Peter Costello

Media Transcripts

Anti-Americanism, Telstra, Mr Stephen Vizard - Interview with John Laws, 2UE

Treasurer

Interview with John Laws
2UE

Monday, 22 August 2005
10.10 am

SUBJECTS: Anti-Americanism, Telstra, Mr Stephen Vizard

LAWS:

Peter Costello is on the line. Treasurer, good morning.

TREASURER:

Good morning John, good to be with you.

LAWS:

It is good to have you. I wish you were up here on Hamilton Island. Talk about fantastic. It is just beautiful.

TREASURER:

Do not make me envious.

LAWS:

Oh well, one day soon they will give you a break. You were saying loudly and clearly that school teachers and uni lecturers are responsible for a strong anti-American sentiment among our young people. I agree with you, but on what do you base your assessment?

TREASURER:

I gave a speech at the weekend John, talking about the values of the American alliance for Australia, in particular how when Australia was exposed in 1942, the Japanese attack, if it had not been for American troops and the naval support and the island campaign of Douglas MacArthur, Australia would have been in very, very deep trouble. We were under attack …

LAWS:

Can I ask you why you brought that up in your speech?

TREASURER:

Because it is the 60th anniversary of Victory in the Pacific, and the Victory in the Pacific began when Australian troops defeated Port Moresby on the Kokoda track. We started turning the Japanese, but with the assistance of the Americans, Japan was defeated. It would not have happened without the Americans and Australia would not have been secured. I think that there are many younger people in Australia today that do not know that, and I recounted how I was recently at a local school in my electorate, and one of the senior school students said “What have the Americans ever done for us?”, and you know the truth of the matter is the Americans helped to defend our country in its most extreme security crisis. And if young people do not know that story, and do not know the importance of it, then they are not going to know how important the American alliance is to the defence of Australia.

LAWS:

It is pretty sad that we don’t teach them that in their history lessons.

TREASURER:

Well that is right. It should be a big part of Australian history. I think we teach Gallipoli and Anzac well, I think young people know that, they know that story and you see all the young people that go off to Gallipoli for Anzac Day. But do they know the story of the defence of Australia, and the bombing of Darwin as well, and the American alliance. Why do we have an American alliance? We have an American alliance because in 1942 the Americans helped to defend our country, and if we are ever in a severe security danger again we would want the same.

LAWS:

Now, tell me when you were talking to university students, what was their reaction to your comments about America and the fact that we owe them something?

TREASURER:

Well I think that there is a view, there is a bit of resentment in some quarters in Australia towards the United States, after all, theirs is huge power, it is a global power. People tend to resent its power. My point is that US military power has never been used against Australia, and has been used in the defence of Australia. So if there is a great power in the world that is sympathetic to you and is prepared to join with you in the defence of its country, this is not a bad thing, this is a good thing. That is my message.

LAWS:

Well it is pretty straight forward, and it is pretty simple. Do you really think there is still a 1970’s mentality around, particularly in the area of students, and those teaching them?

TREASURER:

Well, look I think the universities, particularly the humanities parts of the universities were very left in the 60’s and 70’s.

LAWS:

They sure were.

TREASURER:

You know I know, I was a student there, and I think that a lot of today’s teachers were trained in that climate, and that was the prevailing climate. Now, I trust that universities are better today than they were, and many of those teachers of course will have independent and different views, and I am not making a broad generalisation about all teachers, but there was a very left wing period in Australia in the 60’s and the 70’s, and I think that could be a source of anti-Americanism which is lingering today.

LAWS:

And do you think that could contribute to terrorism?

TREASURER:

Well, the only point I make is that in the terrorist mind, if we are talking about Islamist terrorists, they are certainly anti-American, and they are also anti-Australian.

LAWS:

That’s right.

TREASURER:

They believe that westerners are their enemies for whatever reason they have. They do not tend to distinguish, and they lump us all into the same category, and again I think this is why we have to explain our values. I think the Americans have got to explain their values too, because there is a lot of anti-Americanism in the world, and we cannot rest. We do have a big job here …,

LAWS:

We sure do.

TREASURER:

… in Australia and the United States.

LAWS:

I think it is very important that we recognise America for what it is, and I think it is a tragedy that that sort of modern history isn’t taught to young people so that they have a clear vision of it. Were you anti-American when you were a student?

TREASURER:

No I was not, because - I said this in my speech - you know I am the generation whose parents were engaged in the Second World War, and I heard all of these stories from my parent’s generation. I knew it pretty well, but you see my kids would not be in the same position. This is why I think that the generation that is going through school today needs to be reminded of these things. Sixty years ago, VP day, it is not that long you know …

LAWS:

That’s right …

TREASURER:

…and the generation is still alive, we do not want to lose it before that generation disappears.

LAWS:

True. Now old Barnaby Joyce - he is not old, but when he has a name like Barnaby you sort of think of Barnaby as being old, can’t imagine a little baby boy being Barnaby, but we’ll just refer to him as Barnaby Joyce - he says he is going to take his time on his decision on Telstra. He says he might need a month. How long will you wait for him?

