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 29/07/2004

TRANSCRIPT
THE HON PETER COSTELLO MP
Treasurer

Interview with John Mackenzie
AM 846
Cairns

Thursday, 29 July 2004
11.15 am

SUBJECTS: Family Court; Child Support Agency; Free Trade Agreement; Medicare; Deductible Gift Recipient Status; Election.

MACKENZIE:

Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello, good morning and welcome.

TREASURER:

Good morning. Great to be with you.

MACKENZIE:

Where have you been today Peter?

TREASURER:

Well I have been in Townsville for breakfast and I have been in Cairns for the rest of the morning.

MACKENZIE:

How was Townsville? We’re all concerned about how Townsville is up here.

TREASURER:

You are not interested in the slightest. I have been down at Muddy’s Playground and now in here. And I am taking the opportunity to meet some of the people from the business community at lunch and have a great visit here in Cairns.

MACKENZIE:

Have you been up here a few times? We haven’t had you in the studio before.

TREASURER:

Oh yes.

MACKENZIE:

I see you’ve been in and out of town.

TREASURER:

On absolutely, and not only as a formal visitor but as a holidaymaker too.

MACKENZIE:

Here or Port Douglas or both?

TREASURER:

Mostly in Port Douglas.

MACKENZIE:

Yeah. Peter Costello I want to get to, quickly, page one of The Australian today and this is going to be a very important issue for a hell of a lot of men and women across Australia too. I think a lot of people forget the partners, if you like, the second wives, involved in this, and they have been paying through the nose over the years with these, with this awful application of the Child Support Agency provisions. But it says here today: “Men involved in acrimonious divorce proceedings will be given greater access rights to help raise their children as part of a radical shake-up of family law to be unveiled today by John Howard. A national network of 65 Family Relationship Centres to be operated by the churches and existing family relationship organisations will also be set up as early as next year under plans to cut back the role of the Family Court and bounce lawyers out of the process.” A father’s access to the children after divorce has become a hot button political issue particularly in key seats for the Coalition opting to announce ahead of the election its intention to fundamentally change the way custody operates. I understand a taskforce, at the moment, is investigating aspects of the Child Support Agency payments as well. They will be making a report to the Government in March. There seems to be an all out assault, a wide spectrum of assault, on the whole provision, in fact after divorce in this area. Talk to me about this. What way is the Government heading on this and is there a chance that you would be able to take the Labor Opposition with you in the Senate?

TREASURER:

Well, this has been an area of concern to the Government for some time because it has been an area of concern to families. As we know there is a lot of family breakdown in Australia and people have been saying to us that when the family breaks down, they go off to see the lawyers, they get themselves involved in court. It is extremely expensive, most people have a very unhappy experience – you can’t expect it to be happy when a family breaks down…

MACKENZIE:

Sure.

TREASURER:

…and what can be done to simplify the whole situation? So, we have taken a long look at this, we had a Parliamentary Committee look at it, we have discussed it in the Cabinet, and our view is that if we could set up shopfronts around the nation where people knew they could go in when their relationship is broken down and sit there in a shopfront without lawyers, without a court and just see if they could work it out.

MACKENZIE:

Right.

TREASURER:

Work out whether or not the child is going to be living with one parent and the amount of time that you could have access. Try and work out what the payments are going to be before anybody sees a lawyer, before anybody goes to a court. To come into this shopfront which will be in suburban malls or shopping centres and just see if they can work it out. And we will be starting off with 65 of these shopfronts, as you said, scattered throughout Australia, and giving the thing a real try.

MACKENZIE:

All right, you will be cutting back the pressure on the Family Court, you will be cutting back the expense of lawyers, and mind you I suppose they will be jumping up and down about this.

TREASURER:

Well, they may not like it but at the end of the day the object of your policy is not to do what the lawyers want but to do what will help couples that are broken down.

MACKENZIE:

That is just a drill by the way. I saw you jump in your seat there, I thought this is a left over from yesterday’s alert on United Airlines 840.

TREASURER:

I thought I might have been in a dentist’s chair for a while when I heard that drill start up on me.

MACKENZIE:

Back to this thought, I mean do you ever, I presume you are occasionally in your electorate office and you are (inaudible). It says here that Labor and Liberal MPs both have described custody complaints as the most common and heated of those raised by their constituents and I presume Child Support Agency payments would be one those too. Do you sit and talk those through with your constituents?

TREASURER:

Absolutely. It is one of the most irreconcilable problems that you could ever come across in an electorate office. And people will come in and they will come in with folders full of documents…

MACKENZIE:

Hmm.

