Peter Costello

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Biography

Transcript No. 2001/105

 

TRANSCRIPT

of

HON PETER COSTELLO MP

Treasurer

Interview with Alexandra Kirk

ABC, AM

Friday, 27 July 2001

8.00 am

SUBJECTS: Biography

PRESENTER:

Mr Costello is on the line from Melbourne, he's speaking to Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.

KIRK:

Treasurer, the book says that back in 1997, when the Government faced a big threat from Pauline Hanson and her comments about Asian immigration, that you believe that they hit Howard's blind spot because the Prime Minister was still uncomfortable about the prevalence of Asian faces on Australia's streets and that's why he couldn't effectively deal with One Nation as a political force. Do you think Mr Howard has learned from that experience?

TREASURER:

Well, Alex, before I come to your question, which I'm happy to do, can I just say, this is a book by an Age journalist, it's not written by me. It is his views of me. Now, I want to make it clear, it's not authorised. I have no control over what he writes, no more control over what he writes than what the ABC broadcasts. So, these are his views. They're not my view. And if it were an autobiography or if I had written it then it might be different. But this is an unauthorised biography and it's not the first one that's been written on me incidentally. One of Kim Beazley's staffers has written a biography on me, they're entitled to their view but it doesn't mean that I agree with it...

KIRK:

So in 1997 did you believe...

TREASURER:

Back to One Nation, the Liberal Party decided, I think it was in 1997, I can't remember the dates, that it would put One Nation last on its how-to-vote tickets. That was a decision that was made by Mr Howard and it was thoroughly endorsed by me. In fact...

KIRK:

But in the lead up to that decision did you believe that the issue had hit Mr Howard's blind spot, the issue of Asian immigration?

TREASURER:

No, of course not. There was a debate as to how the Liberal Party would deal with One Nation and Mr Howard decided, and he has my thorough support on this, that we would put them last. That was his decision, it was endorsed by all of the State divisions of the Liberal Party, it has my thorough support and I think then it was the right decision, I think now it's the right decision.

KIRK:

But in the lead up to making that decision did you believe that the Government took too long to react your view effectively?

TREASURER:

No I don't, I believe that that was a new development which took - the Government had to think about and had to consult with its State divisions on how to deal with it, I think it was dealt with the right way. I mean to go back to 1997 and to say oh well you know it took a day long, a week long, no that's not my view at all. I think what the Government did and what John did was absolutely right, it has my full support, always has had, it's all there, it's all on the record.

KIRK:

Well if we can step a couple of years forward in 1999 the book says that you considered that the Prime Minister had run out of puff and had unofficially retired. Do you still hold that view?

TREASURER:

I most certainly do not hold that view and I most certainly was never of the view, and have never been of the view, that John Howard has run out of puff. Anybody who knows John Howard, and I know him very well, knows that there are probably very few people that work harder than John Howard. He is amazing. He gets up at 6am every morning, he walks you know for miles, he's read every newspaper, he's on the phone by 6.30, and he's still going at 11 o'clock or 12 o'clock at night. It is an unbelievable punishing workload that he has. I can tell you this, I have never ever seen him run out of puff in my life, I think a few of his political enemies would have liked to have seen him run out of puff, but I have never seen anybody work harder than John Howard. Look, I think I probably work harder than most people in the Government, but I can tell you, keeping up with his schedule is absolutely punishing.

KIRK:

Try this one, what about when you weren't allowed to take part in the reconciliation march across the Sydney Harbour Bridge? Do you think that the relationship has improved since then so that you now have the freedom to show the support that you have for things that you deem important, social issues like reconciliation, the Republic, treatment of drug addiction, those sorts of things?

TREASURER:

This is this point about these books, Alex, is that we can sit here and we can start at chapter one, and we can read line one, and we can say do you agree with this sentence? Well a lot of the sentences I'm going to agree with, a lot of the sentences I'm not. But I can't go line by line through every book that's been written on me. There's been another one, the newspaper columnists write them every single day. If I went line by line through and gave my views on everything it would be my autobiography. I have neither the interest nor the inclination to write an autobiography. So people can write their own biographies, they're entitled to do so, some of it I will agree with, some of it I will not. But I make this point, I think that the work between me and John Howard, as Prime Minister and Treasurer, has been one of the successful partnerships, one of the most successful partnerships of Australian politics. Certainly we have achieved together far more than anything that was ever achieved under the Hawke Government. And in the Liberal Party terms, you think of the great partnerships like Menzies and Holt, I think this has been one of the great partnerships. Over a period of about five years we've delivered five consecutive budgets, 800,000 new jobs, repaid $60 billion of Labor's debt, reformed the taxation system and stared down the Asian financial crisis. Have there been differences on policy between a Prime Minister and a Treasurer? Well, of course there have and they are discussed in the Cabinet room and the Cabinet comes to a decision. I can tell you, as a Treasurer, there are many occasions when my policy views are not accepted but I always accept the Cabinet decision. There might even be occasions when a Prime Minister's view is not accepted, although that is very rare, if it ever happens. So of course you will have differences about policy, of course you will, but what you do in a Cabinet, is, you put your view and the Cabinet comes to a conclusion and if you can live with that conclusion and I can live with every one of the Cabinet decisions that have been made, you defend them and you implement them and I think we have done that in a very successful way, now you won't...

KIRK:

So you won't fess up to at least, you know, discuss in detail any past criticisms you've made of the Prime Minister, but a couple of months ago he did anoint, or at least accept that you will succeed him. Has that eased tensions between you?

