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 19/07/2005

Doorstop Interview
with Minister for Veteran’s Affairs, De-Anne Kelly
Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal
Hay Point

Tuesday, 19 July 2005
2.15 pm

SUBJECTS: Dalrymple Bay, Coal, Regulation, Water, Infrastructure, Steve Vizard, ID Card, IR Reform

TREASURER:

Well it is good to be here at the Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal, this together with Hay Point is the largest coal loading facility in the world, and coal is Australia’s number one export. We have had the opportunity while we are here to discuss the plans for expansion which are now I believe going to go ahead and it should increase capacity when they are finished by 2006 in the first stage and the second stage by 2007. This will enable an expansion of capacity in our number one export at a time when the terms of trade are moving very much in favour of resources. And if I had one fear it would be that we haven’t moved quickly enough to exploit the opportunities that are now emerging, particularly with China. One of the reasons for the delay as you know was a regulatory delay in the Queensland Competition Authority. It took too long to get a pricing decision out of that authority and Australia can’t afford to have a regulatory regime which takes too long. We just can’t afford to have it. And so I believe that in critical export areas, particularly in energy areas, Australia needs state of the art regulatory systems, I believe that the Commonwealth should show a lead in relation to this, and I believe that it should make its expertise available in cooperation with the States to deal with some of these decisions in a much quicker, prompter manner. Anyway, that is past, that delay was unfortunate, now the important thing is to get on with the construction.

JOURNALIST:

Does this new approach require a new regulatory body?

TREASURER:

Well there is a national regulatory body, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, it is able to deal with national infrastructure. There are also State bodies which deal with State infrastructure. You would have to ask yourself the question, are we a big enough country to have six or seven or eight competition authorities, do we have the expertise to man six or seven or eight competition bodies? Wouldn’t it be better maybe if we had a harmonised system where the best people were available for the biggest projects, particularly in relation to export? And this matter is going to be reconsidered by COAG when COAG looks at competition policy towards the end of the year and I would like to say on behalf of the Commonwealth that if a Commonwealth offer to take up some of these regulatory arrangements is on the table, I think the States might be interested in seeing progress in that area.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Costello, what is the reason for your visit? Obviously you are touring regional Queensland, I mean what specifically is the reason…?

TREASURER:

Well I am touring from Dalrymple Bay to the Cape, northern Queensland and starting off here in Dalrymple Bay, partly because my good colleague De-Anne Kelly has invited me to be here but also to see Dalrymple Bay, Australia’s biggest coal export facility and in fact the biggest coal export facility in the world. Now, we are a country that has to concentrate on increasing our exports, this is our number one export and it is the biggest facility in the world, it is a good place to start.

JOURNALIST:

Do you need to become better known in Queensland, perhaps down the line to boost your leadership credentials.

TREASURER:

Well I like to be well known everywhere.

JOURNALIST:

But it has been here for a long time.

TREASURER:

Dalrymple Bay? Well let me tell you what has not been here for a long time. What’s not been here for a long time is 40 or 50 ships queueing off the coast at our number one export facility. That hasn’t been here for a long time and the reason why they have been queueing off the coast is that demand is booming. Every country in the world wants to meet this demand, not just Australia. Countries like Brazil and Canada and Indonesia and if you are slow off the blocks, some other country will get the contracts. That is why you can’t afford to be slow off the blocks, that is why I got interested in Dalrymple Bay. That is why I raised it in the National Parliament, that is why I took the issue of competition up, that is why I got the users and the coal exporters to come in and to talk to them. This is an issue of national economic importance. We lost 22 months on regulatory delay, now that that has ended we have got three years of construction in front of us. Australia can’t afford to have these delays in the future and I want to make sure that we don’t.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Costello, will you be putting money on the table at the next COAG to get the States to support a national regulatory system and just to clarify, are you saying that you believe ports should be brought within a single ACCC-type framework similar to gas, electricity, water which I think you have already flagged?

TREASURER:

I think we ought to look at Australia’s critical infrastructure, export infrastructure and critical national exports coming into state of the art regulatory arrangements. I don’t believe that we are big enough as a country to have six, seven, eight maybe nine separate competition regulators, all skilled with the highest calibre people all giving prompt decisions and all giving right decisions. And I would offer to the State Governments that if they want to bring these functions into a national regulatory scheme with the Australian competition regulator, with the highest calibre of people, that is an offer I think that they may find attractive, it wouldn’t cost them any money, it might save them some money.

JOURNALIST:

How about water, that is another infrastructure? Dams and things like that? I mean you is that something the States and (inaudible)?

