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 19/07/2007

Interview with Chris Uhlmann
ABC AM Programme

Thursday, 19 July 2007
8.05 am

SUBJECTS: Government’s reform record

UHLMANN:

Treasurer, good morning.

TREASURER:

Good morning Chris. 

UHLMANN:

Did John Howard waste his years as Treasurer?

TREASURER:

The point I make at the Howard Government has been the greatest reforming government since Menzies and in many respects greater than Menzies, certainly greater than Hawke and Keating and compares very, very favourably to the Fraser Government.  And when you think of the reforms that we have put in place over the last 11 years, I don’t think any of the previous governments have a reform record like it. 

UHLMANN:

But if we were to go just to the Fraser Government at the moment and John Howard’s time as Treasurer, was that wasted time?

TREASURER:

Look, I think a lot of Liberals would say that they hoped that the outcomes would be more ambitious and I think that was one of the reasons which spurred us on when we were elected in 1996.  To be more ambitious we did things that would have been considered unachievable like balancing the Budget and paying off debt and replacing wholesale sales tax with GST and cutting income tax and reforming superannuation.  These are huge reforms which have taken place under the Howard Government for which John Howard can take the chief credit and all of his team.  And I will stack the Howard Government’s record up against anybody’s record.  As I said, the best record I believe since Menzies and in many respects better. 

UHLMANN:

We will come to the Howard Government record in just a moment but to return to the Howard Treasurership, do you believe him when he says that he threatened to resign?  Do you believe that he pushed hard enough for reforming Australia’s economy?

TREASURER:

Well, look I am not quite sure of all of the detail but of course he would know and of course I accept whatever passed between him and Malcolm Fraser. 

UHLMANN:

You accept the Prime Minister’s version of that?

TREASURER:

Of course I do.  The point I would make is that this government, with John Howard as Prime Minister and his team of which I have been very much a part of the last 11 years, I think has had a very ambitious reform record.  I don’t think there is one that could compare with it and I think most people, including most Liberals, would compare it very favourably with the Fraser Government. 

UHLMANN:

Well coming to your Government, did you agree with all of the government spending before and during the 2001 and 2004 elections?

TREASURER:

Well I implemented it all.

UHLMANN:

Did you agree with it all?

TREASURER:

Well, let me tell you, not only did I support it during the election campaign, but after the election campaign implemented it all and implemented it all whilst maintaining a budget surplus. 

UHLMANN:

Were you honestly, can you honestly say you were never concerned about that spending at all?

TREASURER:

Let me say Chris, there hasn’t been a single day when I have been Treasurer that I haven’t worried about spending.  That is what Treasurers do. 

UHLMANN:

…largest government in Australia’s history, is someone in the future going to have to cut it because you didn’t?

TREASURER:

No.  Because we established the Future Fund and paid off government debt.  And what that means is in the future whoever is in government will A; never have to service interest again which is $8½ billion saving per annum, and B; will never have to fund superannuation because this generation funded all of that for them.  This is the great change I have been talking about in this country.  The need to fund this country for 20 and 30 and 40 years.  Now, we are on the brink of a breakthrough in relation to this and it is because of the reform of this government, if I may say so, if this hadn’t have been done, if we hadn’t have got the Budget out of deficit, if we hadn’t have paid our debt, if we hadn’t have established the Future Fund, we would never be within a bull’s roar of any of those objectives. 

UHLMANN:

Have you not publicly or privately expressed your concern at the spending in 2001 and 2004?  Are you saying now that you have never expressed any concern and you supported everything then and now?

TREASURER:

I think my colleagues will tell you, if I am to be honest, there probably hasn’t been one Cabinet meeting in the last 11 years where I haven’t expressed concern about financial management.  That is what Treasurers do.  But let me tell you, all of the policies that this government have been introducing, have not only been fully funded but fully funded on a surplus Budget with a pay down of debt, the establishment of a Future Fund.  So again, I would hold the record of this Government up Chris, against any of its predecessors, you know, you think of Hawke and Keating, five Budget deficits, $96 billion debt.  I will hold it up against Fraser.  In many respects, I will hold it up against the Menzies Government.  I think the record is there and let me say, we never had any help from Kevin Rudd or the Labor Party when all of this was being done.  They were the people that were opposing economic reform. 

UHLMANN:

Mr Costello, is it true that you have never dined with your wife at Kirribilli or the Lodge with the Howards?

TREASURER:

Well, I haven’t seen the book, I don’t know what the book says…

UHLMANN:

But if that were true, you would know that.

TREASURER:

…in relation to that.  Let me say, I have never ever spoken about these things to anybody.  Where I dine with my wife is a matter for me to be frank, and you know, I will read the book with the same interest as everybody else (inaudible)…

UHLMANN:

But, isn’t it…

TREASURER:

…Chris, you know, this is not important stuff to me. 

UHLMANN:

But isn’t it telling you, but isn’t this telling though Treasurer, of your relationship with the Prime Minister?  That you would not be invited to dine at either Kirribilli or the Lodge when other Ministers have, personally with the Howards, isn’t that very telling?  Nixon was very upset about the fact that Eisenhower never ever invited him.

TREASURER:

Look, I have been to Kirribilli and the Lodge on many occasions. 

UHLMANN:

To dine personally with the Prime Minister?

TREASURER:

I will read in this book with interest you know, what he says about that, but can I tell you, it doesn’t worry me, I am just as happy eating fish and chips on a beach. 

UHLMANN:

Do you think the mean and tricky Shane Stone memo in 2002, that infamous memo was an attack on you, the leaking of that memo?

TREASURER:

Look, I don’t, to this day I really don’t know what it was about and to be frank I don’t really care.  It was in 2001 for heaven’s sake. 

UHLMANN:

But you didn’t say to the authors of this book, I read it as an attempt to finger me for the Government’s maladies at that point?

TREASURER:

I think the authors of the book showed great interest and as far as I am concerned I couldn’t care in the slightest.  Can I tell you Chris, all of the things that I worry about on a daily basis, including the international economy, the oil price, the state of the Australian dollar, the labour market, inflation and monetary policy, a Shane Stone memo of 2001 is pretty low down the list. 

UHLMANN:

Are the Government’s troubles now of their own making?  Is it partly a problem of the Prime Minister’s age and age of the Government and did the Government miss an opportunity last year of regeneration?

TREASURER:

No, I think that the Party itself has a very strong and compelling case which is this is the greatest reformist government at least since Menzies and in many respects, more so.  That this is the only government that can face the economic challenges of the future, that we have been opposed on every reform we have done by Kevin Rudd who hopes to skate into office and take the benefit of all of these reforms.  And this is the point, that people can’t trust their mortgage or their business or their child’s future to an inexperienced Labor Party.  And I think that is a compelling case and that is the case that I am going to make every day between now and election day and I am going to put that case to the Australian people in the national interest, in their family interest and in their own individual interest. 

UHLMANN:

Treasurer, thank you. 

TREASURER:

Thanks Chris.