Peter Costello

Media Transcripts

Birthday, RBA statement, economic management, election - Interview with Mike Carlton and Peter FitzSimons, 2UE

Interview with Mike Carlton & Peter FitzSimons,
2UE

Tuesday, 14 August 2007
7.35am

SUBJECTS: Birthday, RBA statement, economic management, election

JOURNALIST:

Good morning. 

TREASURER:

Thank you very much Mike. 

JOURNALIST:

Happy birthday. 

TREASURER:

Not too much dancing in the street.

JOURNALIST:

Oh see how it goes.  Any thoughts on turning 50?

TREASURER:

Well, have you got any advice for me?

JOURNALIST:

I am closer to 50 than you.

JOURNALIST:

I am closer to the Prime Minister’s age. 

JOURNALIST:

Is it a time of reflection, Treasurer?

TREASURER:

Oh I think so.  I think you get to 50 and you think about what you have done and what you still want to do in life.  And I think it is a happy, happy event.  I must say, it doesn’t seem as old as it used to seem yesterday. 

JOURNALIST:

What have you got planned with your family?  Do they all take you out to dinner tonight or because you are in Canberra they can’t?

TREASURER:

The worst part about it is that we are in Canberra, it is a work day, but my wife is coming up to Canberra so I will get to see her at least.  But of course Parliament sits tonight so we will down at Parliament House until about 10 o’clock as per normal.

JOURNALIST:

That does sound like fun. 

TREASURER:

This is the fun part of the day, speaking to you guys.

JOURNALIST:

Now you said that at 50 you think about what you still want to do in life.  You know the question is coming, you can see it a mile off.  Do you still want to be Prime Minister?

TREASURER:

Don’t bother asking it Mike. 

JOURNALIST:

Well I will. 

TREASURER:

We know what it is, we know what the answer is.  So what is the next question?

JOURNALIST:

Well, no, the answer is, go on?

TREASURER:

The answer is that I will serve in whatever capacity I can make a positive contribution.

JOURNALIST:

All right Mr Costello, there was a report on the news earlier that some of your supporters had gone to Mr Howard’s office in the past day, and I am quoting here, to demand a public statement about a possible leadership handover after the election.  Is that correct?

TREASURER:

No.  I don’t know where that came from, Peter.  I was asked that yesterday and I made the point that if that happened, they forgot to invite me because I wasn’t there and that didn’t happen.

JOURNALIST:

There is still some noise around though, isn’t there, that it is time that the Prime Minister stepped down.  I mean some conservative people, commentators are saying that now.  The likes of Andrew Bolt and…David Barnett.

JOURNALIST:

David Barnett.

TREASURER:

Well look, commentators are entitled to call things as they see them and that is their view and as you know, it is a free press so they are entitled to put their view.  But I don’t think that is swirling around Canberra at all.  I think the Government is very focussed on the next election and we are very focussed on the issues.  And I certainly am, that is what I am thinking about now – the issues that are going to be important to the Australian people over the next three years. 

JOURNALIST:

You don’t think the Prime Minister might look at the opinion polls and look at the possibility of a defeat in his own seat of Bennelong and say look, maybe it is time I hand it over to Peter?

TREASURER:

I don’t think that is happening.  No, of course not.  I see John Howard as being very focussed on the next election.  Very focussed of course on APEC which is coming up next month and going about all of the things that you would expect.

JOURNALIST:

That is true.  You would hardly pull the pin before APEC.

 TREASURER:

Well APEC is a very important thing for Australia and of course the leaders of many of the, well the two biggest economies of the world – China and the United States – and many of the other booming economies of the world are coming to Australia, and our Prime Minister is hosting the event.  So I think that is going to be a very big event for Australia.  I know it is going to be a big event for Sydney and people are worried about the traffic but I think it is important for Australia that we do host these summits, other countries do it and we show Australia in a leadership role, really.

