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 03/08/2006

Doorstop Interview

Mercy Hospital for Women
Heidelberg, Melbourne

Thursday, 3 August 2006

10.30 am

SUBJECTS: Census, interest rates, fuel, fertility, stem cell research

TREASURER:

The 8th of August is Australia’s Census night and we are asking every Australian household on the 8th of August to fill in the Census forms so that we can keep an accurate count of how many Australians there are, where they live, what their ethnic background is, what their educational achievement is, this information is absolutely essential for Government because it tells us where services need to be relocated, it gives us a fix on the housing needs of the nation, it tells us how many schools we need and it provides the basis for all Government planning. So, on the 8th of August every Australian household will be asked to fill in this form and it is very much in the interests of the community generally. Any baby that is born between now and the 8th of August is going to get a t-shirt that says, ‘I just made the count,’ because they will be Australians included in that Census as well.

JOURNALIST:

Are their penalties for not filling out the forms?

TREASURER:

We don’t seek to penalise people, we just ask them to cooperate and I must say the cooperation level is extremely high and we have never had problems with people cooperating in the past. You should be assured that your identity is protected, you do not have to put a name on these forms, you can if you want to, tick a box to keep the form and that means that after 100 years it will be available for genealogical research. There are some people that do want their records kept and it may be of use in the future for genealogical study or could even have some medical uses but nobody has to put their name on it and you can rest assured it has complete confidentiality.

JOURNALIST:

What is the size of the Census army out there?

TREASURER:

The 30,00 collectors are going to go out and collect these, they are people from all walks of life, people who just do this every five years or so and the forms have been distributed and are still being distributed in some areas and then after the 8th of August they will be ready for collection.

JOURNALIST:

Just to change the subject here, do you think that interest rates will rise next month?

TREASURER:

Well obviously I don’t comment on the future movement of interest rates but we had a decision from the Reserve Bank yesterday to move the official rate by 0.25 of 1 per cent. Now that will mean that household budgets will be stretched for people who are paying mortgages, I recognise that. But it is also important that we keep the economy growing on a sustainable basis and we give more job opportunities for all Australians. The object of economic management is to keep the economy growing, we have had the longest period of growth ever recorded in Australian history and the object is to keep that going.

JOURNALIST:

What do you say to young families just starting out who are squeezed by this latest interest rate hike with the possibility of another in the near future?

TREASURER:

Well we would expect the interest rate after this movement, the standard variable interest rate to move to around 7.8 per cent. I should point out that people should shop around because you can get lower than that. There are people and banks and other institutions that are offering rates that are lower than that. But what it means is that families are going to be paying a bit more and that will stretch their budgets, I acknowledge that. But at 7.8 per cent that is still substantially lower than the interest rates of double figures that we use to have in this country ten years ago.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, the Prime Minister has expressed concern over petrol prices, there is suggestions that petrol could go up to possibly $250 a barrel at some point or at least $125 in the short term, what do you say, what is your comment about petrol prices?

TREASURER:

Well the price of oil is around about $75 a barrel, these are all time records, I can’t see the price coming back in the near term, you have got instability in Iraq, you have got war in Lebanon, you have got uncertainty in Iran and most of the world’s supply of oil comes out of the Middle East which is very, very unstable at the moment. I wouldn’t want to see them go to $250 a barrel and I wouldn’t expect that but I can’t see any relief on the world oil price in the near future.

JOURNALIST:

Can the Government provide relief? Is there anything you can do?

TREASURER:

No, the Government cannot do anything about the world price of oil. Australia is a net oil importer. That means we take the world price like every other country and the world price is now at all time records, you feel that at the bowser, it is not good for anybody, it is not good for consumers, it is not good for the Government, but whilst you are buying your oil on international markets you have got to pay world price and the Government doesn’t control that price.

JOURNALIST:

Back on interest rates, with young families struggling with higher rates and with oil prices, do you think it makes that much more difficult to have one for the country if you have got all of these financial problems?

TREASURER:

We have actually seen a tick up in the birth rate in the last year. We now have the highest birth rate since 1994. To put this in context, the birth rate in Australia had been falling for 40 years since the early 1960s, year after year after year it fell and in 2004-05 we had the first tick up in forty years and now it is higher than it was even after that tick up. So, what we are seeing is we are seeing Australian families feel confident enough to have children after a declining fertility rate for 40 years, I think that is probably off the back off lower unemployment, that families are more confident about getting jobs and the one good thing about having a strong economy is it does deliver job security. That is the flip side of interest rates, the flip side is a strong economy and in a strong economy you have got a chance of a job.

JOURNALIST:

And just on another matter as well, there is some talk around today about a possible reshuffle, do you think it is time for a reshuffle?

TREASURER:

I haven’t seen that talk and I don’t do reshuffles and so I can’t comment on that.

JOURNALIST:

On the issue of stem cells, there is a suggestion by Mal Washer that possibly a conscience vote in the Party Room might be the way to go, what is your view on that?

TREASURER:

Well we did have a conscience vote on stem cells in relation to the original proposal and people are free to exercise their own views in relation to these great questions of life and death. So, I would encourage all of my colleagues to think carefully, to make their own views and I believe that we are going to have the debate on the 7th of August which will allow everybody to really state their views on what is a pretty controversial area.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think it should be decided in the Party Room and not Cabinet?

TREASURER:

Well, the original position was decided on a conscience vote and Cabinet Ministers went different ways, that is how we got to this current position. So obviously there is room for freedom of conscience. What happens in relation to future laws will depend very much on the way the laws come up and I would have to see procedurally how that occurs before I could give you a definitive answer.

JOURNALIST:

Just finally on petrol prices…

TREASURER:

Finally. Last one.

JOURNALIST:

What is your message to Australians about petrol prices in regard to, is there anything the Government can do to…?

TREASURER:

Well as I said earlier, higher petrol prices which are the consequence of all time record oil prices are in nobody’s interests. I feel for consumers, it is not good for business, it is not good for the economy and it is not good for Government. But I make this point. Economic management is very tricky and we are going through very difficult times in relation to oil prices. The last two oil shocks left our economy in a very bad position. We have got to make sure this oil shock can be contained as much as possible so that the economy can continue to grow and people can keep their jobs. The last oil shocks didn’t end well and I am determined to make sure that we do everything we can to protect the Australian public in terms of the overall economic management, that is what we are about here. Thanks.