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 21/07/2005

Doorstop Interview

Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership
Tropical North Queensland Institute of TAFE
Cairns

Thursday, July 21, 2005
4.45 pm

 

SUBJECTS: Aboriginal Issues, Reconciliation, Alan Fels

JOURNALIST:

Mr Costello, what was the main point of these discussions today?

TREASURER:

Well we have had very extensive briefings on the work that is being done by the Cape York Leadership Institute and all of the projects that they have initiated here. I guess the main out-take of it was the importance of welfare reform. That welfare in many respects is destroying opportunity in communities and that incentives have to be heightened to engage in education and real economic development. And it was stressed to me over and over and over again that welfare is one of the main problems in communities and is giving perverse incentives, negative incentives to people. Rather than an incentive to work and improve their health and welfare it can actually be giving an incentive not to work and that is bad for health outcomes, it is bad for educational outcomes and it is bad for economic development. So a lot of work is going into the thinking as to how to change these incentives and we know from the general community that if welfare becomes a way of life then it can actually destroy self-esteem and economic progress and the same could be happening in some of the communities.

JOURNALIST:

But can you, can that be reflected across the board? I mean is it not somewhat patronising for non-indigenous politicians to be talking about sort of one size fits all approach to indigenous communities?

TREASURER:

Well you asked me what the essence of the message put to me was and that was it. It is not my analysis, that was the essence of the briefings.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) completely endorse the (inaudible)?

TREASURER:

I would endorse

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible).

TREASURER:

Well I think Noel is a very serious thinker who is saying some very substantive things and he and, not just him but the people associated with the Institute have come to that view. I am no expert in Aboriginal communities, I will freely say that, but I can talk about the broader community and I think in the broader community, yes, where welfare has become a way of life it has become quite damaging, particularly when it gets passed down from generation to generation. So would it surprise me if it had the same effect in Aboriginal communities? No, it wouldn't surprise me because we have seen it in some of our big cities in the rest of Australia. Work brings self-esteem, it is not just the economic benefits it is the self esteem that comes with meaningful work that actually gives people confidence and leads to better health outcomes. You know, your chances of leading a healthy life are much greater if you are in work than if you are out of work. We know that, we know that for a fact, all the way through Australia so it wouldn't be a surprise to me if it was the same in the communities.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Costello where are these jobs, I mean do Australian businesses need to get out there in these communities as a social responsibility, do Australian businesses get out there and create employment, what is the solution?

TREASURER:

Well I think Australian business will have a role in partnering to create real economic opportunities, in fact when we go up to the communities we will see some of the Australian businesses that are already and they will tell you about the partnership programme and there are some very well known Australian companies that are already partnering. Can I say from my own point of view, we have got two Treasury officials that are on secondment here, the director or the general manager is a former Treasury official who is on leave who is working here. So from the point of view of my own department we are taking this responsibility seriously and you will find that there are significant companies, I don't particularly want to advertise their names they are capable of doing that themselves, that are here and in terms of secondment of staff adding very considerable value to what is going on.

JOURNALIST:

Following on from that Treasurer, what about mobility to work issues for the remote communities to get to where the work is?

TREASURER:

Well that is the point, isn't it? If you could develop profitable corporations inside of the communities then that would be the best outcome because that would bring with them jobs. And I am sure that there can be profitable businesses in the community. Whether or not the remoteness is a disadvantage for large scale employment is an interesting question, I guess I will know a bit more about that tomorrow. But certainly you can imagine the capability of some enterprises and some employment in the middle of the community. I mean we were told about a couple of projects this afternoon like training facilities, there is a bus line, I think was one of the projects that had been set up, so there are clearly economic opportunities, the question is whether they are economic opportunities of scale and that is what I will be very interested to have a look at.

JOURNALIST:

Can I ask what it means to you like, do you plan to throw your energy and horsepower behind the things that are working and try and have them applied across the country?