JOURNALIST:

Speaking of hosting events, and you have noted your wife is coming up from Melbourne to be with you on your 50th birthday, I presume the Prime Minister has invited you and your wife to the Lodge for dinner after Parliament is over tonight, would I be right in saying that?

TREASURER:

Well we are at Parliament House tonight, we are all at Parliament House, so I have invited him around for a drink tonight. 

JOURNALIST:

Oh good, yes.  Really?

TREASURER:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

What, in your office?

TREASURER:

Well, just in one of the rooms in Parliament House. 

JOURNALIST:

And has he accepted?

JOURNALIST:

And what is it, the poisoned chalice?  Hemlock?

TREASURER:

I think it will be a strong lemon squash.

JOURNALIST:

All right, the other issue is interest rates.  Now, there has been reports of a likelihood, the possibility as the Reserve Bank reported yesterday, there seems some possibility that another interest rate rise might come before Christmas?

TREASURER:

Well the Reserve Bank puts out a quarterly statement which it did yesterday and then various journalists and commentators interpret what they think it means.  What the Reserve Bank said is that with the economy strong – and bear in mind the economy is strong, that is the basis of all of its thinking here – that it thinks that inflation will be towards the upper end of our targets, which is 2 to 3 per cent.  Some people say, oh that means that there is some movement that must be coming along.  But all the Bank is really doing is making the observation that it is towards the upper end of our target, not outside our target but at the upper end of our target.

JOURNALIST:

But the markets yesterday are saying, uh-oh, that looks like another interest rate rise.  And they are starting to factor that in already, apparently.

TREASURER:

Well that is my point, Mike.  People interpret it in various ways and then when you say that the markets, that is a morphous term.   There are people who represent traders in the market who start giving their own commentary and sometimes justifying their own positions.  But the important thing…

JOURNALIST:

But it’s more than that.  The market now seems to have factored in – and I was reading the Financial Review this morning, and I am completely stupid at this stuff, but the paper is saying the markets have now factored in another quarter of a per cent, quarter of a point rise in the next year. 

TREASURER:

Yes well, as I said, people take positions and they take positions on behalf of their own institutions and they talk to their own institutions.  I think the most important thing is actually to read the statement.  If you read the statement, it makes the point that it is a strong economy and there is no doubt about it.  Unemployment is at 33 year lows.  That does put pressure on prices but prices are expected to stay within our band and our band is 2 to 3 per cent on average.  We are at a high point in the cycle at the moment so you would expect to be towards the higher end of the band but we can’t afford to be complacent.  Yes, we must keep an eye on prices…

JOURNALIST:

Do you reckon you can keep it to 3 per cent?

TREASURER:

Well…

JOURNALIST:

It is the Reserve Bank has got to do it but you provide the conditions or part of the conditions.

TREASURER:

Let’s make this point: unemployment is at 4.3 per cent which is the lowest since the 70s.  We were never able to run unemployment at low levels like this and certainly never able to run them with an inflation rate of 2 to 3 per cent.  So we are in unchartered waters here.  But they are much better waters to be in than when we had double digit unemployment. 

JOURNALIST:

And double digit inflation, and double digit interest rates.

TREASURER:

Absolutely.

JOURNALIST:

One of the issues within your party, that has run on the front page of The Australian today, is a story about the Federal Liberal Party candidate for the Melbourne seat of Maribyrnong being basically dumped for having called a Victorian Cabinet Minister a bitch.  Seems a very, very quick reaction.

TREASURER:

Well you shouldn’t use language like that and he was silly to use it.  And I think in the circumstances the Party takes the view that we can find a candidate who is better and more appealing and in the circumstances that is what the Party will do. 

