Peter Costello

Media Transcripts

Interview with Jon Faine, 774 ABC Radio

TRANSCRIPT

of

THE HON PETER COSTELLO MP

FEDERAL MEMBER FOR HIGGINS

 

Interview with Jon Faine, 774 ABC Radio

Monday, 18 May 2009,
8.35 am

E & OE

SUBJECTS:  Budget

JON FAINE:

Peter Costello is the Member for Higgins in the Federal Parliament.  Peter Costello welcome to our 774 ABC Melbourne Studio.

MR COSTELLO:

Thanks very much Jon.  Good to be with you.

JON FAINE:

Why are you here?

MR COSTELLO:

Because you asked me to come.

JON FAINE:

But you have been asked many times.

MR COSTELLO:

I know.  I thought to myself how many times can I turn Jon down?  I thought I would come in this morning because I am back from Canberra and it is great to see you again.

JON FAINE:

Is there a subtext to this though? 

MR COSTELLO:

No.

JON FAINE:

Is there a Peter Costello on the warpath subtext?

MR COSTELLO:

No there's not.  I have been doing other radio stations and I thought I would do the ABC.

JON FAINE:

Not often.  Not often in Melbourne.  But you've also launched a website last week.  These are not the activities os someone who is about to leave politics are they?

MR COSTELLO:

Well the website is www.petercostello.com.au ...

JON FAINE:

Good plug.

MR COSTELLO:

And I launched it because it gives me the opportunity to put media up on that website.  I don't have media advisers Jon so we were running into the problem that the press would always ask me for my transcripts and articles and it is much easier for me to put them on the website where they can get them.

JON FAINE:

Preselection for Higgins is when?

MR COSTELLO:

I would say a couple of months away.

JON FAINE:

Months or weeks?

MR COSTELLO:

Months I think.

JON FAINE:

It could be in the next few weeks though if you wanted it to be couldn't it?

MR COSTELLO:

Oh well it is not determined by me, it is determined by others, but I understand it will be coming up about the middle of the year.

JON FAINE:

I think you have got more say than anybody else in the timing of it.

MR COSTELLO:

No I am just one of many.

JON FAINE:

I don't think so for a moment.  If you renominate for Higgins does that destabilise Malcolm Turnbull?

MR COSTELLO:

I don't think so.  Look I am not focussing on those sorts of things because the way I look at it Jon having been elected at the last election my obligation is to work for the electorate which I do.  People say to me will you run for re-election in 2010 and I have said look I will think about that when it comes up.  But before I get too worried about 2011, 2012 and 2013 I would rather do what I should be doing in 2009.

JON FAINE:

However on election night I am sure I don't need to remind you but this is what you had to say about your own future:

            [plays tape]

JON FAINE:

What's changed?

MR COSTELLO:

I haven't sought nor am I seeking the leadership of the Liberal Party.  I also said in that speech that I would continue to serve the electorate which I thought was my obligation.  I thought Jon that if you are elected to a term and then the day after the election you say well thanks very much for electing me I am off, I don't think that shows good faith with the electorate and so I thought it was my obligation to serve the electorate which I am doing.  You asked me whether I would seek another term.  I am not going into that now but it was my obligation, my view that I should serve my constituents this term which I am doing.  And I must say I am enjoying it very much.  I do a few other things as well.  I write now which I didn't have time to do in the past and I do a few other things lectures and seminars and that kind of thing.  But I do take the obligation to serve the electorate seriously.

JON FAINE:

But if you didn't serve the electorate you would have even more time for writing, speech making, travelling, conferencing and all of those other pursuits. 

MR COSTELLO:

Sure, sure.

JON FAINE:

Peter Costello as just a backbencher is not a good fit.

MR COSTELLO:

Well look I do do some other things, and it is widely known that I have joined an International Advisory Board for the World Bank which allows me a contribution in relation to development issues but that only meets say three times a year and I serve my electorate which I should do.

JON FAINE:

But this is all a bit of a superficial veneer isn't it.

MR COSTELLO:

No I don't think so.

JON FAINE:

I rang around influential Liberals this morning Peter Costello, everyone expects you to renominate for Higgins and to challenge Malcolm Turnbull at some point for the leadership of the Liberal Party.

MR COSTELLO:

Well I find it hard to believe that you rang around influential Liberals this morning because it is only 8.30am Jon.

JON FAINE:

We start very early.  The question is who answers their phone at this time of the day.

MR COSTELLO:

You are saying not family members?  I remember Gareth Evans coming out the day after I think it was the 1998 election and announcing the day after he had been elected that he was leaving the seat.  And I thought it was really bad form.  And being a Member of Parliament is an honour in itself.  Sure it is also an honour to be a Minister and even a greater honour to be a Senior Minister but being a Member of Parliament is an honour in itself and it is something that you should take seriously and I do.

