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 21/02/07

Interview with Neil Mitchell
3AW

Wednesday, 21 February 2007
11.10 am

 

SUBJECTS: Victorian Government alternative water plan, Justice Kirby comments, Iraq, drought, citizenship

MITCHELL:

Good morning.

TREASURER:

Good morning Neil. Good to be with you.

MITCHELL:

Thank you for your time, I know it is early, have you got a Cabinet meeting today?

TREASURER:

Cabinet meeting in Perth today, yes.

MITCHELL:

Are you aware of Steve Bracks saying that the water plan from the Federal Government is shoddy and coming up with an alternative which he has handed to the Prime Minister?

TREASURER:

Yes, I have seen the reports in the newspapers. It is still quite early here in Western Australia, and needless to say, a bit surprised by what he has done. I think it is a bit of grandstanding. To have had this plan come out now when he has been in office I think, what, eight years, and hasn’t drawn up a plan for the Murray-Darling Basin before now.

MITCHELL:

But are the Labor Premiers playing politics?

TREASURER:

Of course they are. See, here you are, the Federal Government announces a huge initiative, $10 billion for federal control of the interstate waterways, it is put to the States and now we find Mr Bracks has had a plan all along apparently, his own plan, we just never heard about it for the last eight years and he apparently didn’t think of it or think of passing it on until such time as the Commonwealth had made this offer.

MITCHELL:

Did you also see in the news today comments from Justice Michael Kirby, that America is obsessed with the September 11 attack and more people die from AIDS every day?

TREASURER:

I did see that. He apparently was commenting during a hearing of a case…

MITCHELL:

Yes.

TREASURER:

…and so I don’t want to say too much about a case that is on foot. But I would say this, for those thousands of people who died in the World Trade Centre including Australians – and let’s not forget Australians died in the collapse of the World Trade Centre and it could well be some of their sisters and parents listen to your programme, and they certainly would read these newspapers – to make light of that event I think would be pretty gruelling for them, and nobody should make light of AIDS either.  But if you are going to work, minding your own business in New York working peacefully in a tower and you are killed by a terrorist, then I think you deserve every sympathy and I think the Government has every responsibility to do what it can to ensure that there isn’t more fatalities and more killings from such terrorist groups.

MITCHELL:

Do you sense that the United States is obsessed by it?

TREASURER:

I think the United States is aggrieved by it. Here you are in New York, nothing had been done to provoke this, people plan to murder your citizens on your home soil and you would be aggrieved by it. How would we feel if a plane flew into the Rialto building and killed friends and family on our soil? We would feel pretty aggrieved.

MITCHELL:

Far be it from lesser beings like you and I to criticise or question a judge but should these comments, is it appropriate such comments are made in the High Court (inaudible)?

TREASURER:

Well I will wait to see what the decision is I guess, but I will just say what I said again. Australians died in the World Trade Centre, not just Americans – in fact Muslims died in the World Trade Centre, you know.

MITCHELL:

Yes.

TREASURER:

That is the thing about terrorists, they don’t really care who they kill, they are just trying to kill as many people as possible.  And it changed the world.  Anybody who thinks about it for a moment Neil, knows that it changed the world.  Every time you go on an air flight in this country now, you go through security, you can’t take nail scissors, you can’t hop on a plane with liquids over I think it is 100 millilitres.  There are air marshals armed on flights, pilots are barricaded in their cockpits with locks on the door.  This changed the world.  And when we look back on our lives I think we will see it as one of the great turning points of our lifetimes’ history. 

MITCHELL:

Just speaking such matters it is reported on the wires only a short while ago that Tony Blair has called George Bush to tell him he is beginning to pull troops out of Iraq.  They have got 7,100 there, the British troops are starting to come out.  Are we next?

TREASURER:

Well the Government has made its position clear in relation to this that we will take our responsibility in our area for security, we think that is a valuable contribution and we will train the Iraqi security forces and that is Australia’s position.  We of course want Iraq to manage its own affairs, we want the Iraqi security forces to manage internal security in Iraq but we think that by giving training and helping develop those security forces they will be best equipped to do that.

MITCHELL:

Just if I may on another couple of very quick things, I noticed, and you have talked about the impact of the drought on the economy, I was talking to the Farmers’ Federation earlier, they estimate overall $4 billion goes out in Victoria and the latest figures showing that the crop levels are down at their lowest in 24 years, what is this drought going to do to the economy?  What are these figures going to do?