JOURNALIST:

Just quickly, I don’t know if you have seen that splendid ABC series, Labor in Power which looked at the whole Hawke-Keating 13 years in office.  There is a quote there from Paul Keating when he talks about the debilitating experience of being Treasurer year after year after year, crunching the numbers, looking out the window as the seasons change and missing children’s games on Saturday mornings.  Do you ever, I mean, as a moment of reflection on your 50th birthday, quite seriously, leaving all of the Prime Ministership aside, do you ever look at it and just think, geez, I have be in this a long time.  Same stuff, different day? 

TREASURER:

Well it is a lot of work.  You start in the office at 7 am and you finish in the office at 10 pm so you are in the office 15-16 hours a day.  It is a lot of work and when you…

JOURNALIST:

Do you ever…

TREASURER:

…are doing the Budget, you are in Canberra when most of your colleagues are back in their electorates.  And Canberra is not the fun place of Australia, I think we would all agree on that.  So it takes a lot of work but on the other hand, that is why the public pays you for and you have got to do it to the best of your ability and that is what I have done over the last 10 years or so. 

JOURNALIST:

But you could be forgiven for having had a gutful.

TREASURER:

Look, the fact of the matter is that I want to be in government, I want to do good things for the people of Australia so I am not going to complain about being there.

JOURNALIST:

You don’t say to yourself, I could make ten times this money at Macquarie Bank or Blake Dawson Waldren?

TREASURER:

You don’t, maybe members of your family do. 

JOURNALIST:

Oh, right.  On this subject, toss another question at you.  Shouldn’t there be a residence for the Treasurer in Canberra as well, as there is the Lodge for the Prime Minister?  You know?  I have often wondered that.  The Treasurer arguably has the toughest job after the Prime Minister’s job and you have got to share a flat somewhere.

TREASURER:

Well, I am not talking my own book here but I will make this point, that in England of course they have Number 10 Downing Street for the Prime Minister and Number 11, which is for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Treasurer of England – the Treasurer of Great Britain I should say, they do – or the United Kingdom.  They do, in Britain have Number 11 Downing Street which is a residence for the Chancellor.  I think there is a lot in that.  There was an attempt back in the 40s I think, to have a residence for the Treasurer in Canberra. 

JOURNALIST:

There is actually a house there, I think isn’t there?

TREASURER:

Yes, yes.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible), decrepit, fallen into decay.

TREASURER:

Fallen into decay and disuse.  That was called the Casey House after Richard Casey who was the Treasurer who actually I think lived in it for a few years, but it has fallen into disuse.  I think in the years to come, this is after my time, it would be a good idea frankly. 

JOURNALIST:

Yes I mean, I remember Keating complaining that he had to once entertain the French Finance Minister and there was nowhere to do it.  He had to take them to a restaurant up in Red Hill in Canberra, and people threw buns at them, you know, and yahooed – ‘there’s that bloody Keating.’

TREASURER:

Yeah, well that was Keating.  When I entertained the French Finance Minister they were sending bottles of red wine over to compliment us. 

JOURNALIST:

Just, seriously the point is reasonable, isn’t it?  The Treasurer with the second most arduous job in government should be entitled to perhaps a little better, a little more home comfort than you know, sharing a flat with somebody. 

TREASURER:

I think so.  After my time, I think it would be something that would be well worth doing.  I think the public would complain about the expense of course but I think it would be a good investment for the country.  But only after I have finished doing it. 

JOURNALIST:

Very finally, should you, should all the cards fall for you and you become Prime Minister sometime in the next year, let’s say, do you have in mind who might be a good Treasurer, two or three names?  Seriously, I am interested in your front ranks.

TREASURER:

Well I was thinking about offering you the job, Peter. 

JOURNALIST:

I am no good at economics.  Anybody else?

TREASURER:

Oh, Mike?

JOURNALIST:

No.

TREASURER:

All right. 

JOURNALIST:

I will take Defence if you are (inaudible).

JOURNALIST:

If you are not going to play the game, we won’t play either.  Thanks very much for your time and of course happy 50th birthday. 

TREASURER:

Thanks a lot.

14 Aug 2007

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