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 07/12/2005

Interview with Alan Jones
2GB

Wednesday, 7 December 2005
8.15 am

SUBJECTS: Robert Gerard

JONES:

Treasurer good morning.

TREASURER:

Good morning Alan.

JONES:

You have seen those photos.

TREASURER:

Well yes I have. We were in Parliament yesterday I think for two hours, you know, you are engaging in answering questions, you are engaging in responding to interjections, you turn around at a particular time, the photographer takes a snap and all of a sudden you get a headline like that. And Alan this is certainly a case where somebody has taken more than poetic license with a photograph.

JONES:

You would have to concede and you must be feeling that there has been a very, very strident personal attack on you for the last week over Gerard. Can I just ask you one or two questions about that. As I understood process, when a vacancy occurs on the Board of the Reserve Bank, Treasury would do most of the work and recommend to you a certain number of names and they would canvas them and have them checked out and all the rest of it and recommend them to you. Did that happen on this occasion?

TREASURER:

Alan, the process is there are always names that are held on lists by the Treasury, there are names that are held on lists by the Treasurer, when a vacancy comes you are normally looking for somebody who can bring a different area of expertise. And on this occasion the expertise that we were looking for was manufacturing. Rob Gerard is the largest employer in South Australia, he would be one of the most significant manufacturers in South Australia and his brand has been taken right throughout, the Clipsal brand, right throughout Asia. He was somebody who could bring to the board of the Reserve Bank a new area of expertise and that is why he was considered and that is why he was appointed.

JONES:

Right, now he was locked in an argument with the Tax Office over a tax liability, what are your powers and your entitlements to know the personal tax circumstances of any Australian?

TREASURER:

I am not entitled to know any confidential material about any taxpayer's affairs. I am just not allowed to know it, you are not allowed to know it, the press is not allowed to know it, nobody is allowed to know it. That is so that taxpayers when they are dealing with the Tax Office can be assured that their affairs are kept confidential. And this idea Alan by the way that somehow I know everybody's tax affairs in the country, it just isn't so and when you think about it for a moment you wouldn't want it to be (inaudible).

JONES:

No that is quite right. Now the Tax Commissioner, did he express a view about the appointment of Gerard, was he checked out to give the a-okay to Gerard as a candidate for the Board of the Reserve Bank?

TREASURER:

The Tax Commissioner did not give any reasons against the appointment of Gerard, no he did not, and Mr Gerard was also asked about his affairs and Mr Gerard gave a statement that his affairs were in order.

JONES:

When John Howard said at the weekend, 'Peter came up to me and said well what about Gerard?' And I said, 'well that sounds alright,' and we took it to Cabinet and it was a unanimous vote of Cabinet. Now this is all being interpreted by some as John Howard passing the ball and saying right-o, well I am dropping it in your lap Costello and so Costello gets up in the Parliament and says, 'well the Prime Minister endorsed it thoroughly.' Can you say something about these alleged tensions between you and the Prime Minister? Are your mob sort of organising for Peter Costello to become the leader of the Liberal Party and the Prime Minister?

TREASURER:

Alan all of these things are insinuated by a press which is more interested in a headline than reporting the facts. The truth of the matter is as both of us have said that we discussed it, we both thought it was a great idea, it was taken to the Cabinet, the Cabinet discussed it, the Cabinet approved it, he was appointed this was nearly three years ago by the way

JONES:

Including his own South Australian people, three years ago, so

TREASURER:

three years ago by the way and the Labor Party says, 'oh everybody knew he had problems,' well the Labor Party didn't and the newspapers didn't and the TV's didn't and the radios didn't and the Cabinet didn't this was three years ago the way they are carrying on Alan, everybody has known this for the last three years. Can I tell you, there was a report in the Australian Financial Review last week and that is when these matters became public, that is when the Opposition became aware of them and that is when I became aware of the matters.

JONES:

Of course the reports were designed to create the impression this bloke was some sort of a crook and owed a stack of money, I mean a lot of businesses are out there from the highest in the land contesting with the Tax Office, the presumption from that story was that the Tax Office was axiomatically right.

TREASURER:

Well Alan, every Australian has the right to challenge a tax assessment, to put their case to a court and in the final analysis the courts decide and every Australian has that right. If you want to argue that any Australian who contests a Tax Office is somehow crooked you are going to have a couple of million people in that category.

JONES:

Well okay, does it require in the light of what has gone on in the last 10 days, Peter Costello to say I can answer the leadership issue, I will be a candidate for the leadership if and when the Prime Minister decides to leave the Prime Ministership and not before and not at all until then?

TREASURER:

Alan, I have said on many, many occasions that I will be a candidate for the leadership if there is a vacancy but there is no vacancy. And I have said that on many, many occasions and frankly I am just sick of talking about

JONES:

So is there amongst the Costello supporters a timetable next year when an ultimatum will be delivered to the Prime Minister, stand up and move aside or else stand up and fight?

TREASURER:

And again I have never said that there is a timetable either on or off the record, in fact I have made that entirely clear over and over again. Can I tell you Alan, you read a lot of these things in the press and the fact that you read them in the press doesn't mean they are true.

JONES:

So Peter Costello as Treasurer, happy to be Treasurer until such time as the Prime Minister at any point down the track might decide to go but if he doesn't decide to go you won't be forcing his hand?

TREASURER:

I have said that and I have also said Alan, by the way, we are talking and preparing the next Budget as we speak.

JONES:

Which you will be bringing down?

TREASURER:

Well that is why I am preparing it, I am expecting to bring it down, I am not preparing it for somebody else I can assure you of that.

JONES:

And the relationship between you and the Prime Minister?

TREASURER:

Well yesterday Alan, we were in a Party meeting for 2 ½ hours, we then went into Question Time for 2 hours, we then sat together in a Cabinet for 3 hours so I think for about 7 or 8 hours we were sitting next to each other but of course as you know the photos of the two of you looking in the same direction which could have been taken during 7 hours and 59 minutes aren't the ones that get in the papers, are they?

JONES:

Not at all. You must be looking forward to a Christmas break?

TREASURER:

Oh sure, and there is a lot to be done before Christmas, we have got National Accounts today, we have got to update the Budget, we are Alan, working very, very hard to try and get as much done before Christmas as we possibly can.

JONES:

Yes, just one thing I must ask you before you go, this whole question of welfare, I mean we have had 15 years of unprecedented economic growth and yet somehow or another one in six able bodied working age Australians are on welfare, the disability benefit increased 700,000 now. What you are basically saying is we can't be as sick and idle as that surely, welfare shouldn't be available to people just because they don't want to work.

TREASURER:

Absolutely and obviously if you can't work then you shouldn't be required to. But if you can work, even if you can work part-time you should be encouraged to look for part-time work opportunities and there are plenty of part-time work opportunities at the moment. It may be that people can't work full-time but if they can work part-time they should be encouraged to do so, it is better for them, it is better for the other taxpayers, it gets them into the workforce, it gives them self-respect and it keeps the welfare bill down.

JONES:

Good to talk to you, thank you for your time.

TREASURER:

Good on you Alan, bye.