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 05/03/07

Interview with Tony Jones
Lateline

Monday, 5 March 2007

SUBJECTS: Brian Burke and Kevin Rudd

JONES:

Peter Costello, thanks for joining us.

TREASURER:

Thank you, Tony.

JONES:

Now Ian Campbell is the first Howard minister sacked for wrongdoing in ten years, but what did he actually do wrong?

TREASURER:

He showed a lack of judgment by meeting with Brian Burke.  Brian Burke as you know has been convicted of fraud, he has done time in jail, he is a corrupt influence peddler in Western Australia.  Three Western Australian State ministers had contact with him and they have been sacked and as a consequence of showing lack of judgment and meeting with Mr Burke, Ian tendered his resignation.  He stood down, he did the honourable thing and one can compare him with Kevin Rudd, who had much more extensive contacts with Brian Burke but hasn't done the honourable thing and maintains that apparently there was nothing wrong with it.

JONES:

Is it a sackable offence exactly because he talked to someone who had a criminal conviction?  Is that the key offence here?

TREASURER:

No, the key offence is he lacked judgment.  When Brian Burke came to him as a lobbyist knowing Brian Burke's background and knowing that he had been so corrupt as to have been banned from contact with the Western Australian Government he shouldn't have seen him.  And it was a lack of judgment in those circumstances to see him, that is why Ian tendered his resignation.  All credit to him.  It's a pretty hard call.  It's a pretty difficult thing to do, all credit to him and he can be compared with Kevin Rudd who has had to be dragged kicking and screaming to acknowledge the extent of his contacts with Brian Burke.

JONES:

Let's take it a bit further, though, what is your view of the companies who have used Brian Burke as a lobbyist and those who attended dinners set up by Brian Burke?  Are they equally disgraced as politicians who used this man or talked to this man?

TREASURER:

The companies are hiring him for a fee to look after their interests because he has such a hold on the West Australian Labor Party.  That's obvious.

JONES:

So it’s okay for companies to deal with him in that regard, but not for politicians, is that right?

TREASURER:

Well, if one of those chief executives of the company was running for Prime Minister, I would say on the basis of their connection with Brian Burke they were unfit to be Prime Minister.  Kevin Rudd is running to be Prime Minister, on the basis of his associations with Brian Burke I don't believe he is fit to be Prime Minister.  But you see the point is the companies aren't running to be Prime Minister, the companies are engaging a lobbyist to look after their commercial interest.  Kevin Rudd is in a different situation altogether.  He wants the nation to trust him with the most powerful job in Australia and he admits he has got a lack of judgment, but he hasn't really admitted the extent of the hold that Brian Burke had got over him.

JONES:

But you have to admit the companies that are using Brian Burke as a lobbyist, knowing all these things about him, are more deeply enmeshed in his doings and carryings on than Kevin Rudd ever could have been. Will you…

TREASURER:

No, that is not right.  That is not right, Tony…

JONES:

Well, enmeshed in his political lobbying to get some benefit.  And so the question for you is, will you think twice about accepting political donations from the same companies that use Brian Burke, this disgraced man, as a lobbyist?

TREASURER:

Well, you are doing everything you can to studiously avoid the issue of Kevin Rudd's connection with Brian Burke and I think we are on about the fifth or sixth question and you haven't raised it yet.  But there is a very big difference Tony, between a company and the man who would be Prime Minister.  A very big difference.  If any one of those chief executives was out there today wanting to be the Prime Minister of Australia, by the year's end, I'd say by reason of their association with Brian Burke they were compromised.  But there is only one person who was at that dinner at Perugino's on 1 August 2005 who now wants to be Prime Minister.  That is Kevin Rudd and we are entitled to judge him…

JONES:

Just going back to my question though, you would have no problem taking political donations from companies represented at the same dinner?

TREASURER:

We are entitled to judge Kevin Rudd, not only on the fact that he went, but we are entitled to judge Kevin Rudd on how open and transparent he has been since this matter became public.  And I must say to you Tony, watching him tonight on the 7.30 Report, the story is shifting.  Incrementally, it is shifting bit by bit because he knows the account he gave…

JONES:

Where do you see the shift, because I read the transcript of his interviews this morning and the interview he did, I couldn't see any major shift from this morning?

TREASURER:

Yes, well now of course he has admitted he knew in advance that Brian Burke was going to be at this dinner.  He is now admitting that he did a Q&A session at this dinner, although he hasn’t quite come to the fact of admitting he made a speech, which others who were present at the meeting, and of course you heard on the 7.30 Report there may well now be a telephone call between him and Brian Burke.  That is certainly a very new development - the telephone call – and the reason I say you have got to listen to Mr Rudd very carefully here is that he has a habit of throwing something out in a marginal way and then when you say, “oh, this is new information,” he says, “oh, no, no, no, look back, I said that, no one noticed it but I said it months ago.”