TREASURER:

Well we would hope that legislation would be introduced when Parliament goes back in September. There is a two week recess at the moment, and then Parliament will sit for two weeks in September, and we hope that Parliament would debate the legislation then.

LAWS:

I’m getting the message that a lot of Liberal backbenchers aren’t too happy with the headlines that Barnaby has been getting. He certainly gets the headlines, doesn’t he?

TREASURER:

Well there is a big media focus on him at the moment …

LAWS:

Because he is rebellious?

TREASURER:

… the press are giving him enormous coverage, and the thing to bear in mind is that the Government is a team. No one member is more important than all the others. They have all got one vote, and we work best when we are working together, you know that is the thing to bear in mind. There are a lot of Liberals that represent rural and regional areas, in fact more Liberals represent rural and …

LAWS:

And they are prepared to accept it?

TREASURER:

… and they believe it is important that the Government is able to put in place a good economic programme. This is the point I keep on making, you know, why do we want to put in place a good economic programme? Well that keeps your interest rates down, and people in work. It is going to be no consolation to anybody if we lose sight of those goals.

LAWS:

No. I don’t know who said united we stand, divided we fall, but whoever said it dribbled a bit forward as they say in the classics, and Barnaby ought to be reminded of that I think.

TREASURER:

Well, as I say, when a Government concentrates on good economic policy, the pay-off is jobs and low interest rates, and we do not ever want to loose sight of good economic policy.

LAWS:

Do you think it is at all possible that the sale of Telstra won’t go ahead if the share prices are too low?

TREASURER:

Look there are two steps here. There is the passing of legislation which authorises the offering of the shares, and then there is the offering of the shares. The two do not have to happen simultaneously, but what the Government policy is, is to offer those shares for sale to the Australian public, like we did previously, and …

LAWS:

But you wouldn’t let them go, if they were too low would you?

TREASURER:

Well you would take commercial advice on all of this, and you have got to consider, you not only have got to consider where they are now, but where they are going. You have got to consider demand, you have got to consider what other offers are being made. So these are all commercial judgements and then you make your offer, like we did, just the same as we did in relation to the first and the second offer. But nothing can happen until you pass the legislation. So you pass the legislation, and then you time the offerings.

LAWS:

Could Barnaby Joyce bring the whole thing undone?

TREASURER:

Well the law has to pass the Senate, and you know if the Labor Party wanted to see reason, it would not be any problem passing the Senate. There are other Parties in the Senate, and then there are the Liberal and National Parties in the Senate.

LAWS:

So if you can’t get Barnaby Joyce to see this as clearly as you see it, would you approach somebody else to get their vote?

TREASURER:

Well John, the reality is in the Senate, you never rule out anybody. You never rule out anybody, you want to get as many votes as you can, but you know …

LAWS:

Have you talked to anybody yet?

TREASURER:

Well, no I have not been negotiating the …

LAWS:

Have they talked to anybody yet?

TREASURER:

I would think they would remain in contact with people, yes.

LAWS:

You are the master of diplomacy. Is the Tax Office investigation going on in relation to Steve Vizard’s activities?

TREASURER:

I cannot talk about anybody’s personal affairs. I will just make this general point that where the Tax Office becomes aware that somebody may have contravened the law, they generally investigate. Well, where they have reasonable evidence they always investigate.

LAWS:

Okay. Were you embarrassed when all this came out, that the Government had appointed Vizard to the Telstra Board?

TREASURER:

Well what I would say, whether you are on the Telstra Board or any other Board, the information that you become aware of is not for your personal benefit. It is for the benefit of the shareholders of that corporation.

LAWS:

Well that is the way it should be.

TREASURER:

And any Director who believes that they can receive information for their own personal benefit ought to be aware, just like Mr Vizard has found out, that you can be struck out as a company director. You can be subject to very large fines, and if they can put the evidence together, criminal prosecution.

LAWS:

The reputation of ASIC has been knocked about a bit, hasn’t it?

TREASURER:

Well look ASIC was able to conduct the investigation. It presented the information to the Director of Public Prosecutions. He thought that on that evidence, they could not secure a criminal conviction, but by the way, criminal conviction has not been ruled out.

LAWS:

No, no I’m aware of that.

TREASURER:

If further evidence were to come to light, the DPP has made this point, he can still bring a criminal prosecution.

LAWS:

Okay. Good to talk to you Treasurer …

TREASURER:

Thank you John.

LAWS:

… thank you very much for your time.

TREASURER:

And all the very best at Hamilton.

LAWS:

It is just fabulous. I’m just looking out on this marina now. There are boats from all over the world here for this thing. We really have got to promote it because it is an international event, and could you think of a better place to sail in the world than around the Whitsundays?

TREASURER:

I cannot, so you enjoy yourself.

LAWS:

Good to talk to you Peter.

TREASURER:

Bye.

22 Aug 2005

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