Peter Costello

Media Transcripts

Michael Ferguson; Medicare Safety Net; Old Growth Logging; Regional Airport Security; Hospitals; Economic Management; Labor's Tax Hoax; School Funding - Interview with Tim Cox, ABC Statewide Mornings (Tasmania)

TRANSCRIPT

THE HON PETER COSTELLO MP
TREASURER

Interview with Tim Cox
ABC Statewide Mornings (Tasmania)

Tuesday, 21 September 2004
8.40 am

 

SUBJECTS: Michael Ferguson; Medicare Safety Net; Old Growth Logging; Regional Airport Security; Hospitals; Economic Management; Labor's Tax Hoax; School Funding.

COX:

And today the big gun wheeled out to launch the campaign of Michael Ferguson in Bass, the Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello, who is on the phone this morning. Good morning to you.

TREASURER:

Good morning Tim.

COX:

Are you in Tasmania yet?

TREASURER:

I haven't arrived yet, no.

COX:

I hope you are not on the plane. We will just take that as, take that for granted. How do you genuinely rate Michael Ferguson's chances in Bass?

TREASURER:

Well he is the underdog of course because he is taking on a sitting Member and that means that he has less resources than the sitting Member does. But he is a good candidate. He has got a lot of energy. And so I would like to see him do really well. And I hope that he can make it close and maybe if he can win the trust of enough people, get there.

COX:

Is there a danger though in a conservative candidate like Michael Ferguson losing some ground with the increasing profile for example of Family First?

TREASURER:

Well, there will be a lot of people that will think, well Family First, that is pro family maybe I will vote for them but I would say that if you look very carefully at the Liberal Party policy I think it is very pro family. And I would say to those people that they can vote for Michael and for the Liberal Party with very strong family credentials. So there is no need to register a protest vote or anything like that. Michael has a very strong track record on these issues.

COX:

When you go to Bass of course bulk-billing has been a big issue as it has been right through this campaign. How do you reassure the people of Bass that they are not second class citizens when it comes to Medicare?

TREASURER:

Well we have recently introduced measures which will increase bulk-billing rates. We have got financial incentives for doctors who bulk-bill people who are on health cards, people who are middle and lower income. We have also announced a policy to take the Medicare Schedule rebate to 100 per cent which means that doctors can get additional money for treating people. And we think that will underpin and support bulk-billing. So the Government has put in place numbers of measures to improve bulk-billing rates. We also have a system of course of encouraging people to take up private health insurance. I shouldn't overlook that. We have got a 30 per cent rebate and for older Australians we want to increase the rebate. So I think one of the things we have been determined to do as the economy has strengthened over recent years is to ensure that we can use this to fund better health care and better health systems. And I think the evidence is there. The policies are there. And the commitment is there.

COX:

Your electorate for example, one of the wealthiest electorates in the nation has received more Medicare funding than Bass, which is one of the poorest. How is that equitable?

TREASURER:

No, I think what you are talking about is the Medicare Safety Net. This is where a family has over $700 of out of pocket, out of hospitals, you can get an 80 per cent rebate. But you have to pay the first $700 if you are a family or if you are a health care holder or a recipient of Family Tax Benefit, $300. Now all that proves of course is that a lot of people in that electorate have had to pay very large out of pocket expenses. And once they go above those thresholds then they get 80 per cent back, they don't get 100 per cent back, they get 80 per cent back. And I think what that probably confirms more than anything else is that in Launceston there haven't been as many people that have been charged fees which have taken them over those thresholds.

COX:

Is it a difficult attack for a Coalition Government to (inaudible) the safety net payments received by the entire population of Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory, the ACT and Tasmania were higher than those eleven Cabinet Minister's seats?

TREASURER:

But you only qualify for that safety net when you have paid out of your pocket $700 in a year or if you are on a health card or the Family Tax Benefit, $300. Now what that is saying to you is very few people, or less people in Tasmania have had to pay $700 out of their pocket. That is actually telling you that they are in a better position. You only get these refunds when you have paid more than $700. And you only get 80 per cent of each dollar over $700. The fact that they haven't had as much paid out indicates, and they are all eligible to get it, it indicates that they haven't had to pay their $700 in the first place. That is actually indicating that they are paying less for their medical fees not more, less.

COX:

To go back to another story on AM, I don't know how much of it you heard. But an interesting debate in Wentworth last night, obviously one of the keys seats with that true three-cornered contest there. With the discussion again of Tasmanian trees in an inner city Sydney electorate, it is, as you would understand Peter Costello, making people here particularly nervous. When will the Coalition release its policy on old growth logging in Tasmania?

TREASURER:

Well we have made a couple of principles clear. One is we believe that for conservation reasons old growth forests are wonderful areas and they should be dealt with sensitively. We have also said that we are not going to do anything which will threaten business or threaten jobs. Now getting that balance right is the critical thing here. And we are talking to people about how to get that balance right and if there is a change in the way in which we do that balance, people's jobs, businesses will be protected. The Prime Minister will be announcing that.

