priority for expenditures will be Defence.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer Costello, last time petrol prices went up around the dollar mark the Government was able to offer people some relief. Do you think there is any prospect whatsoever, or any need, with petrol prices where they are already, before the Gulf comes involved in a conflict, would the Government consider some sort of relief in petrol prices?

TREASURER:

Look, petrol prices have risen not because of any Government policy but because of instability in the Middle East and strikes in Venezuela, and the fact that on international markets people have to pay more for oil. This is not something that is a result of a Government decision, it is not something that can be stopped by a Government decision. This is something that relates to the supply and demand of oil and the difficult international situation. I think people understand that.

JOURNALIST:

But it is going to be hurting people out in the bush in particular, it's a very tough time for them already?

TREASURER:

Well of course, nobody wants higher petrol prices. But the fact of the matter is whilst there is a threat of war in Iraq and whilst there is instability in other oil producing nations the price of oil has gone up. But people understand that this is not a consequence of any Government decision, nor can it be stopped by any Government decision.

JOURNALIST:

Speaking of stability, Mr Costello, do you think there is a need for stability of leadership during a time of national crisis like this?

TREASURER:

Of course it is very important that the Government is fully focussed on the international crisis, and it is.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, can you comment on when you may be announcing a replacement for Dick Warburton on the RBA Board? Do you have a short list or...?

TREASURER:

When I am ready to announce it I'll announce it.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer can I ask you another question about the $32 million. Labor, I think, is suggesting that the Government considers some kind of change to the tax treatment of these pay-outs by companies. Is there anything the Government can, or would, consider there in terms of taxable treatment of these pay-outs?

TREASURER:

Well, it's fully taxable, this is a fully taxable payment. I guess that is one consolation in all of this. But I would say this, it's shareholders' money, this is money that belongs to the shareholders of the Commonwealth Bank. They elect directors to represent their interests and the shareholders have a very legitimate interest in knowing whether the directors were looking after them properly. And I'd say to those shareholders that the remedy for this lies very directly in their own hands. Thanks.