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 20/01/2004

TRANSCRIPT OF

THE HON PETER COSTELLO MP
Treasurer

Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

Tuesday, 20 January 2004
8.45 am

 

SUBJECTS: David Hookes, Security, Ambulance drivers FBT

MITCHELL:

In the studio with me, and it had been pre-arranged in fact, before David died, is the Federal Treasurer and the Acting Liberal Leader, Peter Costello, good morning.

TREASURER:

Good morning Neil.

MITCHELL:

First of all, your memories, your thoughts about David Hookes.

TREASURER:

I think like so many other people I am just in shock, that somebody so lively, so vibrant, so strong can be killed like that, here in Melbourne in a nightclub, or a hotel. And my heart goes out to his family, to who I send my regards, and condolences, and to the thousands of fans that will miss him. He was, as you said, he played off the front foot, he was a great character.

MITCHELL:

You would have met him around the traps, wouldn’t you?

TREASURER:

Yeah I have met him, on numbers of occasions, and you know, I just thought that he was a good fun guy, and I guess we will all remember that Centenary Test, just, it is funny, I have noticed that nobody has been talking about the outcome of the game, it was almost as if Hookes stole the whole show, and I don’t think Tony Greig will ever forget it.

MITCHELL:

David liked saying that he made Tony Greig famous.

TREASURER:

I think that is right. You know, I think on Tony Greig’s tombstone they will probably say that, I was the bloke that David Hookes hit for five fours. Whatever you remember about Tony Greig you will always remember that over. You see him come bouncing in, and you think to yourself, how can he face up for another ball? And from memory I think the last ball that Hookesy didn’t hit for four, and the crowd booed him.

MITCHELL:

Do you, what about this issue of violence in the street? I mean these are the sort of issues you have been talking about increasingly. Every weekend in Melbourne there are incidents similar to this, there was another one last weekend, people are killed, we seem to get desensitised to it, it is no less tragic of course for the people who aren’t famous, it is the same, but maybe the fact that it has happened to a famous person can be used almost as a focus.

TREASURER:

I was thinking about that this morning, there will be a lot of fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters today that will be thinking if this happened to my child, or my brother, or my son… every time you turn on the news on a Sunday night, you know, this morning two men were chased down a commercial road, or there was a bashing down at the Salt Nightclub, or Jeff Fenech gets hit outside his restaurant with a bottle. It just seems to be so present, doesn’t it, and you say, oh well, that is a Sunday story, and I think the tendency is to think, well you know, if you go to a nightclub then you are putting yourself in harms way, I think that is what most people probably think. You know, you would be safer in bed at 2 am or 3 am. But it shouldn’t be like that, the security staff at nightclubs and hotels are there to keep the peace, aren’t they? They are there to stop violence, and so often it looks as if they are not succeeding.

MITCHELL:

So what do we do? How do we address it?

TREASURER:

Well, you know, I read in one of the papers that to be licensed as say, well they call them crowd controllers I think you know, it is a two week course or something. It looks as if the checks you alerted to in your intro, don’t seem to be that extensive and it might be well worth looking at that whole industry again, whether that is tight enough, tough enough.

I pay tribute to the council that closed down the Salt Nightclub. I think councils have got to be tougher, you know, I would be inclined to say three strikes and you are out.

MITCHELL:

So what, the premises, licence…

TREASURER:

Yes.

MITCHELL:

…three incidents and you lose your licence?

TREASURER:

Yes, how many should you have? You can have one bashing and it might be an accident, or a second bashing and it might be a bad crowd, but I think by the time you are having three, you have got to ask yourself what use is the venue serving. Why don’t we consider that…

MITCHELL:

Yep.

TREASURER:

…on the venues? Because it is clear that some of these venues get a reputation, it is not local people that are coming to them, people from all over town coming, who knows what is going on in the nightclubs, I think, and the police need every effort to clean drugs out of these nightclubs, I think that is a big problem as well.

MITCHELL:

There is also an issue with the licensing of the crowd control isn’t there? If you are picked up and it is alleged that you are over 0.15 drink-driving, you lose your license until you go to court, you are pre-judged. If you are charged with armed robbery, you are not allowed to work in a bank. Would it not be reasonable if any bouncer is charged with an assault, pending the outcome of that case, they are suspended?

TREASURER:

You would think so, wouldn’t you? To be charged there has got be some kind of reasonable apprehension that you have, well there has got to be some evidence against you. You know, you can be charged and you can be cleared, let’s make that point, but to be charged there has got to be some kind of evidence, and you might say to yourself, if there is enough evidence to charge somebody, there is enough of a doubt to stand them down from the industry. You would think so.

MITCHELL:

Do you think that we are perhaps getting kind of desensitised to this violence? You make the point about the Sunday night news, oh yeah, there is another one.

TREASURER:

There’s another one, and I think the tendency of most watchers of the news is to say, as I said you know, well if you are in a nightclub at 1 am or 2 am, that is your bad luck. But I don’t think we can get desensitised to it, young people are being exposed to this all the time.

MITCHELL:

In what way?

