Peter Costello

Media Transcripts

Budget - Interview Ross Stevenson and John Burns, 6LO

TRANSCRIPT
THE HON PETER COSTELLO MP
Treasurer

Interview Ross Stevenson and John Burns
3AW

Wednesday, 14 May 2003
8.05 am

SUBJECTS: Budget

JOURNALIST:

We welcome in our Canberra studio, the Treasurer, Peter Costello. Good morning Treasurer.

TREASURER:

Good morning Ross. Good morning John.

JOURNALIST:

The, you were reported this morning as telling Simon Crean to stop whining about the Budget. Is that a message you deliver as well to Terry McCrann who has dubbed you this morning "Mr Ten Thousand" as the first Treasurer to tax every Australian $10,000?

TREASURER:

Well, of course what we say to Mr Crean is that the Government has brought down a responsible Budget and the Senate should pass it. And this is a Budget which funds Iraq, and our war commitment, it funds domestic security, it has drought measures with about $740 million, it produces a surplus and it returns some tax to taxpayers. So I think it ought to pass the Senate.

JOURNALIST:

What do you say to Terry McCrann who says that over your eight Budgets you have increased Federal taxes by a thumping 25 per cent in real terms?

TREASURER:

Well these figures that they bandy around, these absolute figures, of course ignore the fact that people are earning much higher wages under a progressive tax system and I think the average weekly wage has gone up from about $34,000, the average annual wage from about $34,000 in 1996 to $44,000 now. So wages have risen under a progressive income tax system, then that means that people pay proportionate to their income...

JOURNALIST:

That's called bracket creep isn't it?

TREASURER:

No, no, no it is not. No, no. Bracket creep is where you are in one bracket and inflation takes part of your income into another bracket. And on a 2 per cent inflation rate you have to be very near a margin to be taken over the bracket and then it is only a very small part of your income that is.

JOURNALIST:

But you budget on that don't you, in fact?

TREASURER:

Well, we actually ensure that if we can meet our expenses and if we can balance our Budget that the taxpayers get a return. I think we are the only Government in Australia that's cutting taxes this Budget. I don't think Mr Bracks did in his Budget did he?

JOURNALIST:

We have got a number of responses on this radio station this morning in relation to an average tax cut of $4 along the lines of well four bucks whoopee doo. Are there some tax cuts that are better not giving because all you do is attract attention to the fact of how small they are?

TREASURER:

Well, look obviously if you can cut taxes by larger amounts you would do it. And perhaps if we hadn't had a war in Iraq and perhaps if we hadn't had the worst drought in a hundred years, perhaps we could have cut taxes by more. But...

JOURNALIST:

How do you feel as the person in charge?

TREASURER:

I make this point, we must be the only Government cutting taxes. I think Mr Bracks put up 300 taxes in his Budget didn't he?

JOURNALIST:

Let me ask you this question about the war in Iraq...

TREASURER:

That was a strategic non-answer. I think it was 300 taxes that he put up?

JOURNALIST:

He listens, we'll invite him to ring up and give a precise figure. He has to tax us because you won't give him the $400 million you promised to fund the freeway.

TREASURER:

Actually we will. Steve give me a call. I have got the cheque.

JOURNALIST:

Have you brung the $400 mill have you?

TREASURER:

No, no, no. We always had the $400 mill. I have the cheque. It is ready. It is ready to go.

JOURNALIST:

That's news to him.

TREASURER:

No, no, it's not news to him. Let me explain this point. This is a jointly funded road so that our 400 has to be matched by his 400 and he says he won't pay. That's his problem. I have the cheque. The Scoresby Freeway can go ahead. I have the cheque. We have our $400 million. So if he's listening, ask him to ring in and say...

JOURNALIST:

You're leaning over like Eddie McGuire, you have got a cheque made out to Steve Bracks for $400 million.

TREASURER:

$400 million for the Scoresby Freeway.

JOURNALIST:

I know, now you are not going to tear it up are you just as he reaches for it?

TREASURER:

Look I tell you what, if he comes forward today with a cheque for $400 million for the Scoresby Freeway...

