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 26/07/2006

Interview with Neil Mitchell
3AW

Wednesday, 26 July 2006
8.35 am

SUBJECTS: Leadership, poker machines, CPI, migration, population, Baby Bonus, union advertising campaign, wind farms

MITCHELL:

Mr Costello good morning.

TREASURER:

Good morning, good to be with you Neil.

MITCHELL:

Do you concede that you may now never be Prime Minister?

TREASURER:

Neil, let’s see what happens in the future rather than engage in speculation.

MITCHELL:

You don’t want to answer any of these questions, do you?

TREASURER:

No.

MITCHELL:

Why?

TREASURER:

Because after you have answered them for about the 25th time, the 35th time gets a bit trying.

MITCHELL:

Yes, but you haven’t answered them really.

TREASURER:

I have and I did full on press conferences, I stood there and I took every question from every journalist and I did that so that from now on I can refer you back to the transcript where they are all answered.

MITCHELL:

Did you answer the question to your reaction at Kim Beazley now being ahead of you as preferred Prime Minister.

TREASURER:

I answered every single question that was going.

MITCHELL:

Well that poll hadn’t been done then, how could you have answered it?

TREASURER:

Listen, in relation to these matters you can only go over them so many times, as I said you get boring answers from boring questions.

MITCHELL:

When did you last speak to the Prime Minister?

TREASURER:

Last week.

MITCHELL:

What about?

TREASURER:

Well it was about business matters.

MITCHELL:

Do you regret the way you handled those days?

TREASURER:

Look Neil, when you are asked questions about various matters and you answer them truthfully, that is the best you can do.

MITCHELL:

But you were wounded by it, weren’t you? In your standing with the public?

TREASURER:

I don’t, look I am not going into analogies or analysis about myself. Certain matters came up, I told the truth, I submitted myself to every question that was going, there is nothing more I can say.

MITCHELL:

But are you still the (inaudible) for the job when John Howard goes?

TREASURER:

Look, if opportunities arise in the future we will look at them then.

MITCHELL:

I hear he is talking up Malcolm Turnbull now.

TREASURER:

Well you have obviously got more people out there than I have.

MITCHELL:

I looked for an answer to this question, I couldn’t find anything, I looked again today, if John Howard stays will you go into the next election as Treasurer?

TREASURER:

Look Neil, I have been over these things so many times I am absolutely bored with it. I have got a job to do, I am doing it, John Howard is going to announce what he intends to do in relation to the next election, once he makes his announcement we will all know where we stand and we will all be able to make our announcements accordingly.

MITCHELL:

So does that mean it is uncertain as to whether you will go into the next election as Treasurer?

TREASURER:

It means that he is considering an announcement, that is what he said, he is going to make an announcement and there is no point in anticipating that. Once we know and hear his announcement then all will be revealed. We will all be in a position to know what he is going to do.

MITCHELL:

Well regardless of that, do you intend to be in Parliament after the next election?

TREASURER:

Oh, I am going to be in Parliament for as long as I can keep being re-elected. The electors determine whether or not you stay in Parliament and I am very conscious of that, but as I said a couple of weeks ago, I intend to be around for a decade or more if I can.

MITCHELL:

In any role?

TREASURER:

Oh yes, I am absolutely committed to staying in Parliament whilst there are things that can be done to make our country better and that is what I want to work on. My view is whilst there are things that can and should be done to improve our country, and whilst we have a positive contribution to make in relation to that, and whilst your electors elect you to do that, you should give everything you can and I will be giving everything I can, oh absolutely.

MITCHELL:

Is there still a chance you could go to the backbench?

TREASURER:

Look, in politics everything is dependent on the electors and the conditions of the day. I want to give the best contribution that I can in the best role that I can, but sometimes the electors or other events determine these things for you. So I don’t take anything for granted, I don’t take anything for granted at all.

MITCHELL:

So that is a possibility then?

TREASURER:

Well I don’t want it to happen, of course I don’t want it to happen but we could get voted out of office. This idea, by the way, that somehow the Liberal Party is going to be in Government for the rest of all time, there is an election next year and we could all be on the backbench after that.

MITCHELL:

Well you still have a front bench in opposition.

TREASURER:

Well Neil, I just don’t take anything for granted.

MITCHELL:

Is there a chance you could still challenge the Prime Minister?

TREASURER:

As I said, I am not taking anything for granted, I am not speculating…

MITCHELL:

That is not an answer.

TREASURER:

…well hang on, it is Neil because he is going to make an announcement about his future. As I said, once he makes an announcement then we will all know what the situation is.

MITCHELL:

Well he has always said that he will stay if the Party wants him, you agree that the Party has indicated now that it wants him?

