Peter Costello

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Acting Prime Minister, Indigenous issues, uranium, economy, executive salaries, Andrew Metcalfe, gambling, Telstra -Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

Interview with Neil Mitchell
3AW

Tuesday, 23 May 2006
9.20 am

SUBJECTS: Acting Prime Minister, Indigenous issues, uranium, economy, executive salaries, Andrew Metcalfe, gambling, Telstra

TREASURER:

Good morning Neil.

MITCHELL:

Well you are acting Prime Minister, who are we going to declare war on today?

TREASURER:

Well, the Melbourne Football Club.

MITCHELL:

What do you want to achieve before the Prime Minister gets back?

TREASURER:

Well, the business of Government goes on, today obviously we have got Parliament, we have got National Security Committee, we have got Party Room meetings and we just go about the normal business of Government involving our colleagues, attending to security matters, taking questions from the Opposition, making sure that the wheels of Government continue in the interests of the Australian people.

MITCHELL:

Do you like sitting in the chair?

TREASURER:

Well it is a more comfortable chair than the benches.

MITCHELL:

Why is the Prime Minister coming back early?

TREASURER:

I think he concluded his official engagements in Ireland and so because he has got the RAAF plane he can fly straight back and that gets him back earlier and I think actually that he is going to go to the soccer game at the MCG.

MITCHELL:

Are you going?

TREASURER:

I haven’t got a ticket.

MITCHELL:

I am sure we could organise that. When you are Acting Prime Minister do, you actually do make the decisions or do you have to consult the Prime Minister?

TREASURER:

Well it depends on the nature of the decision obviously. If it were a huge decision of long term importance of course you would consult but the ordinary business of Government just continues moving on with the decisions that we take in the Cabinet or the National Security Committee or in the Party Room. These things involve consultation and the person that is chairing the meeting sums up the consensus and records the decision.

MITCHELL:

You know that everybody is looking at it as an audition, do you see it in any way as an audition?

TREASURER:

Not really.

MITCHELL:

(inaudible) done your audition?

TREASURER:

Well, you know, I have been a Senior Minister for a long time now and I have done a lot of Budgets and people have seen me take those decisions, they have seen the outcomes of the decisions I have made, so no, I don’t regard this as anything special.

MITCHELL:

But you are enjoying it.

TREASURER:

Well look, every day brings its new challenges, Neil.

MITCHELL:

Okay, let’s see if we can find some. The Aboriginal issue, the Pope has told Australia’s Ambassador that Australia should do more, there is more to be achieved. Is the Pope right?

TREASURER:

Well there is more to be achieved, that is for sure because the level of violence and crime in some of the Aboriginal communities is a disgrace and this has been the case for some time but it has come to the fore because one of the Crown Prosecutors has documented case after case of appalling abuse. Now, what has got to be done here Neil, is what you would do in the white community if you came across rape or interference with children, you would arrest the people responsible, you would charge them, you would convict them and you would jail them. There is no such thing as a defence that says because you are Aboriginal or because there is something in your culture this is permitted, it is not, it is a crime, this is…

MITCHELL:

That is the way it has been working though, hasn’t it?

TREASURER:

Well I think that there has been a tendency to say, well, you know, go a bit soft on some of these things because there is a cultural sensitivity. I think that some of the child welfare authorities have been too slow to remove children at risk because they don’t want to be accused of stealing Aboriginal children because of all of the history of that particular issue and so I think the outcome of this is that the law enforcement has been too soft and it has got to be toughened up considerably, it doesn’t matter what the colour of your skin is, a rape is a rape, child abuse is child abuse.

MITCHELL:

A lot of the Aboriginal industry seem to be blaming the Government over this saying, we need more money, we need more commitment. In fact I heard Anthony Mundine saying yesterday, the Government doesn’t care about this, which I thought was particularly harsh. Do you think the Government has got any culpability here?

TREASURER:

Well, of course the Government cares about this and when you look at money, can I say, the amount of money that has been spent on Aboriginal affairs over the last decade is enormous. We have got $3.3 billion in this year’s Budget. Let me tell you, there is no shortage of money. Now, it may well be that the money could be applied better and I actually think maybe it should be tougher, that the condition of receiving welfare should require attendance at school, good parenting and so on. So I wouldn’t say the answer is easier money, if anything I would say money on more stringent conditions which is directed towards outcomes. But where you have got crime the answer to crime is not more welfare or spending, the answer to crime is law enforcement. That is what we need.

