Peter Costello

Media Transcripts

Treasurer's Birthday; Year of the Outback; Qantas; Telstra; Drought; Zone Allowances

TRANSCRIPT
of
HON. PETER COSTELLO MP
Treasurer

Interview with Tom Harwood
ABC Radio
Longreach
Wednesday, 14 August 2002
7.30am

 

SUBJECTS: Treasurer's Birthday; Year of the Outback; Qantas; Telstra; Drought; Zone Allowances.

"Birthday" by the Beatles plays

HARWOOD:

All right now this morning, but I couldn't resist. Peter Costello, the Federal Treasurer. Welcome to Longreach. Welcome to Western Queensland and happy 45th Birthday. This is yours.

TREASURER:

Thank you very much.

HARWOOD:

People on the radio can't see this but you can imagine chocolate cake on a yellow tray with 45 on top of it. You will probably see it on the news tonight. Don't worry about it because you haven't missed anything.

TREASURER:

Did you make it yourself...?

HARWOOD:

No I didn't, my wife made that.

TREASURER:

What's her name?

HARWOOD:

Elizabeth.

TREASURER:

Thank you Elizabeth, if you are listening, and I am sure you listen to Tom every morning on his radio program.

HARWOOD:

(inaudible)

TREASURER:

Thank you very, very much for this cake. It is terrific.

HARWOOD:

Now can we do the serious business first?

TREASURER:

We have got a few people in the studio with us to share it.

HARWOOD:

Yeah, well it's tourist season. You expect that sort of thing. If you would like to you can stab the knife in any time you like.

TREASURER:

Oh right.

HARWOOD:

Some of these people reckon you're pretty stressed, that sort of thing. The Treasurer is now cutting the cake with a knife for those who can't see it.

TREASURER:

I tell you what...

HARWOOD:

I think this is great radio. I got to tell you. It is a chocolate cake.

TREASURER:

It is a chocolate with raspberry topping on it saying Happy 45th Birthday Peter. Thank you very much Elizabeth.

HARWOOD:

You are welcome.

TREASURER:

It's great to be here.

HARWOOD:

Now what, why are you here? We have heard all sorts of speculation in news mayhem this morning. And just we will play the Beatles now. Why are you here?

TREASURER:

It's the Year of the Outback and I was asked to be an Ambassador for the Outback which they said wasn't onerous but it said that if you had the opportunity to visit the outback during the year it would be a great thing to do. And Bruce Scott asked me to come down to Roma to go to the Cattle Sale and we are doing a few things there, so I thought we might as well start in Longreach and work our way to Roma, which is what we are going to be doing over the next couple of days. And it is my first visit to Longreach. I went out last night to the Qantas Museum and we are going down to the Stockman's Hall of Fame this morning. And it looks like a pretty great town, actually.

HARWOOD:

It's not too bad at all. And of course there's a fair bit been made of the fact that you went to the Qantas Museum last night after Cabinet discussed Qantas' future yesterday. The locals say, that Qantas doesn't own the Museum but we have an interest in what happens. What is going to happen with Qantas if they need more money?

TREASURER:

Well, Qantas at the moment, ever since it was privatised from being a Government owned airline has had a restriction on foreign shareholding. That is, it has to have a majority Australian shareholding. And Qantas wanted that restriction lifted so that it could become a foreign owned airline. The Government had a look at that yesterday. We discussed it. We didn't think that the case had been made out. Qantas is an Australian icon, it has always had a majority ownership from Australia. We thought it was right that that continue. And we weren't convinced that there was an economic case that said Qantas couldn't be a successful airline while still retaining majority Australian ownership. And that is why we decided not to change things.

HARWOOD:

So of course the other big ownership question is Telstra. And Telstra you want to have sold? And you said there will be benchmarks for rural areas. How are you going to determine what those standards will be?

TREASURER:

Well there are a number of standards which have already been put in place and which will be enshrined in legislation - a universal service obligation, an obligation to provide services, to provide them at a particular cost, as you know we have caps on calls, and also a charter for the introduction of new technology as and when it becomes available. So that Telstra will have very strong service standards that it has to meet. And I should say in the context of Qantas, it is also our policy that Telstra will remain in Australian hands. That it will be an Australian owned company. At the moment it is an Australian owned company and it will remain an Australian owned company.

HARWOOD:

So guarantees for the people in the bush?

