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 29/06/2005

Interview with Tim Cox
ABC Tasmania

Wednesday, 29 June 2005
8:30 am

SUBJECTS: McDonalds, Competition Policy, Welfare, Leadership, Latham Book

COX:

Peter Costello good morning.

TREASURER:

Good morning Tim, how are you?

COX:

Very well thank you. You are meeting, I understand, with vegetable growers, what is the message you will take to them?

TREASURER:

Well obviously the vegetable growers are very concerned about the fact that McDonalds and possibly other companies may be shifting the source of the supply and I am coming down to meet them, I will be meeting them in Devonport today to have a chat to them about some of the issues that might be of assistance to them, such as labelling laws and other things and to hear of their concerns and to have a discussion about some things that might be able to help.

COX:

I am interested in what you think you might be able to achieve that perhaps them as a collective have not been able to achieve or perhaps that the Tasmanian State Government hasn’t been able to achieve?

TREASURER:

Well, they want to put their case to direct to the Federal Government and I am very happy to come and to meet with them and to hear it and if there are areas that the Federal Government can assist them in we would be very happy to do it, that is why I am there.

COX:

The one thing you can’t do I guess, is lean on McDonalds or perhaps lobby McDonalds to continue buying the Tasmanian potatoes in the volume they are doing. Is there an inevitability to this that not even you can change?

TREASURER:

Well, let’s just see how this works out. I would be quite happy to make the point to McDonalds that for its Australian operation it is going to get a lot more support from Australian consumers if it is using Australian product. And I think that is one of the things they have to consider, we don’t tell them where they have to source their product from, but we can make that point that Australians who are buying their products are probably going to be much more inclined to do so if they are sourcing the materials, the vegetables for that product in Australia.

COX:

Is there a shot in the locker there Peter Costello and you just don’t want to tell me what it is?

TREASURER:

No, I am just saying that all matters that are on the table will be discussed and we will see if we can help.

COX:

The Australian newspaper is saying today that you are looking at a shake-up, a way to change the National Competition Policy. Tasmania of course is in a position where it is about to join that in a major way with Basslink, where does it need to change in your view?

TREASURER:

Well I think Basslink is a very good example actually. What we need is we need to have a national electricity grid so that power that is made in Queensland can be traded with New South Wales, Victoria, power that is made in Tasmania can be traded into Victoria. We don’t want these situations where we are duplicating, but also when there are shortages you can’t get assistance from other States. What we need is a national grid with consistent regulation, with clear uniform regulation, with proper pricing where Australia can have state of the art and cheapest electricity. Electricity can flow across state borders, we now know it can flow across Bass Strait. We shouldn’t have a situation where States separately regulate, separately charge and don’t cooperate with each other.

COX:

In what though can you enforce that change? Can you do it, I guess so, without regulating the market?

TREASURER:

Well, what we have to do is we have to increasingly draw cooperation from State regulators and I hope, move increasingly to a national regulator. We have one national clearly responsible regulator that deals with these matters. Now, we are making progress, it is better than it used to be but it is not quite state of the art and for a modern economy, we ought to have state of the art if you want cheap and plentiful electricity and if you want the same for gas and eventually the same for water.

COX:

Do you see water, obviously it is such a hot topic at the moment given the drought, and we are looking at it here with lower than we would like dam levels and of course the prospect of a pulp mill that will use a lot of fresh water to operate, can there be a national water market along the lines of a national electricity grid?

TREASURER:

Well there should be. You see one of the problems not so much in Tasmania, but one of the problems on the mainland has been that the State Government controls water and if it is the Queensland State Government once the river runs out of Queensland and into New South Wales they don’t really care so much about what has happened to that river and once the water runs through New South Wales and into Victoria the New South Wales Government starts to lose interest. Water flows across state boundaries and if you misapply up near the source then you are going to suffer down the course of the river, this is why we have got to have a water market which reaches across state boundaries which allocates on the basis of need which has clear and tradable rights and which makes this most precious of resources available to the best and most important uses and this is going to be a great challenge for Australia, it is a great economic challenge and a great economic reform that we are going to need over the years ahead.

COX:

Is there a problem though that everyone wants to talk about water when we don’t have any but when we do, no one is particularly interested in it?