TREASURER:

I think the culture is quite violent, I think a lot of these computer games, a lot of this rap music if you have ever listened to it, you go down to these clubs, if it becomes acceptable as a way of life, society will be worse for it. And I don’t think we should put up with it, I think we should say that enough is enough, we don’t want people bashed on the streets, going about their business, this is not our way, this is not our town, this is not our country, and that people who think they can resolve their arguments with their fists ought to be taught a lesson, and people who are running establishments ought to have crowd control or security that can handle these things in a non-violent way. And I guess the magnitude of it is the fact that David Hookes is so well-known, he was in the media, he was an Australian test cricketer, he was the coach of the Victorian side, the Victorian cricket side, he’s been killed, but of course there are so many others that have been affected by this, and if it does focus community attention on dealing with some of these problems, there might be some other (inaudible) that are saved.

MITCHELL:

You use the phrase ‘culture of violence,’ do you think we have that?

TREASURER:

I get worried by some of these computer games, I think they are quite violent, and we have got a system now of trying to classify them and control them, but I think they are quite violent, and I think that they, I think they probably do desensitise people to suffering at least. I am not saying that if you play a violent computer game you go and bash someone, but it might desensitise you to thinking that there are human beings on the end of all of this.

MITCHELL:

(inaudible) you have got a seventeen year old son heading into the nightclub age, I have got an eighteen year old daughter. In this sort of environment the kids should be able to go out and go to a pub and dance and have a bit if fun, and even have a few drinks without putting their lives at risk, surely.

TREASURER:

Well you rely on the proprietors, don’t you? And you rely on the licensing authorities to keep the proprietors, and you rely on the police in relation to other undesirables, and we have got to give the police every support, I think, every support. And I think the proprietors, look, at the end of the day the proprietors are doing this for money, which is not a bad thing, that is their business, I am not against them making a profit, but part of making that profit is to ensure that the security and the crowd control is done in a responsible way.

MITCHELL:

Three strikes and you are out, we will pursue that a little through the morning. I want, can I ask you something else a little unrelated because we were talking about this yesterday, and it was the reason we arranged to chat before David died, which is the tax decision affecting ambulance officers, we broke the detail on this yesterday. Effectively some of them will lose $140 a week out of their pay packet, because of the change. The State Government said they think it is just an error, is it? Will you fix it?

TREASURER:

Well, let me go back a step. This is a decision of the Federal Court which was handed down in August of last year, which said that the ambulance service is no longer a charity and therefore is not longer entitled to the tax status of a charity…

MITCHELL:

Yes, but you could have given them an exemption.

TREASURER:

…well, what we can do, is we can introduce new legislation to give them a tax break…

MITCHELL:

Will you?

TREASURER:

…we will introduce legislation, which will put them on the same basis as public hospitals. That is, they can have a tax break on fringe benefits up to $17,000. Now, if you are a fully fledged charity, sometimes you can get up to $30,000. But we introduced a law that said for public hospitals you can get it up to $17,000. I think it is fair enough to put the ambulances on the same basis, and it will take a new law, because this wasn’t a decision of the government, this was a decision of the Federal Court, it will take a new law…

MITCHELL:

Yes, but the Government did have legislation before, Senate approved, which allowed the ambulance officers an exemption, and the lower house rejected it.

TREASURER:

If you are a charity, you don’t need a law, and it was always thought they were a charity until the Federal Court came along and said they are not. But having said all that…

MITCHELL:

True, but you gave it to the hospital, and rejected the ambulances, now you are going to reverse that.

TREASURER:

…well, we are going to introduce a new law…

MITCHELL:

(inaudible).

TREASURER:

…which will give the ambulances $17,000. Now, let me say, this is a bit complicated, because in some States they don’t claim fringe benefits exemption, in Victoria they do, but I think the fair thing is to put them all on the same basis, which is the public hospital basis of $17,000.

MITCHELL:

So the bottom line is they will not have their pay cut?

TREASURER:

Well, let me make this point too, the fringe benefits tax is on the employer, so all we are arguing about here is what the employer pays. Now, the ambos say well if their employer pays more tax they might cut our wages, that is not necessarily the case. I heard the Victorian Minister say, ‘Well we might cut their wages if we have to pay tax.’ That is not, doesn’t necessarily follow, but having said all of that, seeing as the employer, which is the Victorian Government, is going to get the tax break. The ambos don’t get the tax break, the Victorian employer gets it.

MITCHELL:

Yes, but that means there is more money for the ambos.

TREASURER:

That’s right, there is no reason for them to cut wages, and they shouldn’t do it.

MITCHELL:

Well, they won’t. The bottom line is that the ambos won’t now…

TREASURER:

Well they shouldn’t.

MITCHELL:

…won’t get their pay cut.

TREASURER:

Well they shouldn’t.

MITCHELL:

Can you get it through by March?

TREASURER:

Well, look we can, having flagged it, this change was not going to come into effect until the first of April, whether you can get it through the Parliament or not, I don’t know, but having flagged it, that will ensure that they can go on continuously.

MITCHELL:

Well that is terrific. Ambulance officers will be doing handstands and (inaudible).

TREASURER:

Well, look they are important people and we support them in the work they do, and I want to make this clear, this was a decision of the Federal Court but, we can in a statutory way…

MITCHELL:

(inaudible) fix it?

TREASURER:

…well, we can in a statutory way reverse the decision in its effect here in Victoria.

MITCHELL:

Thank you very much for your time.

TREASURER:

A great pleasure to be here.