TREASURER:

…you know, here is what the court said five years ago, here is what the Child Support Agency said a month ago, here is what my lawyers, here is my lawyer’s bill, here is her lawyer’s bill, here is when I, and the worst of course is when you have got Federal Police that might be involved in trying to locate children and they can’t have access. It is absolutely insoluble problems.

MACKENZIE:

Hmm.

TREASURER:

Nobody says for a moment that if you change the system divorce is going to go away.

MACKENZIE:

Sure.

TREASURER:

You are going to have family breakdown. But if we can do something to get agreement before people get in entrenched positions in the hands of lawyers that would be an improvement.

MACKENZIE:

(inaudible) you are aware of the misery they’re forced on, not just men, but non-custodial parents, by the Child Support Agency provisions where you have got 18 per cent up to over $100,000 for the support of one child. I mean, $20,000, nearly $20,000. It doesn’t cost that much to bring up a child, a young child, a year. So talk to me about that. What is your position on this? In the past you have been less than sympathetic to men in this plight, in this situation.

TREASURER:

No, our view has always been that the most important person is the child.

MACKENZIE:

Sure.

TREASURER:

We have got to make sure that there is adequate financial support for the children. But having said that, you have got to make sure that there is justice as between the father and the mother. One of the things that fathers complain a lot about is they say that access orders are not enforced and they still have to go on paying child support.

MACKENZIE:

Sure.

TREASURER:

So that is an obvious issue. The other is whether or not the formula has worked out unfairly. And we have had attempts to try and reform this. We tried to put a cap on the…

MACKENZIE:

Yes, which would have been $78,000 instead of what it is…

TREASURER:

…that is right.

MACKENZIE:

…now over $100,000. Please listeners be aware of this, this is pre-tax, this is on the gross amount. I mean this is the farcical aspect.

TREASURER:

So a cap on the amount of money that could be subject to the formulas so that once you go above the cap, you could be confident that the child had been adequately provided for because the percentage would go up with the capped amount. Unfortunately some of those reforms were defeated in the Senate.

MACKENZIE:

Yes.

TREASURER:

And it takes legislation, people don’t realise this, it takes legislation to change all of these rules. If you want to make legislation in Australia you have got to pass it through the House of Representatives…

MACKENZIE:

Yes.

TREASURER:

…and the Senate…

MACKENZIE:

Oh sure.

TREASURER:

…before it becomes law.

MACKENZIE:

This is why I bring this point up. Are you going to be able to restructure these reforms in a way that Labor is going to come with you?

TREASURER:

Well, that is the point. If the Labor Party votes them down, nothing will happen.

MACKENZIE:

Hmm.

TREASURER:

Nothing will happen. So, what we are doing is we are putting this idea out there, we want to have it discussed in the community, we want to get community support and then if we have community support we can say to the Opposition, well look, don’t interfere with this…

MACKENZIE:

Yeah sure.

TREASURER:

…because the community supports it.

MACKENZIE:

Mark Latham I presume will be in here too with the Federal Election coming up. Don’t worry, I will take it up with him…

TREASURER:

Good.

MACKENZIE:

…much more forcefully than I am taking it up with you because I know that was stymied, that reform was stymied by Labor in the Senate. One year ago Warren?

ENTSCH:

Some years ago.

MACKENZIE:

How many years ago was it?

ENTSCH:

2000 it was introduced and it was (inaudible) and we have tried to get it in and it has just been impossible.

MACKENZIE:

All right, now just before we go to open line calls, you are about to have handed to you by Leanne here what is called an Irukandji jellyfish. Can we have the camera over on this at the moment?

TREASURER:

Right.

MACKENZIE:

Because people around Australia wouldn’t have a clue what an Irukandji is. It is tiny isn’t it. About one centimetre across. Have you ever heard of the Irukandji jellyfish Mr Treasurer?

TREASURER:

I have heard of Irukandji but I have never seen one before. That is tiny. Now you are not having me on here are you?

MACKENZIE:

No, no, no.

TREASURER:

You haven’t put a bit of cotton wool…

MACKENZIE:

But be careful, exactly, be careful because they are deadly.

TREASURER:

...is that right?

MACKENZIE:

They are deadly. Don’t hold it too closely. And I…

TREASURER:

I take it they can’t bite through glass.

MACKENZIE:

Well, we don’t know. But Warren Entsch has been after you for funding and obviously I want you to be aware of what an Irukandji is because they are desperate to establish a fund, if you like, to be able to develop an anti-venom for people who are bitten by these things. You go through agony, I mean people who are in hospital remark that they go through absolute misery. One girl who was put here the other day with this (inaudible) experimenting for six weeks. Now but here is the good news, here’s the good news, Mr Costello. How old are you if you don’t mind me asking?

