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 23/11/2007

Interview with Charles Wooley
Across Australia

Friday, 23 November 2007
9. 05 am

SUBJECTS: Election, Labor’s me-too approach, republic, reconciliation, Tassie devil

WOOLEY:

My first guest this morning, it’s like the eve of a grand final and he is the Vice Captain who could be Captain after the game or left on the interchange bench. G’day, Treasurer.

TREASURER:

G’day, Charles, how are you?

WOOLEY:

I am well. More to the point, how are you? What a gruelling six weeks you blokes have been through.

TREASURER:

Actually, I enjoy campaigns, and the best thing about campaigns is that you don’t have to go to Canberra. We get locked up in Canberra a lot when Parliament’s sitting. When a campaign is on, you get the opportunity to go around Australia and meet people. I actually enjoy that so. .

WOOLEY:

So, when your Prime Minister Peter you’ll rule from Kirribilli or it would be an interesting change to do it from Melbourne, wouldn’t it?

TREASURER:

Well, what about Burnie or Launceston?

WOOLEY:

Well, Launceston’s nice but Essendon’s all right too.

TREASURER:

In fact, I had the opportunity to go to Tassie during the campaign and it was looking pretty good, pretty green actually.

WOOLEY:

Peter Costello, I’m going to, we have a seven second delay button in this program in case people are profane. I promise not to hit it if you tell us what you and the Prime Minister said when you heard about the dodgy Islamic Australian Federation dodger.

TREASURER:

Seven, six, five, four, three…Look it was a silly thing to do. I don’t know what possessed those people to do it. It certainly won’t work out well for them, I don’t think, and they’ve been dealt with, move on.

WOOLEY:

Okay, let’s move on. What is really the difference? I don’t remember and I am sure if you could be candid about it, you don’t remember an election campaign in our political lives in Australia where there was so much similarity between the two parties. Today, can I just outline a couple of things that as a middle-class Australian I’m interested in. Aboriginal reconciliation, maybe a treaty. The Republican referendum, you and I are both Republicans. These will not occur in the first term of a Rudd Labor Government. That means they might not occur at all. The boat people, well the same policy that John Howard has, we’d turn them back, you know, we decide who comes to Australia. And just one more, just to throw it in, the pulp mill. We both want it.

TREASURER:

Yes, well, I think…

WOOLEY:

Where’s the choice, Peter Costello?

TREASURER:

Well, I think in the course of the campaign the Rudd strategy was to ‘me-too’ the Government. And so when we announced our tax policy, for example on the first day of the campaign, he waited five days and then he copied it. And when we announced our pension rebate, he waited a couple of weeks and then he copied it. And I think his strategy throughout the campaign has been to copy Government policy and then just say, ‘well, you can vote for me and everything will be the same’. I agree with your proposition, Charles. I’ve never seen an Opposition Leader spend so much time copying Government policy and then say, ‘get rid of the Government that invented all of these policies’. I’ve never seen that before.

WOOLEY:

And moving beyond that too, and it’s something you blokes you were unable to spike him on because of course you are the party of capitalism, but I’ve never seen an Opposition, such a rich man, by implication, in terms of his family associations and the company that his wife runs; such a wealthy man running for politics either. But you couldn’t lay a glove on that could you?

TREASURER:

Well we didn’t try and lay a glove on that…

WOOLEY:

Why not Peter Costello?

TREASURER:

Well his wife is very wealthy and he is accordingly quite wealthy. I don’t think…

WOOLEY:

Accordingly quite wealthy?

TREASURER:

He is accordingly quite wealthy, but I’ve never thought that that was something that you should try and turn into a negative for him. If his wife’s wealthy, well, good luck to her. She was a small businessman who did well under a Coalition Government. I think Kevin Rudd has every reason to support a Coalition Government.

WOOLEY:

Now you’re going, now you’re on a run.

TREASURER:

But, if I may say so, he having come along and said, oh, well he’ll copy Coalition policy and you can trust him to implement it,I think the big difference now is:who do you think is capable of delivering the policy, not who is mouthing the words but who do you think is capable of delivering the policy. That’s my argument, Charles.

WOOLEY:

Peter Costello, I don’t want to be disingenuous or overly disarming but I think you would make a fine Prime Minister, but I’m not sure that isn’t the case of Kevin Rudd, as well, and John Howard there for a period. I mean, we actually have three pretty capable blokes who represent middle Australia. Let’s face it, represent middle Australia. There just aren’t those ideological divides, there are no reds under the beds any more. And even the fear campaign about the faceless men of the trade union movement, well, that’s sort of the Menzies years isn’t it?

TREASURER:

Well you will remember what I said at the campaign launch when I said that they all claimed to be economic conservatives? That there are no reds under the beds, just economic conservatives under the beds these days, yearning to be free. And my point is, that sure, Rudd will say all of this because he wants to get elected. But the real critical thing is, who do you think has the capacity to deliver this? And you know, I would say, here is Howard and me, we have been delivering balanced budgets and paying off debt and cutting tax. And while we have been doing this, we have had Rudd opposing it. Now he says you can elect him and he will do all of the things that Howard and Costello have been doing. But my argument is, he has never shown any propensity to support tough decisions. When he had the chance to vote for these decisions in the Parliament, he didn’t. And the fact that he now says he is a late convert, doesn’t mean that he would be capable of delivering. That is my argument.

