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 28/01/2005

Interview with Neil Mitchell
3AW

Friday, 28 January 2005
8.45 am

 

SUBJECTS: Pixie Skase, Mamdouh Habib, Kim Beazley, John Elliott, republic, Iraq, economy, Commonwealth Games

MITCHELL:

Mr Costello good morning.

TREASURER:

Great to be with you.

MITCHELL:

Pixie Skase, would you let her into the country as a citizen?

TREASURER:

We have to be careful because apparently this is in the courts, but speaking generally as I understand it, if you renounce your Australian citizenship and you re-apply, it is quite different for somebody who has always been an Australian citizen. If somebody has had Australian citizenship and said, ‘I don’t want it anymore,’ and then comes along and says, ‘well, I would like to get it back,’ apparently it can only be done by the Minister and the Minister has to look at it very carefully.

MITCHELL:

Any idea why?

TREASURER:

It is different to a situation where somebody who accidentally relinquishes it, maybe they failed to re-new their passport, where somebody actually says, ‘I don’t want to be, I don’t want that citizenship, I don’t want it,’ well they get rid of it. And you can imagine when you turn around and say, ‘well I have changed my mind,’ it is a bit harder to get it back.

MITCHELL:

But we are a pretty generous country though aren’t we?

TREASURER:

I think we are, but you have got to remember this, there are millions of people all around the world who would like Australian citizenship and if there is someone who does have it and throws it away and says, ‘I don’t like your country, I don’t want it anymore,’ you might look quite differently when they change their mind.

MITCHELL:

Mamdouh Habib back in the country today, correct?

TREASURER:

Well, I can’t confirm his travel plans but the difference with Habib of course is he is an Australian citizen as I understand it, he had never relinquished it.

MITCHELL:

It seems a bit strange though doesn’t it, he is the bloke George Bush had in shackles for three years wondering around Sydney, Pixie Skase can’t be a citizen?

TREASURER:

Well the thing about Habib is that we didn’t have offences, we didn’t make it a crime to engage in fighting with terrorists overseas at the time of September the 11th. We passed a law and we made it a crime after that, but you can technically say what I was doing at that time wasn’t a crime and you don’t have retrospectivity on these criminal matters.

MITCHELL:

Do you think we should go after him somehow?

TREASURER:

Well I would just say that if he like any other person in Australia engaged in something that was criminal or threatened our security he should feel the full force of the law.

MITCHELL:

Are we watching carefully, will we be looking for him to put a foot wrong or make a (inaudible) and try and charge him?

TREASURER:

No, he will be treated like any other Australian and the law enforcement agencies just assess people and we all know now what the law is. The law is you can’t engage in giving comfort to terrorists anywhere around the world and if you do that in Australia that is a crime.

MITCHELL:

He hasn’t been treated like any other Australian for the past three years.

TREASURER:

Well, he was picked up in a theatre of war in which Australian troops were fighting.

MITCHELL:

Kim Beazley about to be re-elected, in about 15 minutes probably, it will be very quick, does he cause more trepidation for you than Mark Latham?

TREASURER:

Well, we take every Labor leader on their merits, I think the important thing with Mr Beazley really is whether he can get some policy behind him and if we see some policy we will debate the policy with him. But as of this morning it is too early to say whether his policy will still be the same as it was when he led the Labor Party the last time and if it is than we will make the same criticisms. But if he feels that he can engage in more positive policy, particularly on economic policy and support the Government’s economic management then I think he will have a better run.

MITCHELL:

Is he a decent bloke, he has the image of a decent bloke, do you like him?

TREASURER:

Yes I quite like him, yes.

MITCHELL:

So you are not going to get up and bop him on the nose in the Parliament?

TREASURER:

I haven’t to date, I didn’t the last time, so I can’t imagine I will this time.

MITCHELL:

Verbally I mean.

TREASURER:

Well look, if he puts forward a bad policy of course I will disagree with it Neil and you can remember the last time that when we first came into Government we had to inherit Mr Beazley’s mismanagement of the economy, I made a few a points about that which I will probably make again. But if he can come to terms I think with the mistakes of Labor’s past, if he can strike out on a new direction especially in economic policy and support what the Government is doing, then I think he will make a new start.

MITCHELL:

Do you think he will last as Leader until the election?

TREASURER:

I think so, yes, really because there is, we have seen there is no one else is there? A few of the others sort of half put their hands up and then pulled them down again, so I don’t think there is anybody else.

MITCHELL:

Do you think John Howard will last until the next election?

TREASURER:

Well, he has made his position on that entirely clear.

MITCHELL:

What is it?

TREASURER:

Well he has said it over and over and over again Neil, you know that.

MITCHELL:

I do. John Elliott, old mate of yours, facing bankruptcy hearing today, do you feel for him a bit?

TREASURER:

I do in this sense that you know, he was a very senior businessman, running a very big company and now he really has nothing left. Having said that, I feel for his creditors too, you know, there are people who are owed money who should be paid and in that situation the bankruptcy law tries to get them the best deal that is going. You know, you have got to pay your debts but having said that, I don’t think it is ever fun seeing somebody crash.

MITCHELL:

Is he a mate of yours?

TREASURER:

No, John and I have known each other over the years, mainly at football. He is a Carlton supporter as you know, so that was always the difficult thing in the relationship.

MITCHELL:

You have been one of the strong supporters of the Republic and there is a poll this week saying support is waning for the republic, do you believe that?