JOURNALIST:

You'll lock it in.

TREASURER:

...we'll meet halfway between our offices and we will have a hand-over ceremony.

JOURNALIST:

Tremendous. Okay.

TREASURER:

I have already got his signature on a piece of paper by the way, by which he says he will build that without tolls. And he's also got to make sure he builds it without tolls.

JOURNALIST:

Yeah, he's got a slight problem there.

TREASURER:

He's got a couple of problems.

JOURNALIST:

A couple of quick questions. $645 million I think the figure was for the Iraq war. We were all brought up by our parents to get value for money. Now you're in charge, you've written the cheque for $645 million and no weapons of mass destruction yet. Do you feel a bit cheated?

TREASURER:

No, look. I think that bringing down the regime of Saddam Hussein and the capacity to build weapons of mass destruction is very important.

JOURNALIST:

Now it is only the capacity to...to have weapons of mass destruction. It used to be he has them, it's now capacity to have them.

TREASURER:

We now know he has no capacity to build them. I think we would agree on that wouldn't we Ross. But in addition to that, a few portable facilities have been found and they have been closely examined and they bear some very interesting examination. And I think we ought to wait and see what happens with that.

JOURNALIST:

I was hearing some discussion out of America over night about the number of contracts awarded to American companies for reconstruction, provision of security and the like in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq...not really a facetious question, but on the cost side it has cost you $645 million. Have we seen any evidence that Australian companies are going to be involved, there's going to be some form of payback in terms of construction contracts and the like?

TREASURER:

Well it has some...

JOURNALIST:

I mean it's not an economic decision...

TREASURER:

...no, no, that's not why we were involved. But I do hope that Australian companies will get work. We have a section in the Department of Trade that is helping them. We do have an Australian who's engaged in agricultural administration over there in Iraq. As you know we've been a big wheat supplier to Iraq over the years, and I think that the signs are pretty good that...

JOURNALIST:

Have you heard the rumour that Patrick's, Corrigan's Patrick Corporation has got a contract to do something over there?

TREASURER:

Yes, I saw something about that, yes, I did. Can you confirm it?

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible). Well, they were in Dubai for a short while, that's not all that far over to Iraq, is it? Now, uni fees, we want to talk to you about uni fees. When you did your law degree, what were the fees to do law?

TREASURER:

I don't know what they were. I think at that stage ...

JOURNALIST:

You and I are about the same age, Treasurer, would you like me to provide you with the answer?

TREASURER:

Mostly they were free. I think that there were some people that could get fee paying places, but I've got a feeling that there were very few of them.

JOURNALIST:

Well now they reckon it's 8 grand a year to do law. What do you think about that? Do you feel a bit guilty?

TREASURER:

Well, you've got to remember back in those days, before the Whitlam Government, there were fees and you won scholarships. Whitlam wiped out the scholarships and wiped out the fees...

JOURNALIST:

So, everybody could go to university.

TREASURER:

Everybody could go and most people who won a place got a scholarship to help them.

JOURNALIST:

Yeah.

TREASURER:

And then they wiped out the scholarship and wiped out the fees. So you were in a net same position. And then HECS came in and under HECS I think the course fee is about $6000 for law and the Government gives you that money and you pay it back later on. So that's the way it works.

JOURNALIST:

What do you say about the student we had on before who said that anyone can get to university now as long as he's got the money, he can get in through the back door?

TREASURER:

There are fee paying courses, yes sure. There are complete fee paying universities. Bond University is one of them. But you've still got satisfy academic standards. There are a couple of private universities where there are no HECS subsidised places, yes, it's possible.

JOURNALIST:

The 7.30 Report last night, you were asked whether you or the Prime Minister was responsible, were responsible for the tax cuts. You said he was in Texas and I rang him up. That gave a number of people watching and listening, a hint of needle. Was that totally mistaken for us to have gained that impression?

TREASURER:

What's a hint of needle?

JOURNALIST:

Well that he was overseas having a barbecue in Texas when you were back home working midnight to dawn with the eye shades on doing the hard yards.

