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 21/05/07

Interview with Leon Byner
5AA

Monday, 21 May 2007
9.05am
(Adelaide Time)

SUBJECTS: Drugs in AFL, Federal Budget, SA Budget, GST

BYNER:

Peter Costello, thanks for joining us today.

TREASURER:

Good morning Leon.  Good to be with you.

BYNER:

Explain to the people of Adelaide why, as the Federal Treasurer, you have come out and talked about what effectively is a social/sporting issue?

TREASURER:

Well, I am concerned that the message that the AFL is giving is not tough enough.  The Government has a policy of not tolerating drugs.  Our policy is zero tolerance.  That is the message we are giving to young people.  Don’t meddle with drugs, don’t think you can handle drugs, just don’t touch them.  And the AFL policy – which is three strikes and you are out – gives you two chances to be caught before there is any penalty at all.  And I don’t think that is tough enough. 

BYNER:

When you say you think the AFL has mishandled the issue of drugs, what do you mean by that?

TREASURER:

They would say to you, well we don’t tolerate drugs.  That is their official position.  But their code actually allows people to be caught using drugs like cocaine or other illicit drugs without any consequences.  If they pick up somebody who is using cocaine for example, on the first occasion they don’t tell the police, they don’t even tell the clubs, they tell a doctor.  The second time, they give them another chance and it is only on the third occasion they a suspension follows.  Now that is not zero tolerance.  That is accepting and permitting use of illicit drugs.  And there has been a big scandal in the AFL, you would be aware of that…

BYNER:

Yes.

TREASURER:

…where some very high profile players who have admitted themselves that they have become addicted to drugs.  And I think the message has been too soft for too long. 

BYNER:

What would you have a tariff for those people in the AFL caught using these so-called drugs?

TREASURER:

Well I think if a test comes up positive and you are using an illegal drug then I think right from the outset action ought to be taken.

BYNER:

What sort of action?

TREASURER:

Well, I think the club ought to know.  I think they should look at suspension.  And of course you have also got to bear in mind that this is quite illegal and if they find any evidence of criminality they have got to think what they do with the police.

BYNER:

Have you met or will you be meeting with Andrew Demetriou because I notice that your colleague, Chris Pyne, on this programme about a week ago, was calling on Ben Cousins to submit his services to promote the anti-drug campaign around Australia of young people.

TREASURER:

Yes.  I met with Demetriou and the AFL Commission virtually the day the Cousins incident became public, and I discussed with them my concerns.  They said that they were going to have a policy of zero tolerance, but if they are going to have it, this is not it. 

BYNER:

All right, what did you suggest that they do and did you feel that there was any sympathy on behalf of them who had heard you out?

TREASURER:

They gave me a polite hearing, yes.

BYNER:

Polite?

TREASURER:

And we had a positive discussion.  But I don’t think the policy is right.  You see, the clubs will tell you Leon, that if the AFL has picked up one of the players, let’s say, using cocaine, the club would like to know for starters.  But the clubs don’t even know.  They will tell the doctor but what then happens is that a known user of illicit drugs can continue playing on in the team without people knowing. 

BYNER:

Would you like to see the same sort of system that applies in a workplace, where there are random tests and if you get found with a particular level of a substance that is illicit or otherwise, or even alcohol in your blood or urine – you don’t (inaudible) in your urine but normally you get it in the blood test, but if you have the workplace situation apply to the AFL, is that the kind of thing you are looking for?

TREASURER:

I think so.  You have got to remember that these are highly trained athletes and they are going out onto the field to play sport and the thought that they might be actually playing whilst under the influence of an illicit drug is I think, dangerous for them.  It is quite dangerous to them.  If you are running, and we are told they run kilometres and kilometres, you know, half marathons or something playing an AFL game, and you are doing that whilst you are under the influence of illicit drugs, it can’t be good for you. 

BYNER:

Do you think that your public comments today and your status of a ticket holder for one particular club at the top level is going to make any difference to what the AFL will do?

