Peter Costello


Address at the Millennium Forum Lunch, Sydney




… for the first time in his Parliamentary career on the 11th of July 2007. Why does it matter? It matters for this reason: that if you want to be trusted with the economic management of this country you don't get credibility by declaring yourself with an advertising slogan shortly before an election.

The way you run your policy and the way you vote in the Parliament count for something. And those people who really do believe in balanced budgets, repaying debt and cutting taxes and improving industrial relations and making our waterfront productive and effective and creating jobs, those people who have been fighting in the Parliament, fighting for the policies – not always popular policies – but policies which they knew were right and would deliver results.

It is very easy to turn up after the work is in and the results are on the board. But the critical thing is where were you when the policy work was being done. Every one can see in retrospect what needs to be done, but the critical thing about leadership is to see it in prospect. To follow a goal and a policy in order to get things done for the Australian people.

And I would say the same in relation to this election. We know that Kevin Rudd is being managed by an advertising agency, we know that he speaks in the slogans that are given to him by focus groups, we know that he has been avoiding scrutiny throughout this campaign. But what we don't know is how deep his commitment is to the policies which are required to take this country forward.

The first day of this campaign we announced a plan to make the Australian tax system more competitive, to get more low incomes earners in work, to cut the top marginal tax rate that applies to mosr working mothers, to cut top marginal tax rates. And when we said it, we believed it because we were the people that had cut tax in 2003 and 4 and 5 and 6 and 7.

And five days later, Kevin Rudd said he believed it too. But he wasn't supporting those tax cuts in 2005. He wasn't arguing for them in 2003 or 4 or 7 or 8 and the last time that Labor was in government they legislated tax cuts before the election and took them back afterwards.

We are quite happy to be judged by our record. Because over on our side of the Parliament we believe in a few things. We actually believe in a few things – like a stronger economy and more jobs and lower taxes. And we want to fight for Australians and their opportunities with our plan to deliver those things into the future. It is not a question of slogans or advertising agency focus group tested clichés, it s a belief about making Australia a better place.

Kevin and his economic team of Julia and Wayne, yes that is it. Oh yeah – and about 70 per cent ex-union officials as well thrown in. They will have you believe that the economy has been reformed and it will just run itself, it is a high performance economy and nothing can do wrong.

Imagine if you had a high performance formula one motor car that is tuned, and it can go well, and somebody walked up and said: 'well why don't we change the gear box? Take this gear box out, let's put back in a gear box that went pretty well in the 1990 Leyland P76.' Worked for the Leyland! You don't need flexible industrial relations, get rid of that. Let's go and put back the industrial relations system that was around in 1993. It won't change anything, the body still looks the same, it will go quite nicely.

You are interfering now with the engineering when it is finely tuned and the consequences could be quite dramatic. Just as the consequences were back in the early '70s.

We keep saying it is the lowest unemployment rate for 33 years, that takes us back to 1974. In 1974 the unemployment rate was this low because Whitlam had only been in office for 12 months and he was working on changing things. But in 1974, unemployment was as low as this and terms of trade was strong. And you know what the inflation rate was? 16½ per cent.

If you want to go back to the way things used to run in this country with an economy that is finely tuned, it is a big risk. And it is a big risk in a world which is now suffering from some instability. Oil prices, drought, the US sub-prime crisis. They say we can re-engineer this little bit, it is just a gearbox, it is just industrial relations. Or we can re-engineer this bit over here in relation to union power or we can re-engineer this little bit over here in relation to the tax system and it won't have any effect. Don't get taken in by that. The effects can be dramatic and catastrophic and the message that I would have for the Australian people between now and Saturday, is to think very carefully about this. Not only how you want to engineer the car, that is the policy, but who you want to have in the drivers seat. Because you need both. You need the experienced management and you need the right engineering. Don't take anything for granted in this country, don't think that it all runs itself, don't think that it can't go pear-shaped. It did the last time we were in this position in the early '70s and we don't want that to happen again.

We do not want to go back to where we were. We have a plan for Australia's future. We have a plan which can make this country stronger still and we have a plan with experienced people who can put that into effect given the chance to take this country forward again on Saturday the 24th of November. Thank you all very much.

21 Nov 2007

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