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 25/07/2005

Interview with Kieran Gilbert
Sky News Agenda

Monday, 25 July 2005
4.30 pm

 

SUBJECTS: Indigenous issues, terrorism, Australia-US relationship, leadership

GILBERT:

Thanks for your time today, Mr Costello.

TREASURER:

It is great to be with you Kieran.

GILBERT:

First of all, can I start with your impression of what you saw in those Aboriginal communities?

TREASURER:

Well there is no doubt that living standards are far worse in the Aboriginal communities than they are in general Australian society. The life expectancy is much lower, infant mortality is much higher, domestic violence is much greater, standards of income are lower and it is clear that we have got a long way to go if we want to bring the standards of living for Indigenous people up to that which is enjoyed by the rest of Australia. Having said that, it is clear that there are some programmes which are giving signs of hope and making a difference and improving things but it is a question I believe of ensuring those things that can help are supported, those things that are doing damage are ceased. I think that there was both positive and negative that I observed on my way through many of those communities.

GILBERT:

Treasurer why has this country, this nation, failed the Aboriginal people so badly over so many years?

TREASURER:

Well I think that when you go into some of these communities you realise that economic prospects are not good, that there are not real industries for people to work in and get a job and some of the Aboriginal leadership now are saying some really interesting things about this. The fact that, what they call sit down money' or welfare has not helped, it may have actually hindered, that what is really needed is real economic opportunity, the chance to get a real job and the self-respect that comes with real work, the importance of the family unit and the importance of giving pride and hope so that kids want to get an education because they want to take part in the mainstream of Australian economic life. I don't think that you will ever get standards in Indigenous communities mirroring those of mainstream Australia until you have given people in Indigenous communities the opportunity to participate in mainstream Australia which is work and a job and an income.

GILBERT:

Treasurer, there has been much made of this trip by your self, statements that it is about broadening your image. Was that in your mind at all as you headed off to Queensland?

TREASURER:

No, I had the opportunity during the July recess to spend some time in regional Australia , something that I regularly do and I had the opportunity to spend this time in northern Queensland going as far as the Cape. I wanted to spend some time in the Aboriginal communities because as I said some of the Indigenous leadership is now saying some very refreshing and new things and I thought that if I had the opportunity to visit with them and to go along with them in some of the communities I would have the opportunity first hand to see for myself and to draw some conclusions.

GILBERT:

Well it is obviously an issue that you have felt strongly about for some time. Of course, you took part in the reconciliation march across the Harbour Bridge. Would a Prime Minister Peter Costello apologise to the stolen generation?

TREASURER:

Well, I took part in the reconciliation walk because I believe in reconciliation. I was criticised by some at the time but that was my view then and it is my view now that I think there is a lot of goodwill in non-Indigenous Australia towards the Aboriginal community. I think that they do want reconciliation, they do want to know that our society - wealthy as it is - is spending some of that in improving the lot of our poorest citizens, the Indigenous communities. And I think if mainstream Australia has an opportunity to support policies that actually work, then I think they would like to see that, they would like to see reconciliation work out and improve living standards for Indigenous people.

GILBERT:

Would a Prime Minister Peter Costello apologise though to the stolen generation?

TREASURER:

No, that is a debate that is completely passed and I must say to you not one person mentioned that to me on this trip, not a single person, because we are now engaged in much more important things I think, which is people's lives, their education, their jobs, their living standards. You know, I think the debate has got far too serious to worry about those sorts of political issues, I think it is deadly serious, it is now about people's lives and that is what I would focus on.

GILBERT:

Okay Treasurer, moving on to terrorism and in the wake of the London bombings, how important is it for leaders, political leaders like your self, to encourage and preach tolerance?

TREASURER:

I think our society values its tolerance. We have tolerance within the rule of law, people are free to speak their mind on political or religious subjects. What they are not free to do is they are not free to incite violence. Nobody is free in Australia to incite violence because inciting violence leaves those that are incited to do violence. And that is why you try and stop it before it occurs by discouraging people for inciting violence, but within those confines people should be free to speak in a society where there is mutual respect, but bear in mind that mutual respect goes all around.

GILBERT:

Treasurer there is one religious cleric in your home town of Melbourne who says that Osama bin Laden is a good man. How do your handle a cleric like him? Do you sit down with him or do you just criticise with him? Do you open dialogue, how is that handled?