TREASURER:

Look Neil, I am not going to speculate on it, you have heard my answer.

MITCHELL:

Jeff Kennett said he thought you put yourself ahead of the Party, what is your reaction to that?

TREASURER:

Well I think people can look at my record. I have been the Deputy Leader of the Party for 12 years, I have been Treasurer of the country for 10 years, they have been the most successful 10 years of government that we have had for a long time and I have worked with every ounce of my being to make it so. And you know, the record is there, you can compare the number of people that are in work today with the number that were in work 10 years ago, you can look at the fact that we have now had nine surplus budgets, we have repaid all of Labor’s debt, we have had continuous growth, we have got lower interest rates, we have got more families in a more secure position and people can judge for themselves what the record is like.

MITCHELL:

And that has been a dual effort with yourself and the Prime Minister at the front, obviously.

TREASURER:

Absolutely.

MITCHELL:

And that is part of the importance here, that now looks uncertain, that looks rocky because of what has happened. Would you deny that you have damaged the relationship, or the relationship with the Prime Minister has been damaged?

TREASURER:

No, because…

MITCHELL:

You wouldn’t deny it?

TREASURER:

No, no, I wouldn’t say that the relationship has been damaged because these events which have now come to light, happened in 1994.

MITCHELL:

But they’re not the important thing…

TREASURER:

No, no, no, no, and we have known about these events for 12 years, it is no surprise to us.

MITCHELL:

You have publicly called the Prime Minister a liar.

TREASURER:

I am sorry Neil, but I have not.

MITCHELL:

Use the word you would use. You are saying that his version of the truth was different to yours.

TREASURER:

No, no, I am sorry Neil, sorry to pick you up there but I don’t want to let that go unchallenged because I have never ever said that.

MITCHELL:

No, you said that his version of the truth is wrong.

TREASURER:

No, no, what I have said is, when Ian McLachlan revealed what happened, I have said what happened, that is all I have done.

MITCHELL:

So does John Howard believe his version?

TREASURER:

I have said what happened, I have been through it a thousand times, I am not going through it again. I have said what happened, I have made no allegations about anybody and I think that is a very, very important thing to bear in mind.

MITCHELL:

I think that is a word game because…

TREASURER:

No, I don’t, no, I am sorry…

MITCHELL:

…you have directly contradicted the Prime Minister.

TREASURER:

I am sorry, let’s suppose you were asked what you did yesterday and you give a full and clear and accurate explanation of what you did yesterday. That doesn’t mean you made an allegation about anybody. I gave a full and clear and accurate explanation about these events, I am not going over them over and over again, and I make no allegations about anybody.

MITCHELL:

If you contradict what I say I did yesterday, what are you saying about me?

TREASURER:

I am not saying anything about you, I am saying what happened.

MITCHELL:

All right, we need to move on, don’t we?

TREASURER:

I think we do Neil.

MITCHELL:

It is just playing a straight bat. I mean…

TREASURER:

No, no, no, I know what you are trying to do…

MITCHELL:

(inaudible) I have asked you, you have not answered one question.

TREASURER:

Well Neil, I know you are looking for a story…

MITCHELL:

I am looking for an answer.

TREASURER:

…and as I said to you, I am not going over these things a thousand times, they bore me, I am sure they bore you, I am sure they are boring your listeners so what we should do is we should talk about some things that they are interested in.

MITCHELL:

We should answer the questions.

TREASURER:

As we have.

MITCHELL:

We will take a break. Fertility, migration?

TREASURER:

I think very, very important issues for the future of Australia.

MITCHELL:

Are you a racist?

TREASURER:

Pardon?

MITCHELL:

Are you a racist? That is what you have been accused of.

TREASURER:

Well look, anybody who knows me would know that that is one of the most ridiculous things that you could possibly say about me and I will explain why.

MITCHELL:

After the break.

TREASURER:

Absolutely.

[AD BREAK]

MITCHELL:

The Federal Treasurer is with me. Other issues now, I will come back to immigration and breeding in a moment. Poker machines, do you support Ted Baillieu’s plan to cut poker machines by 5500?

TREASURER:

Yes I do. I think we have too many poker machines, I think they have really ruined a lot of suburban pubs and I don’t think they are actually something that improves the standard of life in our community.

MITCHELL:

Well it is going to cost you money, will you throw in some more money from the (inaudible)?

TREASURER:

It is not up to the Federal Government to make the financial decisions for the State but I point this out: the State has very strongly growing revenues out of GST, they have enormous revenues coming out of land taxes and I don’t think you should continue to run pokies just for the sake of getting revenue. It is basically taking money from poor people into the state coffers.