TREASURER:

Well, the AFL is going to meet the Sports Minister and Christopher Pyne, I think again this week, to discuss this issue.  And I would urge the AFL to think about it.  I don’t think this policy of three strikes and you are out is good enough.  I think it has got to be tougher than that.  If the AFL really believes in zero tolerance it can’t continue with its three strikes before you are out policy and…

BYNER:

You want one strike do you?

TREASURER:

Yes.  And I think, I’m just appealing to them to think about it before this meeting at the end of this week.

BYNER:

Mr Costello, before I let you go, I have got to ask you this question.  The Budget of course was only recently delivered, it seemed to get Peter, very strong approval from so many different sectors, are you therefore surprised that it hasn’t delivered you the bounce in the polls that you reasonably might have expected?

TREASURER:

Well Budgets are set with a view to keeping the economy strong and keeping it strong over many years.  That is the way I set this Budget.  A Budget is not an election manifesto.  It is not directed at polls.  It is directed at what is doing right for the economy.

BYNER:

Yes, but given that, I understand that is what you would say, but the fact is though, that given the relatively broad approval that it has had, might you not have reasonably expected some positivity in the polls in terms of your election chances?

TREASURER:

Well I think the most important thing is to do what is right for the economy and if we keep people in jobs and people are able to keep their houses and businesses are successful, I think over the medium term that gets reflected in public opinion.  But it is not a short-term thing.  This is not an election speech, it is not a state of the union speech, it is an economic document that is about building a long-term future for Australia.

BYNER:

Okay.  South Australia’s Budget is going to be delivered in the next couple of weeks.  Would you have any particular expectations as Federal Treasurer given your discussions with various Ministers from time to time and indeed the Premier?

TREASURER:

Well, I think it is important that the State Governments look at cutting tax.  You have seen the Federal Government has cut tax again for the fifth year in a row and State Governments should be cutting tax.  They have got record GST receipts, stamp duty is very strong, they promised to cut taxes in return for the GST and they ought to get on and do it.  That is what I would be looking for in the South Australian Budget.

BYNER:

In your view, is there any likelihood in the future, in the next, say few years, that the GST might be re-visited so as to include tax on food?

TREASURER:

No.  No, we have had that argument and that has all been fixed and legislated.  We won’t be going back there, no.

BYNER:

What about the possibility of increasing the rate of GST?  Just for the record explain to the people of South Australia, what would have to happen for the 10 per cent to be upped?

TREASURER:

Well, in order for the rate of GST to be increased you have to get an agreement between every government in Australia.  That is, six State Governments, two Territory Governments and the Federal Government.  And I wrote that into the agreement because we have never had a situation where all of the Governments and all of the States and the Commonwealth have been from one political party.  And I thought well, this will not happen, they will never get this agreement, it can’t go up.  Of course, there is one domino, which if it fell into place, would give Labor a clean sweep of every government in Australia.  All the States, all the Territories and the Commonwealth.  That’s if Mr Rudd gets elected and if Mr Rudd gets elected, yes, the rate of GST could go up because for the first time you would have nine Labor Governments in Australia.

BYNER:

But don’t you have a position in the Senate at the moment where you have the casting vote?

TREASURER:

Well that is the point.  If Mr Rudd gets elected he will control the House of Representatives and the Senate.  And Labor will control the Federal Government and all of the State and Territory Governments.  And there was a report incidentally done for the States recently which suggested the GST should be higher.  Now when it came out a number of the Labor spokesmen said: ‘oh well, you know, we won’t be necessarily following that report.’  But they commissioned it and it was talking about getting higher indirect tax.  Up until now it has never been possible because the Federal Coalition will not agree to an increase in GST.  But of course if the Government changes, if Labor gets control of Canberra as well as all of the States and the Territories it opens the way.

BYNER:

All right, well Peter, thank you for joining us today.  Good to talk to you.