TREASURER:

No, I don’t really. I think that if you ask people their view, their view hasn’t changed. I think most people would say that one day Australia will become a republic. If you ask them whether they feel really worked up about it, you know were you going to go into the streets and march for it, I don’t think there is any great urgency about it.

MITCHELL:

So you still think it will happen?

TREASURER:

Yes I do. I don’t think people who once supported a republic are now saying, ‘well I would rather be a monarchist.’ I think people are saying, ‘yeah, it will happen one day in the fullness of time, but why rush things?’ And what you are seeing reflected in the polls is no great urgency. I don’t think there is any great urgency. I said during the last referendum campaign in 19, was it 1999, I think it was, that if the proposal failed you wouldn’t expect another vote for a decade. There were some people who said, ‘oh vote this one down, you will get another vote in a year or two.’ Well, you see that was six years ago now Neil and I stand by that, I don’t think you would see another vote for a decade from 1999.

MITCHELL:

Australians badly wounded in Iraq yesterday, do you think this war is becoming increasingly unpopular in this country?

TREASURER:

I think the Australian public know that we have to stay until the job is done. And I think they also know that the only way in which troops can come home is when you have had elections and when you have a democratic government. Now the terrorists will try and do everything they can to stop a democratic government being elected and the important thing is not to reward terrorism. So I think that people obviously feel for the loss of life and they obviously feel for the injury and our hearts go out to the soldiers that were injured in this recent attack. But they also feel at the same time that the great goal of Iraqi democracy is worth persevering for.

MITCHELL:

Is there a prospect we could be out of there this year?

TREASURER:

I wouldn’t put time limits on it, I think that is the mistake that Mr Latham made, but I would say this, that there are prospects for withdrawal once you have a democratic government in Iraq. You are going to have a vote on Sunday, voting has already started here in Australia, fantastic thing, we are the first nation in the world where the Iraqi ballot box has opened which is fantastic, and you will have a vote by Sunday and then you will have a pretty amazing thing in Iraq, a democratic government. Now you can’t expect a government once it is elected to be able to maintain law and order the day after its election, it is going to need help. But if it has public support and it is a legitimate democratic government then you can start to prepare for the Iraqis to manage their own affairs.

MITCHELL:

What is your agenda, you talked last year about branching into other areas, what is your agenda, what do you want to have a go at?

TREASURER:

Well, I think that obviously we have the big economic issues that are still there and we are facing up now to another Budget…

MITCHELL:

That must really warm your heart, another Budget.

TREASURER:

…it does, but you know, you have always got new challenges. This Budget one of the biggest challenges is going to be funding the tsunami relief and seeing through the distribution of the very large sums that have been raised for relief, so you know, who would have predicted that last year, there are always new challenges. I think on the social area, I want to keep talking about building community spirit and enterprise and volunteerism because I think that is a very big part of our society.

MITCHELL:

Will there be room for tax relief in the Budget?

TREASURER:

Well there are new tax cuts that are going to take effect on 1 July of this year that have already been legislated.

MITCHELL:

Yes, anything else?

TREASURER:

Well that is a pretty good step Neil.

MITCHELL:

What is your concern for the economy this year, what is the main issue?

TREASURER:

Well, there are always challenges that come up, the currency has been a challenge, the oil price has been a challenge. We have got to make sure that we work harder I think at continuing competitiveness in the Australian economy. You don’t want to think, I think there is this view that all of the economic problems in Australia have been fixed. Not for a moment.

MITCHELL:

Well, what is number one?

TREASURER:

Well number one at the moment is our external trade position, that is our number one challenge at the moment and that is being affected by the exchange rate, it is being affected by capacity constraints in the Australian economy and we have got to make sure that we can deal with those.

MITCHELL:

Despite what Andrew Demetriou says, I think we are a pretty generous country, but what are the volunteers you are after, the Commonwealth Games volunteers?

TREASURER:

We are after 15,000 volunteers who will help for the Commonwealth Games, who will do things like marshalling, who will do things like assist the media, who will drive cars, who will give directions and these are people who will be recruited and be trained and they will have uniforms and they will have accreditation and they will be the public face of Melbourne and Australia and we hope that they will give visitors to the Commonwealth Games the very best experience of Melbourne and Australia they can possibly have.

MITCHELL:

Well it worked in Sydney it has got to work here.

TREASURER:

It worked fantastically in Sydney and at the end of the Sydney Olympics you will recall there was a parade for the volunteers and Australians came out and cheered the volunteers just as much as they cheered the Gold Medal winners.

MITCHELL:

Well it is good to see you, did you play a bit of beach cricket, get injured, get wounded over the Christmas break did you?

TREASURER:

Why do you say that?

MITCHELL:

There is a bit of surgery on the head.

TREASURER:

I just got out in the sun and I am probably too old to do that, I probably didn’t so enough slip, slop, slapping.

MITCHELL:

(inaudible) something cut out, just a little bit?

TREASURER:

No, no, I didn’t have anything cut out, it is just the ageing process Neil.

MITCHELL:

Thank you very much for coming in, do you want to wish Kim Beazley well?

TREASURER:

Yes, I do, look, I say to him…

MITCHELL:

I was joking.

TREASURER:

…oh no, I say to him obviously it is a significant office, the office of the Leader of the Opposition and if he can bring Labor into the era of modern economic management that would be a great thing to be done.

MITCHELL:

Bombers?

TREASURER:

Tough, very tough.

MITCHELL:

Sack Sheedy?

TREASURER:

Are you for real?

MITCHELL:

The Treasurer, Peter Costello.