COX:

When will that be?

TREASURER:

Well if there is a change, and I am not foreshadowing whether there will be, if there is a change it would be before the election.

COX:

That is very definitive of you.

TREASURER:

Thank you. That gives you a clue. It is only two and a half weeks.

COX:

It's not much of a clue with all due respect. When will the Tasmania package be announced? Labor had its Tasmania package out very early in the campaign.

TREASURER:

Well I think the Prime Minister is coming down to Tasmania this week. So I would expect that he would be announcing it this week.

COX:

All right. Will there be anything in that? And I of course ask you this as his Treasurer, for funding of security screening at regional airports like Burnie and Devonport?

TREASURER:

Well we have already made announcements in relation to regional airports and we have already increased the security at the regional airports that require it in Australia. But can I say in relation to Tasmania, the Government has always had Tasmania very much at its forefront. We have got a very active Senate Team that keeps us informed. Michael Ferguson and our other candidates are working on it and in the past we have made a number of good commitments in Tasmania. I know one is York Park, the football ground, was one of the commitments that we have made. We have always delivered in full and it will be sensitive, it will be affordable, but I hope it will do things that will improve conditions and improve opportunities in Tasmania.

COX:

All right. Have you been asked by the Prime Minister though to prepare to fund compensation for an end to old growth logging in Tasmania?

TREASURER:

Well, as I said earlier, look it is a question of balance. We believe in the work rights of the companies and the employees. We also want to see this wonderful resource preserved and I can assure you of this that if we were to change the emphasis in the policy it will be done with full protection.

COX:

But have you been asked to prepare a contingency for that?

TREASURER:

Oh no, look I am asked to look at financial consequences of all sorts of things every day.

COX:

Is that one of them though?

TREASURER:

I don't go into it. If you knew the number of things I have been asked to look at you would wonder whether I slept at night.

COX:

What? I would imagine during a campaign a bloke like you wouldn't get much sleep at all.

TREASURER:

That's one of the problems Tim. It is very difficult. There is a lot of work to be done.

COX:

Well it's a good thing your team is not in the Grand Final. It will give you a little extra time to concentrate on things like this. But would any large scale compensation, the sort that we were discussing here last week, the sort that was put up in the Financial Review and came from forest industries groups. Would it have to come from the sale of the last part of Telstra?

TREASURER:

Oh no. There is no connection between Telstra policy and conservation policy. Conservation policy will be dealt with on its own merits. The jobs implications will be dealt with on its own merits. But Telstra is a separate issue.

COX:

What do you see as being necessary then in a Tasmania Package, old growth logging apart, I mean it is a State where there has been a lot of argy bargy between the State Government and of course the Federal Government particularly when it comes to funding for health for example? Is there a need or is there room in the current framework to increase funding there for hospitals for example?

TREASURER:

Oh no, hospitals are done on a national basis under Australian Health Care Agreements. And can I say this, the Commonwealth doesn't just fund hospitals under Health Care Agreements, the Commonwealth has put in place the funding through GST arrangements for Tasmania to help that Government with its own obligations. And that is now producing a windfall for the Tasmanian Government which we hope is invested in better services. But what we have done in relation to specific help for Tasmania in the past, as you know, has been in relation to freight equalisation schemes, it has been in relation to development. I mentioned the York Park earlier, and we have believed that where the Commonwealth can assist with specific projects but we ought to do that in relation to specific projects which are identifiable. The last thing we want to do is to come in and say, well we the Commonwealth will help with a facility here in Tasmania and have the State Government pull its money out as a response. That won't lead to an overall additional benefit to the people of Tasmania. So you have got to do it in areas where there is a clear definitive programme where you don't have overlapping or duplication and where you can actually make sure that you don't get cost shifting as a response to a Commonwealth engagement.

COX:

The Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello, my guest on 936 ABC Hobart and ABC Northern Tasmania. It is nine minutes to nine. What has happened to the talk we heard before the start of the campaign, the official start of the campaign, about a debate between you and Mark Latham or a debate between you and Simon Crean? Is that going to take place?

TREASURER:

Tomorrow, yes. Tomorrow Simon Crean and I are debating at the National Press Club and looking forward to it very much.

COX:

What sort of Treasurer would Simon Crean make?

TREASURER:

Well it would be a huge risk. And you know, I don't like to speak too ill of him but you have got to look at his background in the Parliament and the issues that he has championed and I don't think there's any reason to have any confidence in his economic management.

COX:

There was interesting coverage last week in The Australian in particular after the debate between the Health Minister and the Shadow Health Minister, Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard saying that they were almost like high school sweethearts. That the mood in the room was quite a good one. Would that be quite different tomorrow do you think when you and Simon Crean go toe to toe?

