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 17/05/07

Doorstop Interview

Hilton Hotel Adelaide

Thursday, 17 May 2007
12:30pm

SUBJECTS: Labor’s lack of tax policy, Water, WorkChoices, Petrol

TREASURER:

The Labor Party announced yesterday that they don’t intend to have a tax policy at the next Federal Election.  A political party without a tax policy is a joke.  What you are seeing I think is an Opposition that has not done the hard work, that doesn’t have policy, certainly doesn’t have a plan for the government of Australia and is essentially opting out.  To say that it won’t have a tax policy at the next election is a Labor cop out and it’s treating the Australian public with contempt, because the Australian public is entitled to know before the election what the policy is and what it intends to do.  And that ought to be announced now so that we can have a proper debate in relation to it.

JOURNALIST:

Couldn’t that be said of WorkChoices too though?

TREASURER:

In relation to WorkChoices the Government has made its position very clear.

JOURNALIST:

But previous to the last election?

TREASURER:

Our WorkChoices policy, which we are taking to the next election, has a fairness test, it will keep AWAs, which are so important to the mining industry. And you will be able to analyse it as is currently going on at the moment in great detail.  But to think you can go into an election campaign with no tax policy – this is the latest from the Labor Party – no tax policy, which governs every Australian, 10 million taxpayers in the country, is treating the electorate with contempt.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, what’s the Federal Government got to hide by not releasing the document relating to the $10 billion water deal with the States?

TREASURER:

Well as I understand it, under the Freedom of Information legislation those documents which should be released have been released.

JOURNALIST:

Well, not many of them, all right. Has it been cobbled together at the last minute without any consultation?  Because it doesn’t seem that the Finance Department, Treasury – they had any part in it.  Did you know about it beforehand?

TREASURER:

Well you ask me what we have to hide by not releasing the documents and I point out that all the documents that are releasable under Freedom of Information have been released.

JOURNALIST:

But it’s generally regarded you have to pull in more documents or you see more documents if you take out a house loan rather than what’s been put into this plan.  Would you disagree with that?

TREASURER:

Yes I would.

JOURNALIST:

Well there’s only about 26 that have been released.  So you think that’s comprehensive do you?

TREASURER;

Well when you take out a house loan I think there’s only one.  So if you signed one in relation to a house loan it’s obviously a lot less than 26.

JOURNALIST:

So you’re saying everyone who should have been in the loop, who could have been consulted about this plan was?

TREASURER:

Oh absolutely.  This is a 10-year plan for $10 billion to rebuild Australia’s greatest waterway, the Murray-Darling Basin.  And if you want any evidence as to the soundness of the plan, I think it has been agreed to by the South Australian Labor Government, it has been agreed to by the New South Wales Labor Government, it has been agreed to by the Queensland Labor Government.  They apparently didn’t have any trouble agreeing to the plan.  They’ve seen the plan in its entirety. They think it’s a well based plan, I think it’s a well based plan.  It is certainly the best plan that any government has ever put forward for Australia’s greatest waterway, the Murray-Darling Basin.  And the important thing now is to get on with it. 

And we can’t get on with it because the Victorian Government won’t agree to it.  It is not entirely clear why they won’t agree to it. But if you think you can have State control of a waterway which crosses State boundaries – if you think in this modern day and age one State can starve another State of water because it’s upstream rather than downstream you are not thinking in a modern way.  What we need is we need Victorian agreement so that you get national control of a national waterway and we do something about the Murray-Darling Basin which has been a problem for a long time.

JOURNALIST:

What do you make of Julia Gillard saying that Labor will allow those people who have AWAs to keep operating on them until their current contract ends?

TREASURER:

Well you see first of all she wants to abolish AWAs and then when it’s pointed out this would kill the Australian mining industry she says: ‘well just strangle them slowly’.  This is a big step forward from the Labor Party.  Instead of sudden death you will have slow strangulation.  Slow strangulation is still going to have the same effect in relation to Australia’s mining industry.  At the moment the Australian mining industry is profitable – it needs Australian Workplace Agreements.  You have got a political party that wants to get elected and strangle it, strangle it by taking out AWAs.  If you want evidence of people that don’t understand the Australian economy look no further than Julia Gillard.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer just on another point, petrol prices in the eastern states have spiked again today at around $1.40 a litre.  Before Easter you said there should be action taken of these price rises.  Are you going to do anything now, or is there anything you can do? They seem to have spiked for no apparent reason.

TREASURER:

Well if prices have gone up because oil companies or service stations are engaging in anti-competitive conduct then they can be prosecuted.  The last round of prosecutions resulted in multi-million dollar fines.  Now the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission monitors daily and if there is any evidence at all, and if any member of the public has any evidence at all, that there is anti-competitive conduct going on, I urge them to contact the Australian Competition Commission, proceedings will be brought in courts and people will be fined.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer do you expect to announce any more funding for infrastructure in South Australia, roads on so on, between now and the date of the election?

TREASURER:

Well the Government has set aside the largest fund ever in Australia for road and rail.  It is called AusLink 2.  The money was set aside in the Budget, the actual projects that will be built from that fund will be announced after the Cabinet has considered them upon the recommendation of the Minister for Transport.  And upon his recommendation then there will be an announcement of those projects where Federal funding will be applied in South Australia.  But it will be within the envelope of AusLink 2 which was announced in the Budget.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer there is also claims today that the Government is shying away from the term WorkChoices because it’s a bad brand.  What do you say to that?

TREASURER:

I haven’t heard it.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer just getting back to the water deal again, do you think it is in the public’s interests or the public and everyone has a right to know all the detail that went into all the documents?

TREASURER:

It is in the public’s interest to fix the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. And it is in the public interest that the Federal $10 billion plan is implemented. And it is in the public interest that we get on with fixing the irrigation channels. And it’s in the public interest that we start saving water.  That’s the public interest.  Now you’ve had the most ambitious plan ever announced in Australia but nothing is happening because we can’t get agreement of one Labor State.  We have got agreement of three Labor States.  Three Labor States have signed up to this plan because they think it’s in the national interest.  Good on them, it’s well done, we thank them for that. And if we get the additional State we can get on with it.

JOURNALIST:

Just one more question on the slowing rate of wage growth, is that, which was announced yesterday, is that evidence that WorkChoices is having a dampening effect in terms of people getting wage increases?

TREASURER:

I think what is shows is that our industrial relations system is capable of ensuring good wage outcomes, which is consistent with keeping inflation low.  Normally in a situation like this, and bear in mind we haven’t been in this situation for 30 years, we have no experience of an unemployment rate this low in 30 years. But when we used to have unemployment at low levels – even though it was higher than it is today – you would get inflation and break outs.  The fact that we haven’t had inflation and break outs when we’re now where we are actually tells you that something is going well in the industrial relations system. That is what it tells you.  And it would be a very big risk to go back to the union-controlled industrial relations system which got us in to trouble in the past.  

Thanks.