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 15/12/06

Interview with David and Kim
9am show, Channel 10

Friday, 15 December 2006
9.35 am

SUBJECTS: Fertility, population, bushfires, Qantas, drugs, Kim Beazley

KIM:

…it is an experience that left physical scars, no doubt similar to those inflicted by the rough and tumble of daily life as the Federal Treasurer. It is a very good morning to Peter Costello. Thank you for coming in.

TREASURER:

Good morning and it is great to be with you.

DAVID:

We have had Tim on a couple of times…

TREASURER:

Right.

DAVID:

…and he was a bit of a bully as a younger teenager.

TREASURER:

Well, he was an older brother and so he had about six inches and two stone and he used it on many an occasion. But, the electrocution was the most serious attempt on my life.

KIM:

How did it come to that?

TREASURER:

I was playing with a radiator and he plugged it in and turned it on.

DAVID:

As you do!

TREASURER:

My hair went a bit like yours!

DAVID:

Don’t you start!

KIM:

He did that himself, you know!

DAVID:

How does it feel to replace a dozen oysters Kilpatrick and a bottle of chilled Spumante as the nation’s leading aphrodisiac?

TREASURER:

Ohhh…well you know, it is a position I hold with great responsibility.

DAVID:

I am referring of course to your – I think it was when you delivered the 2004 Budget, you said “one for Dad, one for Mum and one for the nation”…

TREASURER:

One for the country.

DAVID:

…and it has worked beautifully well.

KIM:

Well I think so.

TREASURER:

Thank you. We had, I think 240,000 babies last year. Now, I do not take responsibility for all of them but some of them could have been encouraged by us…

DAVID:

The mind boggles!

TREASURER:

Yes, it actually went around the world. Google said it was the most picked up story in the world for the next 24 hours. And I think one of the London newspapers said “Australia Treasurer urges Australians to bonk down under”.

KIM:

Well, if you do nothing else in your career it is a fairly impressive headline.

TREASURER:

Well, actually it is quite important for our country that we do lift the birth rate.

KIM:

Why?

TREASURER:

Why? Because, since the 1960s when we had over three live births per female, our fertility rate has been in continual decline and it bottomed at 1.7. That is the average number of children per female. Now, that is not replacement rate. We have to have 2.1 children per female to just replace our population. So, what this means is we are not replacing ourselves. And as people live to older and older ages as they do, life expectancy in Australia now I think is about 86, the older proportion of our society is increasing and the younger proportion of our society is decreasing. And what that means is we are going to have a much larger proportion of old people relying on a much smaller proportion of young people who are going to have to man the transport system and the hospitals and the aged care system. And this is what we call the ageing of the population.

DAVID:

Is there an ideal population do you think?

TREASURER:

Well, at least we should try and replace ourselves. So, as I said, we have come down from 3.1 per female in the 1960s, 2003 1.7 and after I encouraged Australians to have one for Mum, one for Dad and one for the country…

DAVID:

We have picked up?!

TREASURER:

But we have only picked up to 1.8 so I do not want to overstate it!

KIM:

Well, perhaps if we make champagne a bit cheaper we might be able to pick that up!

DAVID:

Well, we need a good role model!

KIM:

Before we talk about the family and Christmas and all that sort of stuff let’s talk about some of the current news issues. The bushfires are devastating at the moment…

TREASURER:

It’s terrible isn’t it?

KIM:

It’s heartbreaking.

TREASURER:

It is heartbreaking to the people that are concerned but I think the admiration of all Australians are with those fire fighters. They are wonderful people. Many of them volunteers of course, many of them who have been fighting these fires for weeks now and unfortunately we had the first fatality overnight and our hearts go out to the family of that person. But, I just think on behalf of all Australians how much we admire these volunteers that are working to contain those fire lines and you know, we just say please keep it up, you have got the full support of the Australian people. You are wonderful people and we appreciate everything that you do.

DAVID:

Now, you must be concerned about the sale of Qantas, it is the quintessential Australian – what are your concerns?

TREASURER:

Well, in order to buy Qantas, this consortium which is proposing to buy Qantas will have to comply with the Qantas Act which requires that there be majority Australian ownership. But also the Foreign Acquisition and Takeovers Act which also allows us to vet foreign influence and foreign control. Now, I am responsible for administering that Act, it is important that the consortium lodges a notification. When they lodge a notification then the Foreign Investment Review Board will have a look at it, will look at it very carefully and make sure that it complies with our foreign ownership requirements.

DAVID:

It is interesting isn’t it, that the Macquarie Bank is likely to become a 50 per cent shareholder in Qantas, Macquarie Bank also has a big shareholding in Sydney Airport…

TREASURER:

That’s right.

DAVID:

There are concerns there, aren’t there?

TREASURER:

These are competition concerns because if you owned an airport, and not only Qantas will be flying into that airport but Singapore and all sorts of airlines, you would not want a situation where you used your ownership of the airport to damage competitors. And so there is a big competition issue there and that is also being looked at by our Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to make sure that you do not get that cross ownership operating in an anti-competitive way.