TREASURER:

Well Osama bin Laden is an evil man. He is a man who incites and organises the murder of innocent people. They are the facts. So, what you do is you point out the facts. The facts are he has incited people to kill many thousands of innocents, starting off of course with the World Trade bombings. So, what you do is you refute those falsities which are put around, you remind people of what the facts are and you appeal to religious leaders to deal in facts - not fantasies, in facts and you appeal to those religious leaders to exercise their influence for good, to exercise their teaching to impress upon people the importance of peaceful resolution of differences and tolerance in an open society, which is the Australian way, and you ask them to respect that.

GILBERT:

The Prime Minister has described those comments from Sheik Omran as appalling. Does it help with that sort of criticism being levelled? Doesn't it just ostracise or does it help in your view?

TREASURER:

Well you know, it is wrong, it is false, you have got to point out the facts. To say a man who has incited the murder of thousands is a good man, is false. You have got to deal in facts here and the facts are that Osama bin Laden has, through his organisation, incited people to engage in many, many terrorist acts and with the result that many thousands have been killed. This is not the mark of a good man and the important thing is to refute these arguments and to ask religious leaders not to peddle them because if they peddle them there may be people that actually believe them and if they are peddling them then you have got to answer them. You have got to answer them by dealing in facts and get the facts out to the people who might otherwise be mislead to thinking that there is something acceptable about terrorism or something acceptable about murdering innocent people. There isn't.

GILBERT:

Let's move onto the US alliance now and how important you think the relationship between John Howard and George W. Bush has been in nurturing and strengthening the relationship with the US ?

TREASURER:

Well Australia has been an ally of the United States since the Second World War of course and with the signing of the ANZUS alliance in the 50s the relationship has always been strong. I think that there is a personal rapport between John Howard and George Bush. I think it is a close personal relationship arising out of Mr Howard being in Washington during the events of 2001 and also cooperation through the engagement in Iraq. So, I think it is a close relationship and it is an important one and our countries are important and close allies with each other.

GILBERT:

The Prime Minister looks quite comfortable on the world stage alongside George W. Bush and Tony Blair. He turns 66 this week, why would he leave the job at the height of his powers?

TREASURER:

Well you had better ask him.

GILBERT:

Well he has been able to achieve, and the Government has been able to achieve, the delicate balance between nurturing the US alliance and the burgeoning relationship with China. How important is that balancing act?

TREASURER:

I think it is a very important relationship, the Australia-China relationship. China has the opportunity to be a major economic partner for Australia, in two-way trade incidentally, one as a buyer of energy and mineral exports and two as a supplier of manufactured goods. So with the emergence of China and a complementarity with Australia's economy, then China has the capacity to be quite a significant partner in Australia's economic development and something that we actually welcome because it may well have moved the terms of trade back in Australia's favour for the first time in a very long period of time.

GILBERT:

But how difficult is it balancing those two interests given the increasing strategic rivalry in global politics between the US and China?

TREASURER:

Well look, you have got to balance your relationships with a whole series of players on the global stage. We have a military alliance with the United States, we have a Free Trade Agreement with the United States, we have an emerging economic relationship with China, we are commencing a free trade negotiation with China and it is not impossible to deal with different countries at the same time and of course we have important relationships with Europe and with Japan. The important thing is to make sure that your relationships are in good order and that they form a coherent policy, a coherent whole and I think Australia has the capacity to do that and of course we want to do that over the course of the next decade or two.

GILBERT:

A number of Liberal MPs are quoted in today's Australian newspaper, urging the Prime Minister not to go anywhere given the war on terror and his close relations with George Bush and Tony Blair. What is your message to those MPs?

TREASURER:

Oh well, MPs are entitled to their views, of course they are but I don't know that it is the right thing to start engaging in feeding these issues out to the press at the current time. We have got a big job to do and we ought to be focussing on the job at hand.

GILBERT:

And as far as an 11 th Budget goes, when will you deciding whether you will be handing down the next Budget? At the end of the year, Christmas time?

TREASURER:

Well I am very focussed on what we are doing at the moment, I am not focussing on Christmas I can tell you that.

GILBERT:

Mr Costello, thanks very much for your time today.

TREASURER:

Thank you.