Peter Costello

Media Transcripts

Election, industrial relations, jobs, infrastructure, Labor risk to the economy - Interview with Chris Smith, 2GB

Interview with Chris Smith
2GB

Friday, 16 November 2007
1. 40 pm

SUBJECTS: Election, industrial relations, jobs, infrastructure, Labor risk to the economy

SMITH:

Mr Costello good afternoon.

TREASURER:

Good afternoon Chris. Good to be with you. I was going to say, I think I was the second caller through.

SMITH:

Technically you were. Can I just say, thank you for keeping your promise. We met each other at the footy, I think, for the second or third time and you said, I will reserve some space in that second part of the campaign. I thank you for keeping your promise.

TREASURER:

Very happy to do so and it was a good night that night. And I was pretty buoyed by the result, you’ll recall.

SMITH:

Yes. So was Molly. You and Molly. It was a sight to see you and Molly sharing the stage.

TREASURER:

… in each other’s arms on the ground afterwards.

SMITH:

Yes. Is it oblivion as the Sydney Morning Herald predicted this morning, is that the reality?

TREASURER:

Look in reality, all elections in Australia are close. At the end of the day as you know, it depends on seat-by-seat, who wins and who has the majority of seats in the House of Representatives at the end of the election. And as I move around Australia, I think the choice is becoming clearer and the race is tightening. I have been in many of these marginal seats, these key battleground seats and I think the race is tightening in those seats and I think it will be a close election.

SMITH:

It is almost though at this stage, you are trying to define what is a marginal seat. Because yesterday we had both major leaders in semi-safe National Party seats, the ones with the 8 to 10 per cent margins. It is almost as if the Coalition and maybe the Labor Party understand that most of the marginals will go to the left and you are left to fight in those semi-safe seats. Is that the strategy now?

TREASURER:

Well seats become marginal for all sorts of reasons. A seat that has a large majority may be considered a marginal if a sitting member retires, for example. Because a sitting member would normally have a personal vote and I am sure that is one of the reasons why there has been so much campaigning going on in the North Queensland seat of Leichhardt. Their local popular member is retiring. So everything goes back to scratch and you start again. But I think as you look around at the seats, there is a lot of volatility and there are very few seats which will always be Labor and very few seats which will always be Liberal. So the number of battleground seats is certainly increasing, there is no doubt about that, but I think in those battleground seats – and I have been through most of them – they are pretty tight.

SMITH:

Okay. To today, Tony Abbott says he was misquoted or worse, was the victim of some dodgy editing from the other side. But I get the feeling that technically he was actually correct. Under your Government’s industrial relations changes, workers have lost some protection. Technically that is right.

TREASURER:

Well I don’t think so because the changes that we have put in place have put many more people into work. And the first thing about protecting a worker’s rights is actually to protect their right to work and protect their right to a job. And I would say that is the most important thing that you can actually do for people – give them the opportunity to get into the workforce in the first place.

SMITH:

But the old-fashioned protections that the workforce has been used to have been whittled away and that has engendered somewhat of a fear mentality towards WorkChoices. So technically he is right and yet, what you are saying is quite correct.

TREASURER:

Well I think it was Tony Blair that said the chance of fairness in the workplace begins with a job. Nobody was ever actually helped with fairness in the workforce by putting, being put on an unemployment benefit or the dole. And the situation at the moment in Australia, as you know, is we have put on 2. 2 million new jobs since the Liberal Government was elected. And no employer in his right mind would be trying to sack employees at the moment. The difficulty is finding them and keeping them and training the good ones. And this idea that somehow everybody is now at risk of losing their job – let me tell you when everyone is at risk of losing their job: in a recession, not in a situation where you have got strong employment growth.

SMITH:

Okay. Would you have liked to have tried on the Prime Ministerial shoes before this election?Because I just have a personal view that if people, the electorate had a chance to see you actually in charge and not be you know, the right-hand man, I get the feeling that the public may have had a different view of the man, Peter Costello.

TREASURER:

Well…

SMITH:

Because you can only do so much as the right-hand man.

TREASURER:

Oh well sure. Look, my job is to manage the economy and it is the second biggest job in Australian politics. It is one I have been doing for quite some time and people will judge me by the results. The thing I am proudest of is the number of new jobs that have been created. You always ask yourself, what might have happened under different circumstances but different circumstances didn’t occur so I am absolutely focussed on managing the economy and I can tell you, it is an 80 hour a week job.