TREASURER:

Oh yes. One of the things as you know that we did some time ago, we had Tim Besley do a report on standards particularly in regional areas and he gave directions on how to improve standards in regional areas. There has been a lot of work done and quite a bit of money spent over the last year or two to improve those services. And I expect at some time what we will do is we will have another look at that. Work out if the standards are up to scratch before proceeding with proposals to introduce further private equity.

HARWOOD:

I don't know how much you managed to see as you were arriving yesterday, but as you will see in the next few days, this area is heading back into drought again. And I have heard some places already are in pretty significant drought. You are reported as having said that you didn't believe a drought would have an impact on the Australian economy and I think many people out here will probably tell you otherwise because they see themselves as making a significant contribution to the economy. But are you going to be budgeting for some sort of assistance for people in this drought?

TREASURER:

Well, absolutely drought affects the economy and has an enormous effect on agricultural production. And that is a point I have always made. I am also asked from time to time, when are you going to change your forecasts, and I think the point that I made is we make our forecasts for overall GDP, two times during the year. We make it at the Budget and we make it at the Mid Year Review. We don't give a running forecast. We don't change it from week to week. We don't change it from month to month. Financial market screen jockeys change it from day to day, I don't get that luxury. I get a chance at my forecasts twice a year. But obviously the drought through western New South Wales and up into Queensland and through western Queensland is a matter of very severe concern. Obviously it will also be affecting production. And that is a dreadful thing not just for the communities concerned but also of course for the country generally. The big C Country. Australia Country.

HARWOOD:

The place we all live in.

TREASURER:

The small c country generally and the big C Country generally. And obviously I hope that it rains. Somebody said that I should do a rain dance. But I think that is beyond the powers of any of us. And so it is going to be a lot of hardship. If drought gets to the stage where it is considered an unusual event and people or areas become eligible for drought assistance, the application is made firstly to the State Government and eventually from the State Government up to the Commonwealth Government for exceptional circumstances. There are some areas that have already done that and some that have not.

HARWOOD:

Certainly on just another area that concerns people greatly living out here. It seems to be based often on distance from Canberra rather than actual remoteness. For example Mt Isa folks get a higher zone allowance yet they have access to things like K Mart and Kentucky Fried, McDonalds and all those sort of things. People in Longreach get less and yet don't have any of those sort of things unless they were sort of drive four hours to (inaudible) for example. Is there any chance that zone allowances can be looked at at some point? Well, I know Bruce Scott is one of the people who has been pushing this for a long time too.

TREASURER:

Look, they were put in place those zone allowances a very long time ago. And as a consequence of demographics, if some of the areas that a long time ago were considered to be remote are not so remote these days and other areas that weren't so remote a very long time ago are considered to be remote these days. I think up in Cairns you can still get a remote area allowance and that is obviously becoming quite urbanised now. So, from time to time, we have looked at redrawing these boundaries. The problem with these boundaries as you know is every time you redraw it and somebody drops out they think it is unfair. And so whenever you start drawing lines on a map it becomes a very tricky business. We have had to do that with a lot of things recently. But it is something that we always keep under review. We actually think that the more important thing is to try and cut taxes generally and, if you can have general tax cuts, of course they are worth much more than the zone allowances. That is why we cut income tax and cut capital gains tax. And some of the big tax cuts that we have actually put in place for capital gains where people can sell the family farm and retire into the town if they want to, capital gains tax free at 55 or rollover to a new property, we have found there is a much better way of delivering tax relief over the last 3 or 4 years.

HARWOOD:

You are a young bloke. You are only 45 today. I wish I was 45 again.

TREASURER:

How old are you Tom?

HARWOOD:

Only about a year and a half ahead of you. Yeah but you are already at the second top job in the country basically. Where do you go from here? When?

TREASURER:

Well, I, look it is something that has been an enormous amount of work being Treasurer as you can imagine. But I still, I think there are still things to be done. I guess the thing that you worry most about is, keeping the economy growing and keeping job opportunities for people. That is what is mostly on my mind.

HARWOOD:

I have got news coming up in about 7 seconds.

TREASURER:

Is that right?

HARWOOD:

So thank you very much for spending time with us. I wish we had longer. I really do. But it is news time. It is a quarter to eight.

TREASURER:

Thanks very much.

14 Aug 2002

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