MITCHELL:

Interest rates, do you agree the pressure is on? CPI figures today and I see the estimate, petrol has gone up 12 per cent in three months.

TREASURER:

Petrol is going to put a lot of pressure on the CPI. It is something that is causing a lot of hardship for Australian families. When we look at general inflation though, we’ll have to look through the price impact of petrol for the purposes of monetary policy but we will be getting a Consumer Price Index at 11.30 today and as I keep on saying, the important thing is that those transport, increased transport costs don’t get built into other goods and services and kick off a general round, a secondary round of inflation.

MITCHELL:

So are the petrol price rises doing enough, or are they having the impact of an interest rate rise would anyway, are they going to feed in and make it inflationary?

TREASURER:

Well you see this is the point. The object of interest rate policy is to keep inflation down but if inflation goes up, not because anything has happened in our economy but because the price of oil coming in from overseas is rising then an interest rate rise won’t do much about that. So what we do for interest rate purposes is we look through the petrol effect. We try and see what the effect is in the general economy ex-petrol.

MITCHELL:

So we shouldn’t assume an interest rate rise is inevitable?

TREASURER:

You shouldn’t assume anything, but the important figure will be the ex-petrol, taking out the petrol CPI today.

MITCHELL:

On the immigration, sort of breed or face dislocation is the way it was interpreted, Walid Ali, of the Islamic Council of Victoria, now he hasn’t used the word racist but he says what you are saying encourages a cultural paranoia: the migrants are coming, it is creating a false panic within the broader community.

TREASURER:

Well he is entitled to his view but I thoroughly disagree with him. I am talking about facts here.

MITCHELL:

Well what is the social dislocation you are talking about?

TREASURER:

The facts that I am talking about are these. If a population wants to replace itself it needs a birth rate of 2.1. That covers Mum and Dad and those that don’t marry or those that die young. We are below 2.1. That means that over the longer term in Australia we will have more deaths each year than births. Now, that means that we will have a declining population which you could make up through immigration. But if there was no natural increase in your own population and all of the increase in population came from immigration, the composition of your population would change. These are facts.

MITCHELL:

Is that bad?

TREASURER:

Well it would be bad if that led to disagreements or a social dislocation. Now, I have two points here. One is I am a great believer in immigration and so I want to retain support for our immigration programme. And the second is I am a great believer in increasing population so I am encouraging Australians to think about having larger families. And I coined that expression, “one for Mum, one for Dad and one for the country” to try and get people to think about getting our fertility rate back up towards replacement level.

MITCHELL:

Are you, but you are also saying that there is, well there can be dislocation obviously if your migration (inaudible) have we seen signs of that already?

TREASURER:

I don’t think we have in Australia but you can look overseas and I look particularly at some European countries and European countries have had declining birth rates which have gone lower than ours…

MITCHELL:

What about the Cronulla riots?

TREASURER:

…and I think overseas you have seen some dislocation. Well, we have had the Cronulla riots and I don’t think they have brought any credit to anybody but I think that is an isolated situation…

MITCHELL:

What is the sort of dislocation you are talking about?

TREASURER:

…but you can get in communities. We have been fantastically successful in this country in avoiding that but when I look out 20 and 30 and 40 years, which I am now doing, the nature of our society will change if we don’t do something about this birth rate. Now, in the past when we had big waves of immigration in the 40s and 50s and the 60s, we had big fertility rates so the natural population was really exploding.

MITCHELL:

But you are talking about…

TREASURER:

…but in the future you could have the natural population contracting and that is a big change.

MITCHELL:

Which means you could have a situation where migrants are in the majority and I mean the (inaudible).

TREASURER:

Well the proportion would grow, the proportion of migrants of the population would grow much greater than it has in the past.

MITCHELL:

Are there any particular migrant groups that you are concerned about causing dislocation?

TREASURER:

No, I am just making this point that we don’t want a situation to arise in 2020 or 2030, which is what I am looking out to, and it is just another reason, and there are many other reasons why, we should be interested in having a higher birth rate. Now, the biggest reason for having a higher birth rate is it will make it easier for us to run our economy and defend our country.

MITCHELL:

Isn’t this just really the same argument that Geoffrey Blainey was putting up when he said beware, in the 80s, when he said, just think about Asian migration in the future.