WOOLEY:

The best question asked at the Press Club yesterday of Kevin Rudd, was would he allow his wife to inform his economic policy when he is Prime Minister?

TREASURER:

Well good luck to her, she is a small businesswoman who has done well under a Coalition government and I would like…

WOOLEY:

She has turned a small business into a big one.

TREASURER:

I would like all small businesses to do that well. But I will warrant you this, that if a Rudd Labor Government is in place, small business won’t have the same opportunities. In fact, there is actually a small business survey out today, the Sensis Small Business survey, the old Yellow Pages Small Business survey. And it is reporting that there has been a very big drop in business confidence as a consequence of fears about the election of a Labor Government. So business, small business confidence is feeling very fragile about what could happen on Saturday and that is bad for job opportunities.

WOOLEY:

While Kevin Rudd and the Prime Minister, John Howard are very similar to one another in a lot of things, you might be quite different as Prime Minister. Let me make this a three cornered contest. For instance, you might be more likely to favour a referendum on Aboriginal reconciliation. Now you walked to say ‘sorry’ and I know that you are a supporter of the republic. So you might well in your first term in office, Peter Costello, you might well do what neither John Howard nor Kevin Rudd would do and that is introduce a sensible referendum on the republic.

TREASURER:

Well I do support reconciliation and this is not something that I have just discovered recently, it is something that I have supported for a long time…


WOOLEY:

I know you have.

TREASURER:

…I do believe that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia are full of goodwill towards each other and I think most Australians want to show goodwill towards Aboriginal people and I think the Aboriginal leadership and the members of the Aboriginal community want to show goodwill towards the non-Aboriginal community. And I think we can make great strides there and I have always tried to work towards that myself. And I think regardless of politics incidentally – I don’t think this should be a political issue – regardless of politics, it is something that we as a nation should work on in the years which lie ahead.

WOOLEY:

Would you support a referendum on some kind of treaty?

TREASURER:

I don’t think treaty is the right way to go because a nation doesn’t make a treaty with itself. But I would certainly support people reaching out from both sides with the goodwill that is in their hearts on both sides and taking relations forward in this country.

WOOLEY:

This is good stuff. Why didn’t you say it during the campaign?

TREASURER:

We are still in the campaign.

WOOLEY:

Why didn’t, I don’t think we got enough of what Peter Costello, Prime Minister would do during this campaign. Can we move on with that notion to the republic?

TREASURER:

Well I do think Australia will become a republic and I think this will happen when people feel they are not being forced into it.

WOOLEY:

Would you want it to happen on your watch, should you get one?

TREASURER:

Well, I think it will happen and I think it will happen in an organic way when people are not pushed into it, when they feel it is time. And…

WOOLEY:

I don’t want to have to wait till I am 90 to see my nation do what it should have done a long time ago.

TREASURER:

Well, look it could be done, Charles, by you know, international developments, but I think as people look at the future and as public opinion develops it will seem a natural and organic thing. The most important thing by the way is to have a model which will preserve the best of our parliamentary system. I don’t want to throw all of that out…

WOOLEY:

No.

TREASURER:

…that would be a big mistake.

WOOLEY:

No, no, well we pretty much all favour the so-called minimal model.

TREASURER:

Well a lot of people don’t, of course, you see. A lot of people would want to go to a full presidential system and I don’t think…

WOOLEY:

Like the one we have at the moment in this election, Peter Costello.

TREASURER:

Well you are probably right, we probably are moving to a full presidential system already.

WOOLEY:

Peter, I know you are very busy, your minders will get angry if I keep you much longer. There is just one thing and it is a matter of money. For sometime now I have been after $50 million over five years for Professor Hamish McCallam and his people of the University of Tasmania plus some of the oncologists from Hobart Hospital who are trying to save the Tassie Devil. It is sort of under the national radar but it shouldn’t be because it is an iconic Australian animal. I have talked to the Prime Minister and Kevin Rudd in the last 24 hours has said he is going to look into it. It is not much money, is it?

TREASURER:

No…

WOOLEY:

Do you know anything of the disease that this little critter suffers?

TREASURER:

Yes.

WOOLEY:

As I say, it is not the campaign landscape.

TREASURER:

I do and I can say to you that when I was in, where was it, Launceston, I was having a cup of coffee and a lady came up to me and she was working on the project and she spoke to me about it. And she explained all of it to me and asked me to have a look at it and I actually have had a look at it and it seemed to me as if it is a very good project. So it is certainly something that I want to have a careful look at if we are elected on Saturday.

WOOLEY:

Well, it is not too late for a last minute commitment…

TREASURER:

Let me put it this way, Charles. Get me back and we will be in business.

WOOLEY:

Peter Costello, you are an interesting and an amusing bloke when you come out from under the dark mantle of Treasurer. You should have done it earlier in the campaign.

TREASURER:

Look, I enjoy life, I enjoy being part of political life, Charles. I enjoy my times talking you because I think you are a very engaging person and I thank you for your time.

WOOLEY:

Thank you very much, Peter Costello.