TREASURER:

Oh well I hope that each of us are able to put our case as effectively as possible. I will be talking about some of the things we have done in the last eight years, some of the successes we have had and I will be making this point that economic management is not an accident, it is not a fluke. The fact that Australia is growing, the fact that we have low interest rates, the fact that we have more jobs today is because we were prepared to engage in economic reform and take hard decisions. We never got any support on that from Labor when we were doing it. And if you had a change of Government, under Mr Latham and Mr Crean, all of this could be put at risk. And if it is put at risk, people's businesses will come under threat, people's mortgages will come under threat and ultimately people's jobs will come under threat.

COX:

If the direction though is as clearly defined as you say it is, if the hard work has been done, with respect to you Peter Costello as the Treasurer, couldn't a drover's dog steer the economy from here?

TREASURER:

Well this is one of the greatest mistakes that people could make to say that, oh well the Liberal Party has now fixed the economy so we can take a chance with an inexperienced Government. The challenges are still out there. We have got world rising oil prices, we have got a housing cycle which needs management, we have got a US economy which has come through a recession, we have got the risks of terrorism and other countries are lifting their game all the time. If you want to stay at the forefront of economic management you have got to make sure you get it right. This idea that of all the countries in the world, the only one that doesn't have to work at its economic future is Australia is bizarre, it is misguided. This idea that, you know, not even Mr Latham can muck it up. He can. He can. And economic management has consequences.

COX:

What, is it possible though that Labor has found the hot button issues that the Government has missed and that includes funding for education. That $8 tax cut for example where middle Australia has missed out, and where the Coalition Government is perhaps set in train down one path and won't be able to make up that ground between now and polling day?

TREASURER:

Well, yeah, this so called $8 tax cut doesn't exist for two thirds of the Australian public by the way. It certainly doesn't exist for the low income earners. You know, I think the Labor Party has been very clever in putting that line around but if you are a low income earner below $27,000, you are not going to get $8. And in fact if you are a low income family at $30,000 or $35,000 or below you are not going to get a tax cut, you get a tax rise under Mr Latham. It is very important that people know this. If you are on a, if Dad is earning $35,000 and Mum is staying at home looking after the kids, you get a tax rise under Mr Latham. Mr Latham comes along and says you have got too much money. Give us some back. So if I was a low income earner, and I would say this very, very sincerely to traditional Labor voters in Launceston. Have a very careful look at Mr Latham's policy because if you are earning $35,000 and you are supporting a family, he is going to take money away from you if he implements his policy. Don't just turn up at the ballot box and say I have always voted Labor I am going to again. Know this, Labor policy is to take money away from low income earners if they implement it after the election.

COX:

Are you concerned then that the "I have always voted Labor” voters that have deserted Labor, so I haven't always voted Labor, that they will in fact desert the Coalition now and go back to Labor with a different approach? A more positive approach, I guess?

TREASURER:

Well I guess what I am saying is that people that have always voted Labor in the mistaken belief that Labor is interested in helping lower income earners ought to look very carefully at the policy because in this election, Labor has a policy to punish low income earners. And I am appealing to them to look very carefully at the policy. Ask the Labor candidate why it is her policy to take money away and vote for the Party which is giving the lower income earner a better deal.

COX:

Taking away funding though from super rich schools and spreading it amongst other independent schools is surely going to be a winner isn't it?

TREASURER:

Well I don't think so, because Mr Latham, ask him how much these other schools will gain from his policy. You have 67 schools that lose money, that is right. And then it is spread around some thousands of others. How much do those others gain? I am told $80. It is not going to make much difference…

COX:

Told by whom?

TREASURER:

…to education.

COX:

Who has told you $80?

TREASURER:

Well they are the official figures. $80 per student. That is the additional amount they get as a result of this policy.

COX:

(inaudible) It is money though that it could be argued, and that Labor has been arguing that the super rich schools don't deserve, don't have a claim to.

TREASURER:

If you take money off 67 schools and then you distribute it to a couple of thousand, the benefits to those other schools are miniscule. I mean they will be eaten up by the first wage rise or the first CPI inflator. It won't make, it won't make a significant difference at all in those other schools. It will make a difference to the schools that you are taking it away from because there is fewer of them and there are larger sums. But it won't make a significant difference at all to the schools to which it is distributed. I think people have figured that out.

COX:

Peter Costello we are out of time. And what goal do you have for yourself should the Coalition not succeed on the 9th of October?

TREASURER:

Oh well I am not thinking about that. I am just focussing on the result on the 9th of October here.

COX:

And focussing…

TREASURER:

And focussing on Michael Ferguson.

COX:

And focussing on Tasmania.

TREASURER:

Okay.

COX:

Good to talk to you this morning. Thanks a lot.

TREASURER:

Thank you very much.

21 Sep 2004

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