KIM:

And that is realistic concern along with potential loss of jobs, increased airline tickets, concerns about safety even.

DAVID:

Regional routes.

TREASURER:

I think what we would like to see in Australia is the maintenance of a full service airline. You see, there are competitors to Qantas domestically - people like Virgin, Jetstar to a degree – but Qantas is the only full service airline on domestic routes, we would like to see that continue. And of course internationally we would like to see good competition on international routes as well.

KIM:

I just wanted to talk to you from a family perspective about the ice summit in Canberra and also the report that came out linking marijuana with psychosis in children who are susceptible to it. As a parent of three, well almost three teenagers – I think Phoebe is only 12 – as a parent of three teenagers are you as concerned as the rest of us about the drug epidemic at the moment?

TREASURER:

I think this is every parent’s nightmare that kids can go out, they can be offered a substance, they are inquisitive, they take it. And it can do them permanent damage. But we are now just becoming aware of the connection between mental illness and marijuana, for example. For many, many years people said oh, this was not a harmful drug. We now know it is quite harmful and the level of mental illness amongst young people in the community is directly related back to that. We have now got ice coming into the country and that can also have effect with psychosis, paranoia, and of course you worry about your kids, I think every parent worries about our kids, and really we have got to do a couple of things – one is we have to close down drug dealers…

KIM:

Yes.

TREASURER:

…close them down. There is no such thing as a harmful party drug – as a non-harmful party drug. They are all harmful!

DAVID:

(inaudible) Federal Treasurer saying there was no such thing as a harmful party drug!

TREASURER:

There is no such thing as a non-harmful party drug. And of course the other thing is the education with the kids themselves, you say experimentation can do your permanent damage. It is just not worth it. It is not worth trying. We have actually had some success in Australia with heroin. I don’t know if you can remember, a couple of years ago the papers would have the death toll and the heroin toll and they were about the same…

DAVID:

Yes, yes.

TREASURER:

…and although we have brought the death toll on the roads down, they do not have a heroin toll anymore because we have been very, very successful at reducing deaths from heroin overdoses.

DAVID:

Yes.

TREASURER:

Very successful.

KIM:

Well, in fact ice has now taken over as a much bigger concern.

TREASURER:

And a lot of people said it could not be done and it has done. It is been done by interrupting the supply – the drug networks – and it has really been reduced. Now, as you say, the dealers might move into amphetamines instead and we have got to have the same attitude. No mercy to the dealers and the producers and a strong educational programme for the kids.

DAVID:

You must have concerns about the ratbag son, Sebastian, who has dissed the (inaudible) donned the great Aussie cossie. He says “Yeah, my old man still hasn’t discovered board shorts, he wears his budgie smugglers to the beach. It is a bit sad.” He was also responsible for that big poster of yours and he was talking about being the son of a famous father and he says “It becomes real when you are walking around and you see photos of Johnny and your old man looking like merchants of death”. Have you had strict talking to him?

TREASURER:

Well, you know I hereby apologise to every Australia who has ever seen me in my budgie smugglers. This is an unequivocal, unrestrained apology. You should not be subject to a sight like that! But when we go to the beach over summer and you know think I am a bit incognito, I might slip the speedos on and go for a swim.

KIM:

When you eventually become Prime Minister will you perhaps progress to board shorts?

TREASURER:

I think by then I will be so old I will probably be in a wheel chair.

KIM:

Speaking of the leadership, do you still think at this point that you are the sole candidate for the time when the Prime Minister does retire?

TREASURER:

Look, if it ever gets to a situation where there is a vacancy in the leadership, anybody who wants to run can run.

KIM:

Because Brendan Nelson put his hand up recently.

TREASURER:

Sure anyone can run and they have got an absolute right to run and the Party elects the leader. And it you cannot get a majority then you do not deserve to be the leader. It is that simple. There is no such thing as fixed votes. This is politics. These are open contests and so they should be. That is the way that it ought to be decided, actually.

KIM:

It must be pretty sobering though when you see the way the Labor Party treated Kim Beazley after years of loyal service.

TREASURER:

I feel a lot of sympathy with Kim. I think he was a decent man, I think he came from a very good family, I have got a lot of respect for his father, he has served as a Minister for a long time – I think he was a good Minister, he took the leadership of the Labor Party at a very difficult time, he fought it with honour, he has been discarded and of course he had that terrible tragedy with his brother on the same day and you have got to feel a lot of sympathy for him and he is a decent man Kim. And history will record him as a decent man. I have said in the Parliament and I will say it again, that only when you look at the totality of your career can you judge what the great achievements have been.

DAVID:

We have to go. Thank you so much for joining us today. It has been a delight to meet you and have a merry Christmas.

TREASURER:

And the same to you. It is a great pleasure to meet you. I got held up coming up in the lift because your grog delivery was arriving for your Christmas party at 10 am this morning so…

DAVID:

(inaudible)

TREASURER:

…It was a big delivery. And I think you will have a good day. Merry Christmas.

KIM:

Thank you again for your time.