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 09/05/2007

Interview with Ross Stevenson & John Burns
3AW

Wednesday, 9 May 2007
8.05 am

SUBJECTS: Budget 2007-08

JOURNALIST:

We have the Treasurer Peter Costello. Treasurer.

TREASURER:

Good morning, Ross. Good morning, John.

JOURNALIST:

Are you going to behave yourself today?

TREASURER:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

There are different ways that your Budget is being reported down here, down south. ‘Costello Master Class’ says The Australian. ‘Costello’s Clever Carrot’ says The Age. The Herald Sun however says, I’m more inclined to agree with them, they say in their editorial that it is, for an election year, almost a sober Budget.


TREASURER:

I think it is responsible. At the end of the day, after we have made our investment in the Future Fund and the Higher Education Endowment Fund, we still have got a Budget surplus. We have still got zero debt. We have still got no interest payments and that puts us in a stronger position than practically any other developed economy of the world, so I think it is framed for strong economic management. It is designed to build the capacity of the economy because if you don’t keep growing this economy, you won’t not keep people in jobs and that is what it is all about.

JOURNALIST:

Okay, tell me, as I don’t understand enough about these things. If there was going to be a change of Government, whenever the election is held later this year, does that Budget remain in place, not matter what side is elected?

TREASURER:

No, an incoming Government could change the whole thing. You would have to legislate of course but if it is elected it would be able to pass laws and it could destroy the whole thing, yes, absolutely.

JOURNALIST:

Because the newspapers come out in the morning and no doubt you read them, is it fair, for example, for Spooner in The Age to paint you as a pork-barreller?

TREASURER:

Well, I guess…

JOURNALIST:

I wouldn’t be ordering a copy of the cartoon if you haven’t seen it.

TREASURER:

Over the years, cartoonists have had a lot of fun with me. I have probably paid a few dental bills and school fees for their kids. So I don’t watch them too carefully.

JOURNALIST:

But it’s the suggestion, isn’t it, that bribing the electorate?

TREASURER:

Actually, I would agree more with what Ross said, that given the fact that we are in a strong economic position, which is a result of long hard work, this is actually very squarely directed to prudent economic management.

JOURNALIST:

I don’t …inaudible… accuse but when friendship is breaking out, for you to accuse me of being unnecessarily cynical, but when it is such a sober Budget as I think it is, that says to me that you’ve got a few tricks up your sleeve for when the election is a bit nearer.

Line drops out

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, you must be in the 3 per cent of the country that Telstra doesn’t cover.

TREASURER:

Not many lines down there in South Melbourne.

JOURNALIST:

Now tell us, you’d have a few shots left up your sleeve, naturally enough, before the election and you will want to fire some good shots closer, closer to goal. Does it concern you in the back of your mind sometimes but electorates just aren’t grateful enough? Jeff Kennett discovered that sometimes electorates are not grateful enough, that you don’t get the credit that you deserve.

TREASURER:

I think that because we made so much progress over recent years, particularly getting unemployment down and getting inflation down, and balancing the budget and paying off debt, there is a tendency for people to say, oh, well this all just happens, it runs itself. It doesn’t of course. The Budget is a $240 billion budget and the economy is a $1 trillion economy. It takes a lot of work, a lot of management. We’ve been going for months on this and you have got to think about these things very carefully because if you make a mistake, the results can be huge and I would say to people that a business doesn’t run itself, a company doesn’t run itself, an economy doesn’t run itself. It takes a lot of work and a lot of experience and a lot of management.

JOURNALIST:

Neil Mitchell has just got a bit unlucky because they just fired a promo for his program which I think was scheduled to go to air after you had finished with us, but because of the breakdown in the phone line, it went then and it said, ‘You’ve just heard from the monkey, now let’s hear from the organ grinder’ because he is going to have the Prime Minister on. Who actually does make the decisions? I was wondering about this this morning as I was coming in. Who actually makes, when you have for example, that you want to put a lot of money into Australian universities, who makes that decision?

TREASURER:

Well at the end of the day all of these decisions all of these decisions are started off by the Cabinet but the Treasurer takes responsibility for framing the Budget. All Ministers have input and, of course, the Prime Minister has more input than any other Minister but, at the end of the day it is a Cabinet thing and it is signed off by the Cabinet and it is a relationship of equals. I guess it is much the same as your relationship with Neil. Who’s the monkey and who’s the organ grinder?

JOURNALIST:

Look the economy is fabulous, employment’s great, inflation is terrific, interest rates are beautiful. Everything’s wonderful except for the problem with the drought brought about arguably by climate change. What does the Budget do about climate change?


TREASURER:

Well I don’t think it is right to say this is a drought brought about by climate change. Australia has been having droughts for hundreds of years, well before climate change, and even if we were to fix global warming, there would still be droughts. I think we have got to get that firmly in our mind. There are two separate issues here. There is droughts which we have had in the past and which are recurring and which will always occur and there is the long term climate change. Now of course in relation to drought, we have our assistance to farmers, we have our Murray Darling Basin initiative where we are trying to get national investment in the Murray Darling Basin and fix up the irrigation and stop water seepage and all of those things. Global warming is a more long term issue, and in relation to global warming we have initiatives in relation to technology to try and get cleaner coal, to try and get solar power and big initiatives in this Budget in relation to forestation, because forests can actually soak up carbon emissions and can reduce global warming as a result.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, arguably you haven’t addressed the biggest issue facing this country and it is understandable if you don’t know what it is, but it came to our attention three days ago that a radio broadcaster in the United States addressed his vast audience on Saturday night in which he told them of an extraordinary story that was discovering in our neck of the woods. I wonder if we could just play you a little of it.

TREASURER:

Sure.

US JOURNALIST:

Australia, it is alleged has begun secret talks on evacuating half of their continent due to epic drought. Can you imagine that? Half the continent. Shocking reports from the Kremlin today assuring just under one week from Australian Prime Minister Howard’s urgent plea to his citizens to pray for rain to fall on their drought-ravaged nation, the Government of Australia has entered into alleged secret negotiations with the US and their Commonwealth allies for a proposed evacuation of upwards of 11 million of its 20 million citizens.

JOURNALIST:

Now, Treasurer, I need to ask you to assess how you are going to go with 11 million fewer taxpayers?

TREASURER:

Well, there are 10 million taxpayers in Australia so with 11 million …

JOURNALIST:

I hope we get the right 11 million.

TREASURER:

All I can say about that fellas is that when you look at the international experience, radio commentators aren’t nearly as responsible in the United States as they are in Australia.


JOURNALIST:

So you haven’t been in secret talks with the Kremlin?

TREASURER:

The Kremlin hasn’t been on the line recently.

JOURNALIST:

Maybe it dropped out. Or constantly engaged with Kevin Rudd.

TREASURER:

More likely, yes. Their lines were blocked.

JOURNALIST:

Nice to talk to you and we will let you away to go and address the rest of the country and make way for Neil and either of the monkey organ grinder.

TREASURER:

Good to be with you fellas.