TREASURER:

Look, I think that is the critical thing here. If you ask me for my assessment, I don't think there has been any shortage of money that has been devoted to Indigenous programmes over the last decade, I don't think it has been a shortage of money that has been the problem. I think what the problem is that probably we have been devoting money to many things that don't work rather than devoting money to things that do work and if your programme is not working, get rid of it, put your resources into something that is. And I think the key issue here is to actually find out what has worked, so get rid of all of things that haven't worked and find out what has worked and start devoting some of our resources to that. That would be good for the communities, it would be good for employment, it will be good for economic opportunities, you have got to remember this, we also owe the taxpayer the decency of ensuring that their taxes are used on successful programmes rather than unsuccessful ones.

JOURNALIST:

Have you heard today of any programmes that haven't been successful and which you think that have been a waste of resources?

TREASURER:

No, I have been told about programmes that have been successful today and that is why I am here and I hope to go and visit them.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) a lot of talk about practical reconciliation, do you think there is still a need for symbolic reconciliation and if you become Prime Minister, would you be prepared to say sorry?

TREASURER:

Look, you know what I think, I think in their hearts, Australians, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous have a great deal of goodwill to each other and I think deep in their hearts they want to work together. That is my view and if you want to call that reconciliation that is fair enough, to me that is reconciliation. And you have got to take that goodwill further to practical outcomes, and what are the practical outcomes that you are going to be looking for here? Life expectancy, we have got a situation where Indigenous life expectancy is what, 20 years shorter than non-Indigenous Australia, infant mortality, educational standards and economic opportunity and whether you are Indigenous or non-Indigenous I think your goals are probably pretty similar, a long life, a healthy life, the chance to participate in the mainstream of society and to be at peace with yourself and your neighbours.

JOURNALIST:

Is this an issue that you feel you have got to be across as Treasurer as part of that role or is it something that you believe if you completely put your weight behind it (inaudible) priority for you?

TREASURER:

Well you know, I am very focussed on this, I am here because I want to learn more and I will freely say to you I am not an expert but you know, I want to engage I think this is an issue that is on my mind and I think it is on the mind of a lot of Australia frankly and I think, we have got to edge towards understanding because I think there is a lot of goodwill there, I do think there is a lot of goodwill and people actually find it in their hearts that they want to improve conditions, that they want to know how, you know, I think we have moved beyond the goals and the objectives to the how tos now and it is on my mind to try and educate myself about the how tos and I have a responsibility as the Treasurer of course I do, a lot of money is spent on Indigenous matters but as an individual I want to engage it too.

JOURNALIST:

Now much credit do you give Noel Pearson for that transition on how to?

TREASURER:

I think he is a very original thinker, an original voice and I think that in the last couple of years he has really been leading the debate. Now, I don't want to give him the kiss of death of course, if I say things like that I don't know if it will help him or not but I have found him a very original thinker and a clear voice, a very clear voice in these issues in recent years.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Costello, one other issue, Alan Fels has been nominated for the head of the OECD by the Australian Government, does he have a chance, I understand that he is up against some fairly stiff competition?

TREASURER:

The Australian Government has nominated Alan Fels to be the Secretary of the OECD. He is a very strong candidate. In the OECD, Australia is very respected, one because our economy has been one of the successes of the developed world. Two because we have a very advanced competition policy which is often held up as a model and if you were to read OECD Reports on other countries, not just Australia, on other countries, you would see that Australian achievements are often recommended to other countries. Now, that means that we have got a lot of respect in the organisation and Professor Fels is well qualified. Will he win the ballot? Well like most international ballots, you have got a large swag of European votes, you have got a swag of North American votes and you have got Australia. So you have got to bring some of those swags in and if the Europeans or the North Americans decide to back a particular candidate it is very hard for us with one vote out of I think it is 28 to bring our nominee home.

JOURNALIST:

Will you and Mr Howard be hitting the phones to try and rustle up support for Professor Fels?

TREASURER:

I will certainly be recommending him to my fellow colleagues, fellow finance ministers but I don't want to overstate his chances. Generally what happens with these international bodies is that there is a European bloc and a North American bloc and they carve up votes between them. So you would have to say he is an outsider, but he is very well qualified, and Australia is very highly respected in this organisation. Okay thanks.