TREASURER:

Well I would have to go back and see what Geoffrey said but you know, Geoffrey Blainey is a great Australian, probably one of our greatest historians if not probably our greatest historian and he was vilified and it was a very unfortunate event, it shouldn’t have happened and I am glad that his reputation has been thoroughly restored. But can I say this Neil, the decline of the birth rate and the ageing of the population is not something unique to Australia, it is happening in every developed economy around the world. Every political leader from Putin to Bush to Chirac is thinking about this problem. The good news for Australia is that we seem to be one of the few countries in the world that is actually improving the situation. We had a 40 year decline in the birth rate and in the last year, for the first time, we stopped declining and the birth rate went up. Now we have just been reported in Science Magazine, one of the most authoritative scientific magazines of the world as the success case. Now when we say we are a success case our birth rate bottomed at 1.73 and it has now gone to 1.8. So it is not a huge success, but it is about the only success in the developed or western world.

MITCHELL:

What is your response to the claim that what you are doing is a revisited form of Hansonism, Pauline Hanson?

TREASURER:

That is complete nonsense.

MITCHELL:

Why?

TREASURER:

Well I never heard her speak about demographic changes, the ageing of the population, the fertility rate or any of these things.

MITCHELL:

I was listening to a community official from a town called Walgett in New South Wales, an Aboriginal community yesterday, 1800 people, they have got 43 pregnancies in kids under 15 and they are blaming the Baby Bonus. They are saying kids are getting pregnant deliberately to get the Baby Bonus and you have not considered it properly.

TREASURER:

Well let me make two points. The first is that nobody would get pregnant for a $4,000 payment.

MITCHELL:

These are desperate kids.

TREASURER:

You and I know that having children and rearing them costs hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars and the fact that you’re given $4,000 to help with the birth expenses does not put you in front, that is my first point. And my second point is that we do have provision where we think that if somebody will not properly expend the Baby Bonus for social workers to recommend it to be paid in instalments, and this does happen in some communities and it is done so that people don’t blow it inappropriately.

MITCHELL:

The Office of Workplace Relations has found that the union advertising campaign has been largely dishonest around the workplace laws, should further action be taken against with them by advertising standards authorities?

TREASURER:

Well I wouldn’t rule it out but let me make this point. This is a political argument. They’ve been found to have advertised falsely.

MITCHELL:

Nobody expects honesty in political advertising.

TREASURER:

And so I would say to people, don’t believe them. There you go, the evidence is that they have been falsely advertising, don’t believe them and don’t vote for them.

MITCHELL:

Should we believe your ads?

TREASURER:

Ours have not been found to be false. In fact they are carefully scrutinised.

MITCHELL:

How can you ban a wind farm on the basis that they could harm Orange-bellied parrots or whatever they were, and the official report says that one parrot every 667 years is in danger. How can the Minister say, no we are not having it? It is politics, isn’t it?

TREASURER:

The Minister did have an independent report which said that he should take this into account and he did. Now having said all of that I am no expert on the Orange-bellied parrot but I assume that the Orange-bellied parrot is part of the natural fauna down there. There might be other reasons to be against wind farms though including their ugliness on…

MITCHELL:

You don’t like them?

TREASURER:

I wouldn’t want one in my backyard.

MITCHELL:

Every 667 years those parrots are at great risk. John Howard’s birthday, how old are you?

TREASURER:

I am 49 at my next birthday.

MITCHELL:

And that is on the 14th of August.

TREASURER:

That’s it.

MITCHELL:

And how old is he?

TREASURER:

He is 67.

MITCHELL:

You knew his age more than you knew...

TREASURER:

I read it in the paper today, it is in every newspaper.

MITCHELL:

How do you think Akermanis would suit Essendon?

TREASURER:

I’d take Akermanis, yes I would. I think he has got a good career in front of him. A bloke like that can come on and kick three goals on the burst every game, I’d take him with all of his antics, yes.

MITCHELL:

What about Dean Rioli, he’s thinking of another year?

TREASURER:

He has got to get to 100 games, I think he needs two more and then the club will obviously hope to get him up to those two games this year.

MITCHELL:

It is not your best year.

TREASURER:

No.

MITCHELL:

I mean in the football club.

TREASURER:

No, I knew what you were talking about.

MITCHELL:

Time for Sheeds to go?

TREASURER:

Well we have lost 14 but we drew last week, so it is like the fertility rate, we were declining and we have bottomed and we are about to come back.

MITCHELL:

You know it is going to be inevitable, it is John Howard’s birthday, have you got a birthday message for him?

TREASURER:

I wish him a very happy birthday and I hope that he enjoys the friendship of family and the good wishes from many, many people and we all look forward to our birthday and he should have a good day and celebrate it.

MITCHELL:

A friend of yours still?

TREASURER:

We have worked together closer than any other political partnership in Australia…

MITCHELL:

Thank you for coming in.

TREASURER:

…for 10 years.

MITCHELL:

The Treasurer, thank you.