JONES:

It is true to say, isn't it, that the fact that he had met on a number of occasions with Brian Burke was known and publicised in The Australian back in November.  Was it simply that you and your staff and the Government didn't notice those articles or is this a much more opportune time to bring it up?

TREASURER:

Have you gone back and seen that reference in The Australian?

JONES:

I have not.

TREASURER:

No, no, well I have now, I went back…

JONES:

I presume you would have, its okay, go ahead.

TREASURER:

Because I had thoroughly missed it.  You see it wasn't a story about Kevin Rudd, you had to read the whole of the story and I think I've got it here, which was actually about Kim Beazley and you had to get right down to the end of the story before you actually saw a line in it about Kevin Rudd.  Now Mr Rudd's very clever, isn't he?  When all this comes up he says, "Didn't everybody see the story about Kim Beazley in The Australian back in November?"  Let me give you another example of when he did this.  When it appears that he has used a travel allowance whilst renting a flat from his wife in Canberra he says, "Oh didn't you know, I said that on Channel Nine."  And you go back and you see what he said on Channel Nine and he never said anything like that.  And what I say to you is, he is a very clever man, Mr Rudd.  He has this habit of dropping things half facts as half facts, of dropping things, as half facts out there in the public domain.  And so when you become apprised of the full facts he says, "Oh, didn't you know, it was all out there all the time," as if it is your fault that you haven't picked up his half-fact, put it together and realised the way in which he was taking a little bit of immunisation.

JONES:

Mr Costello, are you at all concerned that the public might see this extremely personal and personalised attack on Kevin Rudd as a weakness on the part of the Government rather than a strength?  That you are not attacking him anymore on policy, but on personal issues, if you have gone for him playing the man, not the ball?

TREASURER:

Tony, can I go back to last week as to how all this arose.  You might recall that last week Mr Rudd went into the Parliament and said that the Government had to answer questions about its association with Ron Walker, Hugh Morgan and Robert De Crespigny over this secret nuclear company.  You might recall that.  You might actually recall who started this business of so-called secret dealings.  Now the Prime Minister went out and he right on the record said what happened.  And I went out and right on the record said what happened.  And then Mr Rudd declined to say what happened in relation to his dealings.  So Tony, don't get into this, oh poor old Mr Rudd, people are asking him about his associations with businessmen.  This arose in the Parliament because Mr Rudd decided to try and make an issue of the Prime Minister and my association with Ron Walker.

JONES:

Alright, but the Government from its lofty position has now gone negative and the question is will the public punish you for that, or will they welcome this?  And would you agree, for example, that tomorrow's Newspoll may well be the first indication as to whether they are welcoming this or rejecting it?

TREASURER:

No, I wouldn't because these matters will take quite some time to permeate into polls.  I most certainly would not accept that.  And by the way, you know, this assertion that…

JONES:

Even polls taken on Friday and Saturday night at the height of this when ministers are resigning and accusations are flying?

TREASURER:

Absolutely, because anybody who knows polls knows these things take time to permeate through polls.  But you say the Government from its lofty heights decided to go on negative - hang on, how did this start?  Mr Rudd decided to attack the Government over its association with businessmen in relation to nuclear energy.  And by the way when these matters were raised decided to attack Mr Howard over his association with the Exclusive Brethren church.  Don't let Mr Rudd get away with, ‘oh poor me’.

JONES:

I understand what you are saying, you're in a way repeating it, but let me just ask you then...

TREASURER:

I am just making the point.

JONES:

…did that then trigger a Government response sitting in waiting to start attacking Mr Rudd personally?

TREASURER:

Well go back to the Parliament.  The question I was asked was would I detail my associations with Ron Walker?  Yes.  Were they the moral equivalents of dealing with Brian Burke?  No.  Let me tell you, Mr Rudd has one person to blame - himself.  He decided to go negative.  He decided to raise this issue on the Prime Minister and me.  He snared himself in his own trap.  He has admitted now he has got no judgment.  He has not been fully frank with the Australian people and the one thing we now know about Mr Rudd is he is a very risky proposition.  I will tell you what the problem for him now is.  The problem for Mr Rudd is this, he has got a version of events out there which are not borne out by the emails and the written record.

JONES:

Well no, I mean, I will have to at least bring you up on that, because presumably you have read the account of Graham Edwards who is the person who invited Mr Rudd to these meetings.  You are not suggesting are you that Mr Edwards is a dishonourable or dishonest man, that he is lying in his statement?

TREASURER:

Well, I don't have to say anything about Mr Edwards because the email record speaks for itself.  The email, which is now public, says Julian Grill and I - this is Brian Burke - would like to invite you down to Perugino's to meet Kevin Rudd.