TREASURER:

I am, I just have to get this right, 46.

MACKENZIE:

Forty-six, well here is the good news for you, there are some rumours abroad in the last week, quite strong rumours that they have found that the little Irukandji could hold the key to the plague of middle aged men, mainly erectile dysfunction. Have I got your interest now?

TREASURER:

You have got my attention. I am sure there are many of my friends that could use it. Warren is volunteering here.

MACKENZIE:

Warren Entsch’s eyes have lit up here.

TREASURER:

Now is that right? How do they know this?

MACKENZIE:

They are desperate for money.

TREASURER:

Blokes have been bitten with them in the sea and…

MACKENZIE:

(inaudible)

TREASURER:

…there has been a bit of evidence has there?

MACKENZIE:

They didn’t want us to go into details but I understand that it has been noted that that side effect of the Irukandji thing has been noted.

TREASURER:

Is that right? But how?

MACKENZIE:

Over several days.

TREASURER:

So, do you think we could save ourselves the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme Viagra costs do you? This could be a great savings measure for the Federal Government.

MACKENZIE:

But we have definitely got to look at funding for the Irukandji research. Now at least you are aware of what…

TREASURER:

(inaudible) what part.

MACKENZIE:

You have got to spend money to make money.

TREASURER:

You actually said it had a downside and an upside. Which side do you want researched, can I ask?

MACKENZIE:

I am going to move on. This is a family show, Peter Costello, we have got to move on in a moment. But I am confident that you are aware of what an Irukandji is now.

TREASURER:

Thank you.

MACKENZIE:

And they are desperately keen for funding on this research so when it comes up you will be aware of it.

TREASURER:

Okay, the downside and the upside.

MACKENZIE:

And the upside, exactly. Thank you Peter. We are going to take open line calls now and first up on the line we have Tony. Go ahead Tony, you are talking to the Treasurer.

CALLER:

Good morning John, good morning Treasurer, and I understand Warren is there too.

TREASURER:

Yes, Warren is here too Tony.

CALLER:

My comments are nowhere near as important of course as erectile dysfunction, however, you know I just wanted to say that you must be a brave man coming in there because you are going to get a lot of tomatoes thrown at you this week.

TREASURER:

Is that right?

CALLER:

I think so.

TREASURER:

Who is going to throw those?

CALLER:

Well businessmen, and I am not even a farmer Peter…

TREASURER:

Right.

CALLER:

…but I am just devastated with the way that Liberal policies are sending North Queensland, why are you destroying my country? You know, not you I mean, but policies in general. Why are you allowing my country to be destroyed? I mean, you know, I am talking this claytons trade agreement. I mean, everybody knows, and I am not sure that I am probably the man to put this point as well as it could be, there will be others who will ring after me, but sugar you left out entirely, beef doesn’t start for fifteen bloody years. Why would you consider bringing bananas in from the Philippines?

TREASURER:

Well, just let me answer your question. The Free Trade Agreement I believe is in Australia’s interests and it will give Australian exporters access to the United States which they don’t currently get.

CALLER:

(inaudible)

TREASURER:

We don’t currently get free access in relation to manufacturers, including automobiles. We don’t get it in the way we will get it in relation to beef and in relation to dairy.

CALLER:

Yeah that doesn’t come in for 15 years.

TREASURER:

You raise sugar, let me say, it would have been much better if we could have got sugar into the United States. There is no question about that. But the Free Trade Agreement doesn’t work against the sugar industry, it doesn’t make things worse for the sugar industry. Far from it, what it, it would have made it better if we could have had an inclusion of sugar in relation to that. We weren’t able to secure it. Now we have got to sit down and we have got to say, overall will that Free Trade Agreement improve Australia’s overall exports or hinder them? And overall it will improve them. There is no doubt about that. I don’t think there is anybody who can show a way in which overall it will harm Australia’s exports.

CALLER:

Well, you are in a better position to know these things than I am. As I say, I am only a businessman in the street, but we have got 400 dairy farmers up here on the dole and we have got the best dairy country in the world.

TREASURER:

Yes, but I wouldn’t say that the Free Trade Agreement is responsible for that.

CALLER:

(inaudible)

TREASURER:

If I may say so, we haven’t even signed the Free Trade Agreement so if there is a problem in an industry it couldn’t have been caused by the Free Trade Agreement…

CALLER:

Understood, understood…

TREASURER:

…but in fact the Free Trade Agreement will actually improve things for dairy exporters and that is why we ought to do it.

MACKENZIE:

I have got to move on Tony.

CALLER:

Okay John.

