Peter Costello

Media Transcripts

Iraq; Budget; petrol

TRANSCRIPT
THE HON PETER COSTELLO MP
Treasurer

Interview with Ray Martin
A Current Affair

Monday, 10 February 2003

6.30 pm

SUBJECTS: Iraq; Budget; petrol

MARTIN:

Joining us live from Parliament House, Canberra, is the Treasurer, Peter Costello. Mr Costello, thank you...

TREASURER:

Thanks very much Ray.

MARTIN:

...and welcome. John Howard now says that he won't step down, that he will see this crisis through. How long does he have?

TREASURER:

Well, that depends very much on Saddam Hussein. If Saddam Hussein should decide tomorrow that he will come forward with all of the chemical weapons and hand them over to the inspectors the matter could be finished quickly...

MARTIN:

Is he going to do that?

TREASURER:

...but that doesn't look likely...

MARTIN:

So you're not getting anxious about the Lodge though, Peter?

TREASURER:

...he's been refusing to co-operate now since 1991. He has been given a last chance with the UN Security Council resolution and if he does not comply I believe, the Government believes, the UN Security Council has to make it very, very clear to him that it will not tolerate continued existence and holding, and possible use, of those chemical and biological weapons.

MARTIN:

But you're happy to stay in the wings, you're not getting anxious about the Lodge?

TREASURER:

Look, I am a member of the National Security Committee of Cabinet. I have been involved in all of these discussions. I fully support the position of the Government which is that Saddam Hussein's control and potential use of chemical and biological weapons has to be dealt with, and dealt with firmly by the international community.

MARTIN:

Alright, you're a member of that Council, going to war clearly is the most serious thing a Government can do. What do you know about Iraq? Do you know the basics, do you know the population, do you know how big it is?

TREASURER:

Well, of course we have briefings on all of these sorts of things, Ray, but the most important thing for the public to know is this, you have got a dictator who is accountable to nobody, who possesses chemical weapons, who has used them. Who was asked after the Gulf War to dispose of them, who refused to co-operate and can't account for where those weapons are. Now that is the most important thing to remember. The weapons were known to be in existence after the Gulf War and he cannot account for where they currently are. And if he, this is not a game of hide and seek across the desert of Iraq, you know, catch me if you can. If Saddam Hussein really wants to show he doesn't have these weapons he should now account for where they went.

MARTIN:

But let me ask you ...

TREASURER:

Who destroyed them and in what conditions?

MARTIN:

...if Baghdad is the target, how big is Baghdad, how many people in Baghdad?

TREASURER:

Baghdad is a major city, as you have seen it is a commercial centre, it is the capital of Iraq, it is the seat of power for Saddam Hussein...

MARTIN:

But we should know (inaudible)...

TREASURER:

...it is where he has his presidential palaces, and it is also where the Republican Guard is based and in relation to the seat of power it is where Saddam Hussein as a brutal dictator has ruled for a very long period of time.

MARTIN:

Alright, do you accept that if there is a war, Peter, that the number of civilians killed in Baghdad will make the World Trade Centre look small by comparison?

TREASURER:

Well Ray, first we hope it doesn't come to war. Secondly, the view of the international community is that all necessary precautions should be taken in order to avoid a situation which would be infinitely worse than September 11...

MARTIN:

But you haven't answered the question...

TREASURER:

...now what would be infinitely worse than September the 11th, if the planes that had been flying into the World Trade Centre had not just been loaded with gasoline or aviation fuel, but had been loaded with anthrax or biological weapons so...

MARTIN:

Well you know that the...

TREASURER:

...that is the biggest...

MARTIN:

...Germans and the French say, Peter...

TREASURER:


... worry here.

MARTIN:

...that that connection has not been made categorically yet, that simply, that is one of our great fears. But the Prime Minister says he is not sleeping well at the moment. Are you soul searching too?

TREASURER:

I think everybody who is involved in this difficult question will be thinking about it ceaselessly - I certainly am. Nobody takes these decisions lightly, Ray. The suggestion that somebody would sit down and make these decisions without thinking it through, is ridiculous. The Prime Minister does, I do, all of us, both sides of the Parliament incidentally. It is one of the biggest decisions that you can take part in. But...

MARTIN:

How many (inaudible)...

TREASURER:

...let me ask you this question...

MARTIN:

Go on.

TREASURER:

Well, the point I was going to make is, what is worse than a dictator controlling chemical weapons which he is prepared to use, what is worse, is if those chemical and biological weapons find their way to third parties, including terrorists. That is what's worse.

MARTIN:

Well, the economy is, just briefly, the economy is your field obviously. Former Liberal Party President, John Valder, says that economically this war does not make sense. Is he right?


TREASURER:

Well, look, military action, and I think the Defence Minister has made this point, will involve costs, of course it will...

MARTIN:

Do you know how much, how much it is going to cost Australia?

TREASURER:

Well, Ray, to put a precise answer on that would assume, one, it is going to happen, would assume, two, that you know the duration, but the planning...

MARTIN:

So we don't know?

TREASURER:

...I think the Defence Minister has indicated this, you would have to say prudent planning would involve at this stage, and this is just planning because we are not engaged in a war, would involve hundreds of millions...

MARTIN:

So we don't really know ...

TREASURER:

...now that is just planning.

MARTIN:

...how many will die, we don't know how much it is going to cost.

TREASURER:

Ray...

MARTIN:

The Prime Minister says in this week's Bulletin that he has told all his ministers to, quote, "put any big spending plans in cold storage?"

TREASURER:

Absolutely, because as I said before, the planning, which I am working on in the Budget which I am bringing down, would involve hundreds of millions. But, Ray, we are not engaged in war, so nobody can tell you a precise amount. But the planning, what we would prudently set aside for the force that we have despatched would be hundreds of millions.

MARTIN:

Alright, petrol prices over the weekend in most of Australia went over the dollar. Are you going to put a cap on petrol prices?

TREASURER:

Well, the petrol price varies according to the price of oil and the price of oil has gone up, largely because of Iraq, also because of strikes in South America. At the end of the day the retailers have got to buy the oil so you can't just say that you will put a cap on it, because if you did that they may not be able to buy it and nobody might actually have the opportunity to buy petrol, Ray.

MARTIN:

Alright, final question, you are a committed Christian I know, do you pray at night for peace?

TREASURER:

Yes, we pray regularly for peace, yes we do. Sometimes Ray, if you want peace, you have got to be prepared to make hard decisions to bring about a safer world and we also bear that in mind, very much as well.

MARTIN:

As well as peace, thank you, Peter Costello, thank you very much for your time, appreciate it.

TREASURER:

Great to be back and welcome back onto the set Ray, you're a wonderful interviewer and a wonderful partaker in this programme.

MARTIN:

That's very kind, thank you, the cheque's in the mail. Treasurer, Peter Costello.

 

10 Feb 2003

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