SMITH:

Wouldn’t we have been better off spending all these surplus billions on major infrastructure?And I noticed Barnaby Joyce in an interview about three days ago made this point. Where is the inland railway, the major water pipeline structures, the big ideas to say to Australia, this is about the future. Now, you are you going to talk to me about tax cuts and revamping the tax system, I will give you that one, but where are the big projects? I think Barnaby Joyce makes a good point.

TREASURER:

Well Chris, don’t think we are not interested in infrastructure. For example, we built the railway from Adelaide to Darwin, something that had been on the books since the 1900s. So we have now finished the north-south railway.

SMITH:

But that was almost a case of it is about time.

TREASURER:

Well absolutely, it should have been done probably a hundred years ago and we did it. We are duplicating the Hume Highway between Melbourne and Sydney, I have set aside the money to do that. We are duplicating the Pacific Highway bit by bit between Sydney and Brisbane. If you actually look at the road and rail projects, we are really engaged in some big projects. You asked about the inland railway line, we have set aside some money, we are having a look at the feasibility for that. There is no point in building it unless it is going to be commercial but it is one of the things we are certainly looking at at the moment. Now I think if you actually, if I were to tally up for you the infrastructure construction that is going on in Australia at the moment, it would show you that it is the greatest in Australian history. And the investment as a proportion of the economy is the highest that it has ever been if you take private and public investment going on in Australia at the moment.

SMITH:

Let me talk about the mining boom for a second. We are hearing from the other side the refrain of, well this is all about, the economy is all about what is happening in the mining sector. Can you just explain for me one quick thing. All the jobs that have been created, I get the feeling they have come from the eastern seaboard, is that about right?

TREASURER:

Yes, mining is actually not a labour intensive industry.

SMITH:

No.

TREASURER:

There are not all that many people employed in mining. Let me tell you, over the last couple of years, the boom in jobs has been in cafes and restaurants. It has been in service industries. You know, what is the largest city in Australia?Sydney. Wander around Sydney. How many people are employed in mining in Sydney?Not a large number of people. A lot of people are employed in cafes and delis and sandwich bars and restaurants. This is where all of the growth has been going on in terms of employment. And of course, Kevin Rudd will run around and say ‘oh it is all the mining boom. ’You know, 2. 2 million more jobs and it is all the result of mining. Go and find out how many people work in mining. It is an important industry – don’t mistake me – but it is not a major employment-generating industry. You know, there are people that drive the trucks and there are people that operate the loaders and the trains but principally in Australia, they will be in the Pilbera in Western Australia, they will be in the Cooper basin in Queensland, they might be in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales but this is not where the millions of jobs have been created in Australia.

SMITH:

Okay a couple of quick ones before we let you go. I actually, and I have said this on the programme here, I actually don’t mind Kevin Rudd. I think he would be a good Prime Minister. You will debate that. But I have no faith whatsoever in the rabble around him and I have no faith in who may become the Treasurer of the country, Wayne Swan, his experience in budgeting anything. Is there anything on the board there that we should be happy with or (inaudible)?

TREASURER:

Well this is the worry, you see. Wayne Swan has been in Parliament on and off since 1993, I think. And I have got to say to you, in all of the Budgets I have brought down, and I have brought down a few now, he has never, ever supported measures to balance the Budget. He never supported measures to pay back debt. He never supported measures to make the tax system more competitive. He is an ALP operative, he was a State secretary of the Queensland ALP, he is well versed in advertising techniques and polling but he is not well versed in economic policy and he is a very risky proposition. What worries me about people like Swan and others is with no experience and having not thought through the policies, they are going to be really at the mercy of the tough men of the union movement. And that is the big worry if Rudd gets elected.

SMITH:

If you are in Opposition, will you stay in politics?

TREASURER:

Well I have said I am going to be in politics for as long as there are things to be done and as long as I make a positive contribution, so that is my attitude. But I will tell you this. I am not entering this election to go into Opposition. I am entering this election to do what I can for the Australian people and make Australia a better place.

SMITH:

I will let you go, thank you very much for your time this afternoon.

16 Nov 2007

View more media transcripts …

Latest News

Paris Diary

Peter Costello Paris Diary

Read more …

To the Brink 1997-2001 Black Holes to Surplus Budgets

Peter Costello To the Brink 1997-2001 Black Holes to Surplus Budgets

Read more …

The Hole Truth

Peter Costello in the Daily Telegraph

Read more …

Videos

Video Screenshot

Watch videos …