MACKENZIE:

I have got on the line over here to talk to the Treasurer, Joe. Go ahead Joe. You are talking to Peter Costello.

CALLER:

Hello. How are you?

TREASURER:

I am well thanks Joe. And you?

CALLER:

Peter, good morning Peter and the other people who are also there listening. My discussion with you Peter is bulk billing and Medicare. Now with the present Federal Government, those people who can present a federal pension card or a federal health card, the doctor that they go to gets a higher refund. Now Peter in my situation I am over 70, I pay taxes, I pay Medicare levy, they do not give me a pension, they do not give me a health card and the bulk billing doctor that I go to he has got to, those who still do bulk billing, has to be satisfied to get less. There is something wrong Peter. Isn’t there something wrong?

TREASURER:

Well, you are quite right that we have just introduced an increase in the rebate for doctors who bulk bill in relation to cardholders and pensioners. But in addition to that for people who aren’t cardholders and pensions we also introduced a new system whereby they can claim back 80 per cent of their out-of-hospital out-of-pockets, once they go above a trip-wire situation so that if, in your case, you spend more than $700, or $300 if you are concession holder, in the course of a year you are going to get 80 per cent of those costs back which is a very valuable thing.

CALLER:

Yeah.

TREASURER:

And the second thing I would just remind you of, this is the Government that introduced the 30 per cent rebate for private health insurance.

CALLER:

I appreciate that.

TREASURER:

You ought to keep your eye on Mr Latham because he is not giving any undertakings at all that every person that currently receives it, that rebate, will get it if he is re-elected.

CALLER:

Well, Peter, you know, I am not favouring the other political Party at all, Peter I am trying to battle out on my own two feet, you know, I pay all these things, you told me you know that if I pass this safety net of what $700, in my case $700, but the thing is that the doctors say to me, you present to me some of these cards and you know we will get a bigger refund.

TREASURER:

Well that is true. If you are a pensioner…

CALLER:

Yes.

TREASURER:

…or if you get the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card…

CALLER:

Yeah well I’m deprived all of that.

TREASURER:

Well, you ought to have a look at, I don’t know your circumstances Joe, but bear in mind that if you are a senior you can get one of those health cards if your income is under $50,000 or $80,000 as a couple. So it is a pretty generous income test.

CALLER:

Yes, yes, but you know, I went knocking at the door of Centrelink and after what they told me I said, forget about everything. You know…

TREASURER:

Well, I would go and have a look at it, because as I said, because we increased the income test and you would have to be earning as a senior $50,000 or over $80,000 as a couple not to qualify to get that card.

MACKENZIE:

Joe, we better shoot through.

CALLER:

Anyway look Peter, if you don’t mind me saying to you, the advertising, it has stopped now, it is my point of view if you are advertising strengthening Medicare, Medicare and bulk billing, that only seems to apply to those who are not paying the levy, they are not paying the levy, I don’t think because they are tourists, I don’t want to criticise them, and most likely they will have the seniors health card, so those people they are paying nothing for the levy the doctor gets a higher refund. And in my case I am sort of slightly being a little bit victimised, and you know I don’t want to add much more to it than that.

TREASURER:

No that’s all right. Why don’t you go and see Warren Entsch and see if he can get you one of those cards?

CALLER:

I have.

TREASURER:

But I will also say with what we are advertising, yes sure, there are benefits for pensioners and cardholders but there is this other benefit for people who are not pensioners and cardholders…

CALLER:

Of $600 (inaudible)

TREASURER:

Who get 80 per cent of their costs back.

MACKENZIE:

We have got to move on Joe.

CALLER:

Yeah well thank you.

TREASURER:

Great Joe, thanks.

CALLER:

Have a nice day.

TREASURER:

Thank you.

CALLER:

Bye.

MACKENZIE:

And we have got William on the line here from the Table Lands. Go ahead William.

CALLER:

G’day John, Warren and Peter. How are you?

TREASURER:

Oh, I am not too bad thanks William.

CALLER:

I hope they are looking after you on the greatest talkback show in the north anyway.

TREASURER:

Well, they have given me, you want to tell me about these jellyfish?

CALLER:

No. Not really.

TREASURER:

They have given me a sample. I suppose you are not allowed to take this across state borders.

MACKENZIE:

You wouldn’t want them across state borders I can tell you.

CALLER:

Peter, I am just, we’re an animal society up at the Table Lands here and I just want to discuss about the deductible gift recipients facts.

TREASURER:

Yes.