TREASURER:

Well look, I don't know that that's what actually happens in politics to be frank. I don't think there are anointings. I don't think that's the way politics works. The way politics works, is, that if there is a vacancy in a position, whatever the position be, people determine by election or otherwise who they want to fill that vacancy. And there's no such thing as an anointing. It just doesn't happen. Leaders don't anoint, colleagues anoint. A leader has one vote in any party room election, just the same as every other colleague. I don't think there is an anointing. I've never looked for an anointing in politics, and I will never look for an anointing in politics. What I will do, is, I will do the role that I have, which is Treasurer, to the best of my ability, in partnership with the Prime Minister, which I think we have done with great success. And, you know, if you go back through the Liberal Party - and I think the record of achievement is greater than anything that happened under the Hawke Government by a long shot - then you would be going back to the days of Menzies and Holt to see a partnership which lasted as long as this one and which had a record of achievement. And I think it's got, if I may say so, many, many years left in it.

KIRK:

Well Peter Costello, thanks very much for joining us.

TREASURER:

Thanks Alex.

But in the lead up to making that decision did you believe that the Government took too long to react your view effectively?

TREASURER:

No I don't, I believe that that was a new development which took - the Government had to think about and had to consult with its State divisions on how to deal with it, I think it was dealt with the right way. I mean to go back to 1997 and to say oh well you know it took a day long, a week long, no that's not my view at all. I think what the Government did and what John did was absolutely right, it has my full support, always has had, it's all there, it's all on the record.

KIRK:

Well if we can step a couple of years forward in 1999 the book says that you considered that the Prime Minister had run out of puff and had unofficially retired. Do you still hold that view?

TREASURER:

I most certainly do not hold that view and I most certainly was never of the view, and have never been of the view, that John Howard has run out of puff. Anybody who knows John Howard, and I know him very well, knows that there are probably very few people that work harder than John Howard. He is amazing. He gets up at 6am every morning, he walks you know for miles, he's read every newspaper, he's on the phone by 6.30, and he's still going at 11 o'clock or 12 o'clock at night. It is an unbelievable punishing workload that he has. I can tell you this, I have never ever seen him run out of puff in my life, I think a few of his political enemies would have liked to have seen him run out of puff, but I have never seen anybody work harder than John Howard. Look, I think I probably work harder than most people in the Government, but I can tell you, keeping up with his schedule is absolutely punishing.

KIRK:

Try this one, what about when you weren't allowed to take part in the reconciliation march across the Sydney Harbour Bridge? Do you think that the relationship has improved since then so that you now have the freedom to show the support that you have for things that you deem important, social issues like reconciliation, the Republic, treatment of drug addiction, those sorts of things?

TREASURER:

This is this point about these books, Alex, is that we can sit here and we can start at chapter one, and we can read line one, and we can say do you agree with this sentence? Well a lot of the sentences I'm going to agree with, a lot of the sentences I'm not. But I can't go line by line through every book that's been written on me. There's been another one, the newspaper columnists write them every single day. If I went line by line through and gave my views on everything it would be my autobiography. I have neither the interest nor the inclination to write an autobiography. So people can write their own biographies, they're entitled to do so, some of it I will agree with, some of it I will not. But I make this point, I think that the work between me and John Howard, as Prime Minister and Treasurer, has been one of the successful partnerships, one of the most successful partnerships of Australian politics. Certainly we have achieved together far more than anything that was ever achieved under the Hawke Government. And in the Liberal Party terms, you think of the great partnerships like Menzies and Holt, I think this has been one of the great partnerships. Over a period of about five years we've delivered five consecutive budgets, 800,000 new jobs, repaid $60 billion of Labor's debt, reformed the taxation system and stared down the Asian financial crisis. Have there been differences on policy between a Prime Minister and a Treasurer? Well, of course there have and they are discussed in the Cabinet room and the Cabinet comes to a decision. I can tell you, as a Treasurer, there are many occasions when my policy views are not accepted but I always accept the Cabinet decision. There might even be occasions when a Prime Minister's view is not accepted, although that is very rare, if it ever happens. So of course you will have differences about policy, of course you will, but what you do in a Cabinet, is, you put your view and the Cabinet comes to a conclusion and if you can live with that conclusion and I can live with every one of the Cabinet decisions that have been made, you defend them and you implement them and I think we have done that in a very successful way, now you won't...

KIRK:

So you won't fess up to at least, you know, discuss in detail any past criticisms you've made of the Prime Minister, but a couple of months ago he did anoint, or at least accept that you will succeed him. Has that eased tensions between you?

TREASURER:

Well look, I don't know that that's what actually happens in politics to be frank. I don't think there are anointings. I don't think that's the way politics works. The way politics works, is, that if there is a vacancy in a position, whatever the position be, people determine by election or otherwise who they want to fill that vacancy. And there's no such thing as an anointing. It just doesn't happen. Leaders don't anoint, colleagues anoint. A leader has one vote in any party room election, just the same as every other colleague. I don't think there is an anointing. I've never looked for an anointing in politics, and I will never look for an anointing in politics. What I will do, is, I will do the role that I have, which is Treasurer, to the best of my ability, in partnership with the Prime Minister, which I think we have done with great success. And, you know, if you go back through the Liberal Party - and I think the record of achievement is greater than anything that happened under the Hawke Government by a long shot - then you would be going back to the days of Menzies and Holt to see a partnership which lasted as long as this one and which had a record of achievement. And I think it's got, if I may say so, many, many years left in it.

KIRK:

Well Peter Costello, thanks very much for joining us.

TREASURER:

Thanks Alex.

 

27 Jul 2001

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