TREASURER:

Oh, yes, but he was working over there too. You've got to remember that...

JOURNALIST:

Smothering something in mustard.

TREASURER:

You've got to remember that engaging in discussions with the President of the United States is a big part of a Prime Minister's role.

JOURNALIST:

When I saw you last week mate, you weren't working your butt off, remember?

TREASURER:

You didn't see me last week. Last week I was in Canberra.

JOURNALIST:

Oh right sorry. The week before.

TREASURER:

When I saw you the week before you weren't working your butt off either.

JOURNALIST:

The future, obviously you talk of....

TREASURER:

Long silence...

JOURNALIST:

You think about the...

TREASURER:

Now don't get him off the hook, Ross.

JOURNALIST:

We all think about our futures from time to time and you are not in this caper for the sake of your health. Have you ever had any Kirribilli type of discussions with the Prime Minister?

TREASURER:

Oh, look...

JOURNALIST:

Long silence Peter.

TREASURER:

Look we have discussions about lots of things, but (inaudible) going into them.

JOURNALIST:

Well, come on.

TREASURER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)...I'll take that as a yes that you have recently had some discussions with...

TREASURER:

No, no, no.

JOURNALIST:

No you're not going to talk about them or no you haven't had a discussion?

TREASURER:

No, I'm not going to talk about any discussions that I have with him.

JOURNALIST:

Oh hang on, why not?

TREASURER:

Oh...

JOURNALIST:

Go on, we're the public.

TREASURER:

Yes, but because, look we have discussions about all sorts of confidential things - budgets, defence, foreign affairs and ...

JOURNALIST:

Well, let's try it the other way. Is this your last Budget?

TREASURER:

This is my eighth Budget. We've just brought it down fellas, so the important thing is to get this Budget through the Senate. Can't even think about other ones.

JOURNALIST:

Is it the last one? (Inaudible)

TREASURER:

Well this is my eighth one and we'll work on the eighth.

JOURNALIST:

Same number as Paul Keating. You've got to do another three to equal Artie Fadden.

TREASURER:

Well Artie was a long stayer, I'll say that for him. I think (inaudible) it was a different world back in ...

JOURNALIST:

Artie Fadden was the person who said to an interjector, `Don't you criticise me, I work while you're asleep' and the interjector said, `That's right, you're a burglar'.

TREASURER:

He had a lot of those sorts of .... He's alleged to have addressed a meeting of two people and after he finished speaking he said to the bloke, `Let's got to pub', and the bloke said, `No, you sit there and listen. I'm the second speaker at this meeting'.

JOURNALIST:

It's eighteen after eight. Treasurer, we know you've got other things to do, but Frank has rung up, he's in his car. He's got some news for you. Frank, what can you report?

CALLER:

Mr Costello, I'm one of your constituents. Just to let you know, your staff are going to get a bit of a surprise when they to get to your office this morning. I've just driven past and there's a bit, quite a bit of graffiti scrawled all across your windows there unfortunately.

TREASURER:

Well, thanks for that Frank. That's unfortunate. And I don't know why people do that, but we'll just have to get somebody out and clean it up.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

TREASURER:

You shouldn't take these things out on the staff, you know, they're doing an honest job. So, thanks for reporting that Frank.

JOURNALIST:

Oh they're feral down there in Armadale.

TREASURER:

I doubt it was them. It was, well I don't know who it was. Whoever it was, it was a silly thing to do.

JOURNALIST:

It wouldn't be someone from your, wouldn't be someone from your constituency.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, thank you so much for your time this morning. Just clarifying the answer on the Kirribilli discussions, it's not that you haven't had them, but you're not going to discuss with us whether you've had them.

TREASURER:

But I don't, I don't go into discussions that I have with the Prime Minister on any subject and nothing should be read into anything one way or the other.

JOURNALIST:

You were happy to talk about him being in Texas while you were doing all the hard work.

TREASURER:

I was happy to talk about the work that he was doing for Australia in Texas.

JOURNALIST:

Thanks for your time.

TREASURER:

Thanks, Ross.

14 May 2003

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