JONES:

But this is them behaving on form, isn’t it?  I mean that is exactly how a lobbyist of that nature would behave when trying to get business people to come to a luncheon, whereas Graham Edwards actually says he didn't know about the email and Kevin Rudd says he didn't know about the email.  So it is quite possible that neither of them knew and this is what Brian Burke was doing behind the scenes?

TREASURER:

If neither of them knew, well how did Mr Burke know that Kevin Rudd was going to be there?  How did he know that?

JONES:

Well, I am waiting for you to supply your answer to that.

TREASURER:

Well according to Mr Rudd and Mr Edwards this is not a pre-organised thing.  There is one problem - the email invites everybody to a pre-organised meeting with Kevin Rudd.  How does Brian Burke know to send an email out to meet Kevin Rudd if nobody knew Kevin Rudd was coming to dinner?  It beggars belief.

JONES:

I thought it was, Graham Edwards invited Kevin Rudd to go to this dinner in which Brian Burke was going to be present.  Brian Burke sends the email.  But anyway, we are digressing into the forensic detail of this.

TREASURER:

No, no, no, hang on, let's get the facts here.  Brian Burke and Julian Grill invite their clients down to meet Kevin Rudd and Kevin Rudd would have you believe he didn't even know he was going and Graham Edwards would have you believe he didn't even know if Kevin would say yes.  The fact is the email traffic is completely contrary to their story.  The fact is there are now other witnesses who have come forward that were at the meeting.  This was a meeting to showcase Kevin Rudd and who was doing him a favour?  Brian Burke.  Brian Burke was playing him like a piano.  He saw this bloke coming and he said, "Here's another one into my net."

JONES:

I have got to get you to respond to the first sign of any public reaction of this and that is the Newspoll, the two-party preferred vote shows Labor is actually up three points giving them a lead of 57-43 over the Coalition.  The Coalition during this period has slid three points.  Doesn't that worry you?

TREASURER:

Tony, the polls will move around quite a bit during the course of this year.  I have every expectation of that.  But the people of Australia are entitled to know this: can they trust a man to be Prime Minister who by his own admission lacks judgment?  Can they trust a man to be Prime Minister if behind him he has all of these malign influences like Brian Burke?  I saw Paul Keating's out today, you know, Kevin Rudd might be the frontman…

JONES:

I was going to ask you about Paul Keating and I am going to have to ask the question.  But just to finish the question about the Newspoll that is going to be out in tomorrow's Australian, the Coalition has taken a 10-point dive on two-party preferred vote since the election in 2004, a steady drop.  That must worry you and especially since this whole business has been out while the polls are being taken.

TREASURER:

Well I have answered your question, the polls will move around quite considerably I believe over the course of this year I think there is quite a long way to go and I don't think the public has yet made a judgment on the suitability for office of Kevin Rudd.  I think they'll start making that judgment over the months ahead.  And my point is this Tony, when they are looking at Kevin Rudd just don't think about him, just think about who is behind him.

JONES:

You mentioned Paul Keating and he has come out, Paul Keating has weighed into this today, he has taken a huge swipe at you, he says you are all tip and no iceberg.  He is basically arguing you don't have the ticker as he did to take on a sitting Prime Minister.  How do you respond to that?

TREASURER:

Well I will put my record up against Paul Keating any day.  I think anyone can judge that.  17% interest rates, worst recession in 60 years, a million unemployed, unemployment at 11%.  You can judge my record against his.  But I was glad he was out today because what it showed is this: when Rudd's in trouble the real people who pull the power in the Labor Party come out.  Paul Keating was out today.  And what did Paul Keating say?  I thought he made another interesting comment today, he said Brian Burke...

JONES:

One of the comments he made was that the Prime Minister was a desiccated coconut and you that don't have the ticker to step up to the mark and knock him off in spite of the fact the polls are moving away from the Government?

TREASURER:

So we take the insults from Paul Keating.  I took them for what are you talking about, was I six years in Opposition.  So I don't worry about his insults.  But I thought the more interesting thing that he said was Julian Grill and Brian Burke were smarter than two-thirds of the Western Australian Labor Party, that is what he said.  So you have got to know this, that when it comes to a Rudd Government the most important person from the West in the Labor Party will be Brian Burke and Julian Grill, because Paul Keating says they are smarter than two-thirds combined.  When it comes to who is going to be pulling the strings in NSW we have got Paul Keating out telling us what ought to be happening.  Don't fall for this idea that it is Kevin Rudd here.  Behind Kevin Rudd are all sorts of influences that are going to come to the fore if he ever gets anywhere near the seat of power.

JONES:

A final question for you, given the way the polls are moving and if they continue to move in this direction do you totally, absolutely rule out any challenge between now and the election?

TREASURER:

Absolutely.

JONES:

Peter Costello, we thank you very much for taking the time to come and talk to us on Lateline.

TREASURER:

Thank you, Tony.