MITCHELL:

We have had two levels of justice, have we not?

TREASURER:

Well…

MITCHELL:

Black and white.

TREASURER:

…there has been a doctrine that has got around in some cases that you have got to be culturally sensitive and that some practices should be culturally accepted. Now, that doesn’t extend to rape or child abuse and we have got to make this clear and the courts have got to apply the law in that particular way.

MITCHELL:

Nasty scenes again in Wadeye overnight, definitely against sending in troops to help?

TREASURER:

Yes, look, this is not a military situation, this is law enforcement. You know, we have nasty scenes down in South Yarra outside nightclubs every now and then, we don’t send the military down, we send the police down. If you have nasty scenes in Wadeye, if somebody is breaching the peace or committing a crime the Northern Territory police should be there.

MITCHELL:

A couple of other issues, how important is it for Australia’s future that we mine and sell our uranium?

TREASURER:

Well mining uranium is very important. We have got something like 40 per cent of the world’s available resources. A much larger percentage of the world’s resources of uranium than we have of gas and coal. So this could be a fabulous export industry for Australia. Now, we only export it to countries that have nuclear safeguards but you would be a mug if you had the opportunity to sell Australia’s products and you didn’t take it up. It would be like leaving the iron ore in the ground or the gas in the ground. This has the potential to deliver a lot of income for Australia.

MITCHELL:

Do you think it is inevitable that we will have nuclear power in Australia?

TREASURER:

If it becomes commercial we should have it. That is there is no in principle objection to nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is an efficient form of energy provided you deal properly with the waste then it is safe, it has much less greenhouse emissions than coal, so, there is no in principle objection to it, it is just a question of economics. At some point I would think that it will become commercial, that is some time off but if it becomes commercial, yeah sure, people should be allowed to build it.

MITCHELL:

Acting Prime Minister, the markets were shaky overnight, are you concerned by that?

TREASURER:

No I think that there has been a correction in the world stock markets including Australia. You have got to remember that Australia’s stock market was at an all time record, there would be no other exchange that in recent weeks was at an all time record and when markets get to record levels you tend to see corrections. But you have got to remember this is a correction off a very high base and there is still a lot of people a long way in front on the stock market in Australia.

MITCHELL:

So you don’t see it as anything more significant than a correction?

TREASURER:

Well part of it is a correction because we got so high. The other is of course is that people are beginning to worry about inflation in the United States, that is something that we have to keep an eye on, that is something we have to keep an eye on in Australia.

MITCHELL:

(inaudible) put pressures on interest rates (inaudible)?

TREASURER:

Well, the United States went through a recession, you know the United States went through a recession and we didn’t, you know that back at the turn of the decade the US went into recession, Australia, one of the few countries in the world continued to grow. Now, the United States economy has emerged from recession, it is strengthening and there are people that are worrying about inflation in the United States but we have got to make sure that we don’t import inflation into Australia and we have got to make sure that our own conditions are good and they keep inflation down.

MITCHELL:

Speaking of inflation, the Macquarie executives, $21.6 million is the top wage. Is that reasonable, that sort of level?

 TREASURER:

Well Neil, the Government doesn’t pay it, the Government doesn’t control it. We look at it, it seems an incredibly large sum – I agree with you – but the people who pay it are the shareholders of that bank and they should be consulted, they should be given the right to approve it or to disapprove it. If they approve it, well it is their money.

MITCHELL:

Do you think it might be a good place for a former Treasurer to work (inaudible)?

TREASURER:

Well, I don’t know.

MITCHELL:

$21 million, (inaudible).

TREASURER:

I was going to say Mr Willis is otherwise occupied, isn’t he?

MITCHELL:

Are you available?

TREASURER:

He is a former Treasurer. No I am not a former Treasurer.

MITCHELL:

When will you be?

TREASURER:

Not for a while I hope, Neil.

MITCHELL:

Not going to drop your CV down tomorrow?

TREASURER:

No, I am not going to be a former Treasurer for a while, I hope.

MITCHELL:

Really? The Prime Minister did tell me he wasn’t considering a career change either on Friday.

TREASURER:

Well I have got a job to do and I am doing it, I am quite happy doing it.

MITCHELL:

Now the head of Immigration, the Secretary of the Department, Andrew Metcalfe, do you know him?