JON FAINE:

A couple of questions about politics before the Budget and some specific things.  Do you expect an early election?

MR COSTELLO:

I think Mr Rudd wants an early election.  You would have seen last week that he was threatening an early election.  After today's polls he may get a little less keen on an early election but of course there can only be an early election if the Opposition or Opposition and minor parties or Opposition and Greens, a majority of the Senate, rejects a Bill twice and that hasn't occurred yet.

JON FAINE:

He can go to an election some time in the middle of next year instead of waiting until the end of the year.

MR COSTELLO:

He can always call an election just for the House of Representatives without that Double Dissolution trigger.

JON FAINE:

Doesn't solve his Senate problem.

MR COSTELLO:

He's not worried about his Senate problem.  He's just worried about getting re-elected.  He could do that.  But the bad consequence of that is that you would then have the two Houses out of kilter and you would still have to have a half Senate election at a later point and people wouldn't like that.  In fact all of the evidence is if you sent the electorate off to first a Reps election and then subsequently a half Senate election they would get very stroppy about that half Senate election and he would probably do worse.  And so he is angling for a Double Dissolution.  He has looked at the polls, his advisers have said to him you are in front of the polls try and get another term.  But he doesn't yet have the trigger.

JON FAINE:

Would you deny him the trigger?  Would you put through the Alcopops Tax?  Would you put through the Emissions Trading Scheme?

MR COSTELLO:

I actually think that the important thing is to follow good policy and I think if you follow good policy then the politics will get itself right.  And so these are always judgement calls.  But I am not in the camp that says just vote for anything that Mr Rudd wants so that he can't get a Double Dissolution.  For example I think it is absolutely right to oppose the Government's attempts to restrict private health insurance rebates.  I think that is right.  First of all because it was a promise from Mr Rudd that he wouldn't attack private health insurance rebates so he has broken a promise.  Secondly it is good policy.  So I absolutely believe that that should be opposed.  And some people say oh well if you oppose that that will give Mr Rudd a Double Dissolution, well, so be it.  I think the policy and the broken promise are such important issues that the Opposition has got to stand up for it.

JON FAINE:

In times of economic need you need to rethink your promises. You did that, John Howard did that, every politician does that. 

MR COSTELLO:

Mr Rudd, what was it, less than 18 months ago said he would not touch private health insurance rebates.

JON FAINE:

Global financial crisis.

MR COSTELLO:

Now there has been a financial crisis, why does that mean he can't keep his promise on private health insurance rebates?

JON FAINE:

Because he needs to save money he says.

MR COSTELLO:

Well so he is going to save what?  A billion dollars?

JON FAINE:

$1.7 billion I think it was.

MR COSTELLO:

Over four years.

JON FAINE:

And even then those figures can be disputed as they are being.

MR COSTELLO:

And what is his Budget deficit this year?  $58 billion.  And so he can take the Budget into $58 billion of deficit but if the Opposition opposes what $1 billion or $1.7 billion that is a catastrophe?  You have got to get some proportion about this.  Over the forward estimates Rudd is proposing something like $190 billion of deficit.  So he's entitled to have $190 billion of deficit but if the Coalition stands up for people on private health insurance rebates and the cost of that is $1.7 billion it's all their fault?

JON FAINE:

17 minutes to 9 on 774 ABC Melbourne.  Jon Faine with you through to 12.  Wayne Swan in the next half hour but this morning Peter Costello the Member for Higgins, formerly Australia's longest serving Treasurer is my guest in the studio this morning.  And so on cigarette tax for instance would you be putting up the tax on cigarettes to try and gain some of the money that is being lost through the deficit?

MR COSTELLO:

Look you can always tax cigarettes more.  I think they are taxed about 25 cents a stick and the proposal is to put it up to 28 cents a stick. I am not a smoker and I think smoking is bad for people so I can't complain.  But I would make this point, in a Budget of $190 billion of deficit and the run up of $188 billion of debt, cigarettes is not the big issue here.  The big issue frankly Jon is how we are ever going to get out of this situation.  Now we are in it.

JON FAINE:

Could you have delivered a Budget without a deficit?

MR COSTELLO:

Well look whether it was me or some of my Coalition colleagues you could have done a lot better than this.

JON FAINE:

How?

MR COSTELLO:

Well you see Mr Rudd inherited an asset position and he had $20 billion of money I left in the bank.  He began to spend that down before Christmas by sending out cheques as you know, very popular, very popular to send out those cheques. 

JON FAINE:

Might have to do it again on the latest polls.

MR COSTELLO:

Well I was going to say Jon what have we got to show for those cheques?  $10 billion before Christmas, that is all gone, we were putting out another $10 billion in April.  When that is all gone, what have we got to show for it?