CALLER:

We applied for it through the Taxation Department and their ruling virtually, for us, is saying that we are not a public benevolent institute and the reason for that is because it is more limited to human needs. Today’s society, are things like this, our society itself is running an animal refuge and also a training area for disabilities, disabilities people and you know other items like this and they do run into the human side of it. And the biggest thing is that we get very little government funds, not that we haven’t been offered any or anything like that it is just that we are looking for companies, you know, to give us donations and things like that. And to upgrade our infrastructure for people like the disabilities and things like this, and when we applied for it, the Taxation Department could only say, oh well, I am sorry you have got to apply to your Assistant Treasurer to see if you can be listed. Now it has taken us three months to get a refusal and then another 12 months, probably, to get another refusal. Now unfortunately the RSPCA has been listed but they haven’t got any sort of human needs but they have been listed separately as you are aware, and we are just wondering whether circumstances like ourselves could be also looked at over and above you know a taxation ruling?

TREASURER:

You’re not an RSPCA yourself? What are you?

CALLER:

We’re a CSPCA, we are the Table Lands, running under the same constitution rules etcetra…

TREASURER:

But you are not a part, would you be a branch of the RSPCA?

CALLER:

No, no, we are not a branch. We are separated. We are a separate incorporation all together.

TREASURER:

Are you? Yes. That might be the answer to your problem if you are actually a branch of the…

CALLER:

No unfortunately we are not. And the thing is, we have had a number of companies, you know, offering us funds, but because we are not a deductible gift recipient they don’t seem to be very interested.

TREASURER:

Well, the way it works is that, you are quite right, if you are what is called a public benevolent institution, that is, you exist for the purposes of helping the sick, or helping the poor, or engaging in education, you can get this status. If you are not one of those, and you are quite right, that is for helping humans, then you have to be listed in the Tax Act. You have to actually amend the Tax Act to list the institution and the RSPCA is, as you say, listed. One of the ways people often work it is, if they are a local branch, they say well give your money to the RSPCA and you will get your tax deductibility, and we can have it as the local branch. That is actually the quickest way through all of that maze.

MACKENZIE:

William I am going to have to move on because the Treasurer has to go.

CALLER:

Okay, thank you.

TREASURER:

Great to speak to you William.

MACKENZIE:

William Thompson of the Table Lands RSPCA. Peter Costello before you go, before the election will there be a chance for you to come back to North Queensland?

TREASURER:

I hope so.

MACKENZIE:

Will there be time?

TREASURER:

I hope so. Maybe I shouldn’t leave.

MACKENZIE:

So what are you saying?

TREASURER:

So I am in place when it is called. We are actually going to Canberra, Parliament is sitting I think on Tuesday…

ENTSCH:

Yes.

TREASURER:

…so we will all have to go back and brave the cold.

MACKENZIE:

But not for long?

TREASURER:

If I get the chance to come back I would love to. It is a fantastic part of the world.

MACKENZIE:

Does the Prime Minister tell you when the election is going to be called? I mean, do you know when the election will be called?

TREASURER:

Well, I don’t think he has decided himself.

MACKENZIE:

Oh I see. You have narrowed it down though I presume.

TREASURER:

He would discuss with me possible dates but the day that he decides, and he will say, oh by the way we have decided to have an election is the day he goes out to Yarralumla. He doesn’t actually decide to have it on a particular day and sits in his office and waits for that day to come around.

MACKENZIE:

Oh I see.

TREASURER:

You sit there and you say, is today a good day? Oh no, what about tomorrow? And if you’ve decided that is the day to call the election, you are out to Yarralumla and it is on.

MACKENZIE:

But it would be narrowed down to two or three by now wouldn’t it?

TREASURER:

Well…

MACKENZIE:

Two or three options?

TREASURER:

…I will give you this tip. It will be September, October, November or December.

MACKENZIE:

Thanks very much.

TREASURER:

There’s a scoop.

MACKENZIE:

Just before you go Warren. Have you caught any Myna birds yet?

ENTSCH:

The traps are baited right at this moment.

MACKENZIE:

Are they?

ENTSCH:

And usually you have to bait them for two or three days before you actually do the set. But it is interesting John since we spoke to you, I have already had some of the business people contacting me offering to sponsor traps…

TREASURER:

Oh, wonderful.

ENTSCH:

…so it is really gaining momentum. And we have got to talk to the Treasurer about that too because we are looking for a few dollars for a pilot project up here in (inaudible).

MACKENZIE:

You are going to go home with empty pockets.

TREASURER:

Unfortunately that is the way of the world. It is not new. Once Warren gets to you you really have got to stay on your game. He is a very, very powerful and persuasive advocate.

MACKENZIE:

Peter Costello thanks for your time in the studio today. And Warren Entsch also.

ENTSCH:

Thank you John.

TREASURER:

Thanks.