TREASURER:

Yes.

MITCHELL:

He is paying, he has got a $400,000 a year job and he is paying a personal motivator $1,000 an hour to motivate him. That’s our money Ralph, why would he do that?

TREASURER:

 Is it our money?

MITCHELL:

Yes.

TREASURER:

Well I can’t comment, I don’t know about his motivation, I will find out.

MITCHELL:

Be a good way to motivate him, take away the $400 grand.

TREASURER:

You could always put your name forward to be the motivator, Neil.

MITCHELL:

But $1,000 an hour, it is a bit of a Macquarie Bank.

TREASURER:

About the same.

MITCHELL:

No, but I guess this is a serious point, that is public money, $1,000 an hour just to be motivated when you are head of a department.

TREASURER:

Yes, well look, I would have to look at all of the facts on that, I can’t comment.

MITCHELL:

Fair enough. Have you caught up with the report about text messages being used to sort of encourage gambling, electronic gambling going to lottery tickets, front page of The Australian today. Is that something that would concern you?

TREASURER:

Well this is spam, unwanted and uninvited advertising, and it does concern us actually and I think that where we can take measures to prevent it, we will. Now, it is very hard…

MITCHELL:

I’m sorry, is it the spam that concerns you or is the lottery, the gambling…

TREASURER:

…well all spam concerns me but spam for bad products is worse than spam for good products. But all spam concerns me actually. It is just the curse of modern technology. Every time somebody thinks of some new offensive way of advertising you have got to look at a new defensive way. One of the things we are looking at at the moment is banning these unwarranted calls that come to you from India at inconvenient times. The trouble is that technology moves so fast but I do think that people should have the option of filtering this stuff out.

MITCHELL:

But in this system they are talking about getting betting going on mobile phones. Now, you know how kids are addicted to mobile phones…

TREASURER:

Yes.

MITCHELL:

…that to me seems to be potentially targeting kids.

TREASURER:

Yes, well we actually have taken measures to close down or restrict internet gambling which the Commonwealth Government can do under its communications power. Now, whether we can extend that to phones, we may well be able to. But as you know we don’t regulate gambling, the Commonwealth Government doesn’t regulate gambling, it is regulated at State level, that is what you have state TABs but whether or not we could use our communications power to do that, I think there would be a lot of interest in the Government over that.

MITCHELL:

Mr Costello, Sol Trujilo the head of Telstra, a survey showed he would be one of the least trusted people in the country, does that surprise you?

TREASURER:

Look, I think a lot of people who have Telstra shares will be disappointed that the shares don’t have the value today that they had when Mr Trujilo started and I think that would be reflected in those surveys and I think it is important that Telstra concentrate on shareholder value, that is what the management is there for and I think that the shareholders would welcome the fact that they see a company which is directed towards improving the value of their investments.

MITCHELL:

Which is hasn’t been?

TREASURER:

Well look, Telstra has been engaged in a lot of work on regulatory issues, they have been putting their case, they have been arguing it publicly, they have been lobbying government, that have an entitlement to do that. But they have got to remember that at the end of the day their first responsibility is to shareholders and shareholders expect Telstra to create value for them.

MITCHELL:

Just two quick things to finish on – not entirely serious – Matt Price writing in The Australian, have you ever charged anybody with contempt of Parliament?

TREASURER:

Have I?

MITCHELL:

Yes.

TREASURER:

No.

MITCHELL:

Well he says that you were so excited yesterday in the Prime Minister’s chair you were almost wetting yourself.

TREASURER:

Yes, well…

MITCHELL:

Would he be in contempt?

 TREASURER:

…well, I think he could have used more judicious language.

MITCHELL:

The other thing, as Acting Prime Minister, you called Labor’s Duncan Kerr a dropkick. Do you know what a dropkick is?

TREASURER:

Yes, it is something that AFL footballers use to do in the 1960s.

MITCHELL:

How does that refer to Duncan Kerr?

TREASURER:

Billy Barrett used to come out of the centre and he would put one down and put it through the goals and that is what I have always thought. If you ask a silly question and somebody kicks the ball through the goals, it is not a bad analogy.

MITCHELL:

Oh I see, I thought it was rhyming slang.

TREASURER:

You have got me, no, you have got me there.

MITCHELL:

I don’t think we will pursue it. Thank you very much for your time.

TREASURER:

Thanks very much Neil.

23 May 2006

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