JON FAINE:

Well they say...

MR COSTELLO:

That is where the $20 billion went.

JON FAINE:

They say jobs. They say that they have avoided catastrophic returns for the retailers in particular over the last quarter. 

MR COSTELLO:

$20 billion.  Now you could have drought proofed Victoria for that.  You could have built dams, you could have built power stations, for $20 billion you could have built a channel from Northern Australian down to Victoria.  $20 billion is a lot of money but we didn't get a dam, we didn't get a power station, we didn't get a desalination plant, we didn't get a road, we didn't get a rail.  $20 billion - that's where the $20 billion went.  And I saw one of them saying the other day oh well Costello should have left us bigger surpluses.  And I only left them $20 billion and if I'd have left them more they would have wasted that too Jon.  So he spent his way through that $20 billion handing out cheques, no doubt thinking to himself this will make me popular and now we are in deficit and we will be showing deficits of about $190 billion over the next four years.  Now I make this point, even if you got the Budget back into balance you have still got all of the debt - all of the debt that you had to borrow to fund those deficits.  So you are going to have $190 billion of debt.  And you have got first of all the interest charges and then some day somebody presumably is going to try and pay it back. Those interest charges will be around probably for two decades at least. 

JON FAINE:

Do you support the infrastructure investment?

MR COSTELLO:

So I was going to say nice of Mr Rudd to send people the cheques.  They will be paying for it in their tax bills for the next two decades.

JON FAINE:

Do you support the infrastructure investment?

MR COSTELLO:

Of course I support infrastructure investment.

JON FAINE:

To the extent that has been agreed to?

MR COSTELLO:

Well Jon look all infrastructure spending is welcome.  Let me say that is why we had our $14 billion AusLink program.   It is not as if there never was infrastructure before and it has only just started by the way.  And I drove up to Ballarat the other day, I saw some of the road projects that we funded - the bypass.  The Calder Freeway as you know now opening so let's not pretend that there was no infrastructure spending and it just started today.  And so of course I welcome it.  But I did notice if you look through the projects that were announced Jon the funding for very few of those projects was to complete the project.  Mostly it was to do feasibility studies.  Have a very careful look for example at the rail line which I think is to go under the city of Melbourne.

JON FAINE:

The Footscray connection.

MR COSTELLO:

Feasibility studies not construction.

JON FAINE:

Early start but the Werribee link for instance is going ahead.  But let's talk about some other things.  Have you spoken to John Howard since election night?

MR COSTELLO:

Yes.

JON FAINE:

How often?

MR COSTELLO:

Oh not very often.  I was at a birthday party in Sydney a couple of weeks ago that was the last time I saw him.

JON FAINE:

What did you say?

MR COSTELLO:

How are you? Good to see you.  The kind of things that you imagine you would say at a birthday party. 

JON FAINE:

Are relations between you and he any better than they were?

MR COSTELLO:

Well we worked together for 11 ½ years.  It was a very successful relationship.

JON FAINE:

It was a very tense relationship at the end.

MR COSTELLO:

No, no, we worked very successfully together.  I believed that John Howard should in the interests of himself and the Liberal Party and the country have stood down before the 2007 Election.  I have said that 1,000 times and I have written it in my book.  I think if you look back on it I gave him the right and honest advice.  He lost his own seat and I think that's just a terrible end for a Prime Minister to be voted out of your own seat.  That was the advice I gave him.  It didn't happen.  So I think it is a terrible way for him to have left politics.  But our relations are very amiable. 

JON FAINE:

Do you need to mend fences with John Howard to get support from Sydney Liberals for your eventual push to become the next Liberal Prime Minister?

MR COSTELLO:

No.  No on all assumptions in between there.  John Howard knows this, nobody gave John Howard more loyal support than me.  And if I may say so, maybe it wasn't the advice that he wanted but I gave him the honest advice.  The honest advice that I gave him was that he should have retired before the 2007 election.  It wasn't a great way to go out losing your own seat.

JON FAINE:

10 minutes to 9.  Peter Costello a few other quick things.  The West Australian Greens had a 44 per cent primary vote in a by-election for Fremantle.  What do you make of that?

MR COSTELLO:

I think that Labor is now in trouble in its inner city heartland.  Labor has always been strongest in the inner cities - what used to be called the traditional working class areas in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth.  You have now got a new group of people that might be moving into the inner city, renovating terrace houses, generally speaking upper middle income earners because you have got to have quite a bit of money to buy these houses and they don't like old style Labor branch stacking control  politics.  These are not generally unionised people unless they are in public sector unions, they are not your old manual labour and their outlook is much more pro green and I think you are going to see quite a bit of this.  We know even in the seat of Melbourne the Greens polled very, very highly.