TREASURER:

I think that there is a leadership role here for the Commonwealth, particularly where water questions raise issues that cross state borders and also where it affects critical infrastructure. I am not saying that the Commonwealth Government is going to get into the business of water reticulation in towns or in cities, it has always been a State responsibility. But let’s think about a river that starts in Queensland and flows through New South Wales down into Victoria. The rights of users of that river are beyond any one State and I think there is a leadership role for the Commonwealth Government.

JOURNALIST:

Just on Mr Vizard, there has been some debate about whether at some time in the future he should ever be eligible to sit on a public body. Do you have a view on that?

TREASURER:

Well there has been an agreed statement of facts which has been made to the court. The court will make a decision. One of the decisions that it could potentially make is to ban a person from being a company director, and if a person is banned from being a company director they can’t sit on any such body including public corporations where they exercise director’s duties. So this could well be a decision that is made by the court, I don’t want to pre-empt the court. The court will be deciding civil penalties but those civil penalties can include disqualification.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) advice from ASIC on the treatment of Mr Vizard, have you had that advice? Can you tell us what it is?

TREASURER:

I sought advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions on the consideration he gave to the nature of charges. He has given me some advice on the decision which he took. It is well known that he decided not to bring criminal charges, that is why the proceedings will be civil penalties, and the advice that he gave me was that he considered this in his best judgment with all of the evidence that was available to be called, that he didn’t believe that the laying of criminal charges was warranted. That is the advice that he gave me.

JOURNALIST:

Were you satisfied?

TREASURER:

Well he is the Director of Public Prosecutions, he knows a lot more about bringing criminal prosecutions than I do.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) what about the national ID card, what is your thoughts on that, we have heard from the Nationals today, some agreed, some disagreed?

TREASURER:

Look, I believe it is worth having a look at. This is a debate Australia had 20 years ago, the ID card was put forward in the context of securing the tax base. Now we have made enormous steps since then. The administration of tax has been radically improved with the Australian Business Number and with the GST. Some people are putting it forward as a way of countering welfare fraud, that is another issue. Others have suggested that it may aid in the fight against terrorists. Now, I would like to see that argument made before I cast a judgment. I would like to know whether security agencies for example believe that it would aid in the fight against terrorism, that is relevant information. I would like to know how secure entry to the system is. Let me make this point. An ID system is only as secure as entry into the system. If your ID card is based on evidence which itself can be forged in some ways then the ID card is not of any great use. So if you want to summarise my position I am somebody who is open to new information but certainly wouldn’t be supporting it until such time as I heard persuasive information.

JOURNALIST:

What about you, Mrs Kelly, do the good people of Dawson take kindly to the notion of the national ID card?

KELLY:

Well I guess that is the debate we are having now, but as the Treasurer said, it is certainly something to consider, we live in a different time now, things have changed since Bali, since the London bombings and it is time to look again at any option that might better help us give security to people of Australia.

JOURNALIST:

So you think that some people would be prepared to have their civil liberties curtailed if you like, in order to have a better, secure, a more secure environment?

KELLY:

Well I think that is a debate that we are having now. Let me just say, I think people would appreciate being secure and a lot of the steps the Government has taken has meant that we have put in place a regime that means Australians are generally secure, that of course is never going to stop (inaudible) a determined terrorist but we should look at options that can increase security and this is one that needs to be examined as the Treasurer said.

JOURNALIST:

Just in industrial relations Mr Costello, do you think that the Federal Government has underestimated the strength and the determination of the union movement with its ad campaign and that is why perhaps the Government might be on the back foot?

TREASURER:

No I don’t think we underestimated the strength, the ACTU believes that this is something that can give it relevance, it is well funded and it is very politically savvy so it will fight hard and it started early. But this is a debate which has been going on in Australia, I have been taking part in it for 20 years.

JOURNALIST:

It has got a long way to run.

TREASURER:

And I wouldn’t call the race before it begun…

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible).

TREASURER:

…Anyone is entitled to start from when they like but the critical thing here is where it finishes.

JOURNALIST:

Have you got any tricks up your sleeve?

TREASURER:

Facts, facts up my sleeve, not tricks, facts. Okay, last question.

JOURNALIST:

Just putting the legal question on Vizard to one side, on what you have already admitted, would you appoint him to a public body?

TREASURER:

Look, anybody who is a company director should know this: that if you come into the possession of information which is not available to the market you can’t trade that for personal advantage. That is conduct which is not becoming for a company director, and in certain circumstances a crime and any company director that is worth his or her salt in Australia ought to know that when you are sitting in a boardroom and when you come across information that information is to be used for the benefit of the company you are serving and their shareholders and not for you, not for you for a moment. And the law is pretty clear in this area and it hardly needs restating and I think that the Commonwealth is entitled to ask for higher standards from company directors that it appoints and from directors who serve on its bodies. Let me answer your question that way. Thank you.