TREASURER:

Well we have got to keep talking about it because we are the driest continent on earth and that means this is our most precious resource and we are focussed on it at the moment you are quite right, because of drought but I don’t want to lose focus, I want to make sure that we use this is as an opportunity frankly.

COX:

Can I ask you about some figures released by the Australian Council of Social Service about the Welfare to Work provisions in the Federal Budget and I am quoting here from ACOSS President Andrew McCallum, ‘The financial disincentives to work and to study must be removed so that struggling Australians can improve their prospects and find a way out of poverty.’ That is not what you were after in the Budget though is it?

TREASURER:

Oh yes, what he is probably referring to there is that as you get part-time work and you increase your earnings, some of your welfare reduces accordingly. And there are people that say, oh well look, I don’t want to earn part-time because if I do I lose just as much in welfare. Now, one of the things we did do in the Budget actually is we announced that the withdrawal rate, the rate at which your welfare is withdrawn will be eased somewhat, you can’t take it away altogether because it wouldn’t be fair to taxpayers to have people in the workforce and on welfare but the withdrawal rate has been eased and that is one of the things we have been looking at.

COX:

But what Andrew McCallum says is the Budget’s Welfare to Work package increased employment assistance for people with disability as you said, and it provided more childcare for sole parents, but if those parents want to work or study, they have even less money to make ends meet. Is he right?

TREASURER:

No I don’t think he is. No. What we have done is we have announced a programme which encourages people to look for work and if you find work, even if you find part-time work, your position will improve and that is what the object ought to be.

COX:

The figures so far said though, that if you are on a pension and if you are renting with Austudy as well, you are over $100 worse off, if you are renting you are $155 a week worse off.

TREASURER:

No I think what he is trying to talk about is in the future where - and we are not talking about anybody who is on a current benefit because nobody on a current benefit is going to be worse off, so he is quite wrong about that - what he is probably trying to say is he is probably trying to say, in the future if you are capable of work, you won’t be going on pension you will be going on Newstart, the unemployment benefit, that is probably what he is trying to say. But the point there is these are people who are capable of work and will be encouraged to try and find it.

COX:

Alright, I know you have got a plane to get and I don’t want to hold, you up and I would be derelict from my duties if I didn’t ask you about the leadership, George Gregan, the right man to lead the Wallabies. Peter Costello, Tony Abbott said Peter Costello, on the Insiders the other day that there is a definite pecking order inside the Liberal Party - John Howard first, Peter Costello second and then a whole lot of other people a long, long way behind. Does it make you nervous when Tony Abbott says things like that?

TREASURER:

Well look, Tony is a very colourful character and he is a good friend of mine and if he said it, it must be right. I tell you what, I would rather have a bloke of Tony Abbott’s muscular ability behind me than in front of me.

COX:

It doesn’t make you nervous though when he starts telling journalists that you are the right bloke to lead the Party next, and that is what he saying there.

TREASURER:

No, it doesn’t make me nervous, I find Tony very reassuring I think Tim, that is the best way I can put it.

COX:

And is there any truth in the rumour Peter Costello, you have stopped at the newsagent there at the airport in Melbourne to obtain a copy of The Bulletin magazine while you wait for your mail order copy of Loner: Inside a Labor Tragedy?

TREASURER:

Well, I think a lot of us will be reading that book, it will be pretty hot property, in fact as I came past it looks like they are about to sell out.

COX:

Are you going to read it?

TREASURER:

Well, I will certainly read The Bulletin and I am waiting for the diaries, I reckon they will be a smashing read, looking forward to that very much.

COX:

Are you expecting to fare well in those, are you?

TREASURER:

I would expect that yes, I would probably get an honourable mention and not a very flattering one but I think that most of the analysis will be reserved for people on Mark’s own side, the Labor Party.

COX:

Are there any roosters in the Liberal Party?

TREASURER:

No, the roosters of course are Wayne Swan, Stephen Smith and Stephen Conroy and they were so-named by Mark Latham because they used to crow a lot without delivering much.

COX:

None of them on your side of the House though?

TREASURER:

A rooster doesn’t lay an egg.

COX:

We look forward to seeing what you have got to offer farmers here, thank you for your time this morning.

TREASURER:

Thanks very much for your time.