JON FAINE:

In Lindsay Tanner's seat.

MR COSTELLO:

Yes.  And I would expect in a by-election where the fate of the Government doesn't turn on it you are going to get big protest votes.  And you saw that really in some of the by-elections that we had here at the State level.  I think Labor is at risk in the inner cities.

JON FAINE:

But so is the Liberal Party not in the inner city so much but in some of your marginal seats.  Do you have to become, does the Liberal Party have to become more Green too?

MR COSTELLO:

The Liberal Party doesn't hold a city, an inner city seat in Australia - we don't hold Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth.

JON FAINE:

Suburban fringe seats, if this is a green wash, a green trend, don't you have to notice it too?

MR COSTELLO:

The Liberal Party is stronger in the outer suburbs and my view on that is generally speaking that is because the people living in the outer suburbs are much more susceptible to the economy, they are much more worried about their jobs and the jobs of their children and they focus on the kind of issues that the Liberal Party performs well on mainly economic management.  And so they don't have the luxury of feeling that economic downturns will wash over them.  They are very susceptible to unemployment.  This is where most of your small business people live.  They know that it is tough out there in the economy.

JON FAINE:

You don't think the Liberal Party needs to be more Green?

MR COSTELLO:

Well actually I think the people in the suburbs are the people who really are looking for economic leadership.  Jon can I say this to you, if you are about to lose your job or your small business is going down and you are living in Mooroolbark, or Lilydale or Ringwood you don't think the big issue in politics is the Emissions Trading Scheme you think the big issue is whether I will keep my job, whether my kids when they are coming out of school have the chance of getting a job. 

JON FAINE:

7 minutes to 9.  Last question before we have to move on Peter Costello.  The Editor of The Monthly magazine a regular on this program Sally Warhaft seems to have lost her job.  Do you (inaudible)?

MR COSTELLO:

Well I feel very sorry for Sally.  I am sorry that I have apparently played an accidental part in this whole thing.  What happened Jon is I was on Q&A with Sally and the presenter Tony Jones said to Sally well will you publish an article from Peter Costello on the global financial crisis.  Which I do know a little bit about.  I was on the IMF for over 10 years and a Governor of the World Bank and I was also the Chairman of the G20 you know that organisation that met recently in London.  And Sally apparently went back to her Editorial Board and said well let's get an article from Peter Costello and they refused to publish me.  Now it is no skin off my nose because I can publish in a variety of places but I feel sorry for Sally because all she was trying to do was to have a bipartisan or an open debate.  And she couldn't carry the magazine with her.

JON FAINE:

The question that intrigues me is are you becoming more conservative or less conservative as your political careers enters...

MR COSTELLO:

I don't know.  All I was asked to do was to write a reply to Kevin Rudd and apparently for that I was banned and Sally was sacked.

JON FAINE:

Do you position yourself to be more conservative or less conservative, more middle of the road for the future?

MR COSTELLO:

You know what I think Jon, I actually think in the current climate that what the Liberal Party has got to do is it has got to position itself squarely on the economy because people are losing jobs and businesses are going down and I think that's what those people who are at risk really want to hear.  What are my chances of getting a job or saving my business?  I think you have got to be up to date and modern on the other issues.

JON FAINE:

Right.

MR COSTELLO:

But I will make this prediction.  In 2007 when the general view was that the economy was strong the election was fought on a lot of social issues including Emissions Trading Scheme, reconciliation.  I think in 2010 when the economy is the big issue the election is more likely to be fought squarely on the economic issues than those social issues and we will look back on 2007 and say we had the ability to discuss and decide on those issues then because there was a general acceptance that people who wanted jobs could find them.  We don't have that luxury at the moment.

JON FAINE:

And if an election is fought on economic issues who better to lead one of the parties into it than the longest serving Treasurer?

MR COSTELLO:

It is not the time that you serve as Treasurer Jon I think it is your record.  And I think I will put my record up against Wayne Swan, I know he is coming on your program in a moment.

JON FAINE:

I will take that as a nomination then to be leader at the next election.

MR COSTELLO:

I don't think Wayne will ever deliver a balanced Budget which puts him in pretty rare company.

JON FAINE:

We have gone way over time.  Good to see you and thank you for coming in this morning.  Peter Costello.

MR COSTELLO:

Thanks very much Jon.

JON FAINE:

He's a backbencher.  The Member for Higgins.  Text messages galore - Mr Costello are you ever going to put your hand up for leadership.  Peter Costello what a breath of fresh air.  Why don't you insist on finding how the liberals would fund the financial crisis says Wayne.  Get this goose off says another person.  I am 34, final text, I have always voted ALP and Greens and I would seriously consider voting Liberal if Costello was at the helm.  3 minutes to 9. 

18 May 2009

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