TREASURER:

Well the Bureau of Agricultural Resources released their crop report yesterday and they say that there could be a fall in production at 76 per cent in Victoria.  The winter crop is the lowest since 1994 and now it is the summer crop that is being affected and they are predicting that we will have the smallest harvest in over 20 years on the summer crop.  So this is extremely serious.  This is a one in 100 year drought, and for some farmers they have still not recovered from the 2002 drought.  This is leading to a drop in agricultural production of over 20 per cent and it is slowing the Australian economy. 

MITCHELL:

And what does that do to all of us, not just the farmers, what does that do the average person on the street?

TREASURER:

What it means is that our economy will slow overall.  It means of course that our exports, and agriculture is a big part of our exports, will be hit and it means that a lot of income support will be paid to farmers.  We are now paying, we think up around $2 billion in income support and interest rate subsidies to Australian farmers.  Now I think the general public thinks farmers deserve it and are happy to do that and it is just another way of attempting to share a bit of the burden. 

MITCHELL:

Now if I may, finally, I was just reminded of Pauline Hanson, what is it you want to do, what is it, what is your idea here about dual citizenship?

TREASURER:

Well when you become an Australian citizen you pledge to do a few things.  You pledge to be loyal to Australia, you pledge to support democratic beliefs, you pledge to respect the rights and liberties of others and you pledge to respect the rule of law.  And after you have made that pledge either in an oath or an affirmation you are given Australian citizenship.  Now my point is this, if somebody is a citizen of another country and they come here and they can’t be loyal to Australia and they can’t respect the rule of law and they can’t respect the rights of others then they can’t make that oath.  And…

MITCHELL:

But if you break the law you lose that citizenship now, don’t you?  If you break the law as distinct from saying things you mightn’t like.

TREASURER:

Not necessarily, no. 

MITCHELL:

Oh? 

TREASURER:

No.  It is possible if somebody is convicted of a criminal offence that they can be stripped of Australian citizenship, but my point is that if you are somebody who doesn’t support democracy and the rule of law and the rights and liberty of others then you can’t take the oath of citizenship in Australia.  And if you don’t support all of those things then Australian citizenship is not for you.

MITCHELL:

Are you thinking of Sheik Hilali, I mean should he lose his Australian citizenship?  Because he has certainly said things that seem to be out of step.

TREASURER:

Let’s remember that Sheik Hilali, by the way, came here and overstayed his visa.

MITCHELL:

Yes, sure. 

TREASURER:

And was going to be sent back.  The then Labor Minister Chris Hurford was going to send Sheik Hilali back, until Labor and Paul Keating intervened and gave him citizenship.  Now, the only point I make about Sheik Hilali is he seems to get misreported a lot, the poor old Sheik,  you know when he talks about uncovered meat, women who are uncovered meat who ask for rape, he is misreported…

MITCHELL:

Look, he says stupid things but…

TREASURER:

Well are they stupid, hang on, are they stupid things?  He goes on Egyptian television, he says Australia is a country of convicts and you know, only the Muslims who paid their way here are better citizens.  And poor old Sheik is continually misreported, isn’t he?  Do you think maybe he is not that misreported, Neil?

MITCHELL:

I think you are probably right but you can’t really take citizenship away for saying things, can you?  I presume you might think it is un-Australian to vote Labor.

TREASURER:

No, you can’t take citizenship away for saying things, except in certain respects.  For example, supporting terrorism, I think you can.

MITCHELL:

Sure.  Yes.

TREASURER:

Inciting terrorism I think you can and I think most people would think that you should.  But of course not, not for exercising rights of free speech and certainly not for exercising rights of political free speech, of course not.  But my point is this, if you want to become an Australian citizen, you have to take an oath on the Bible or an affirmation to say you are in favour of certain things and here is what they are: to be loyal to Australia, to respect its democratic beliefs, to respect the rights and liberties of others and to respect the rule of law.  That is what we ask an Australian citizen to do.  Now if you can’t take that oath because you don’t support those things then you don’t support Australian citizenship.  That is the law in this country. 

MITCHELL:

Thank you very much for speaking to us.  Who have the Bombers got in the pre-season?

TREASURER:

I think we have got Carlton because I am here in Perth and John Dorotich saw me last night and he has taken a side-wager with me on the game. 

MITCHELL:

Is that the only hope you have this year?

TREASURER:

Well we have got to beat someone. 

MITCHELL:

Thank you for your time.

TREASURER:

Bye.