Point Nepean, Pauline Hanson, Solomons, Republic, Reconciliation, Asylum Seekers, Tampa, Wilson Tuckey – Interview with Jon Faine, ABC Radio

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Point Nepean, Pauline Hanson, Solomons, Republic, Reconciliation, Asylum Seekers, Tampa, Wilson Tuckey – Interview with Jon Faine, ABC Radio


Interview with Jon Faine

ABC, 774

Monday, 25 August 2003



SUBJECTS: Point Nepean, Pauline Hanson, Solomons, Republic, Reconciliation,

Asylum Seekers, Tampa, Wilson Tuckey


Peter Costello is the Member for Higgins for the Liberal Party in the Federal

Parliament and the Treasurer of Australia, Peter Costello good morning.


Good morning Jon.


Much to discuss this morning, first of all though, the Point Nepean story on

the front page of

The Age that the Federal Government have had a re-think after a community

campaign, is it true?


What, Fran Bailey is the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for this, she

will be making an announcement, later on this morning, but can I just make a

few points here, the first is that it has always been the intention of the Government

to ensure that the public have access and a park down on Point Nepean. And if

you picked up the front page of The Age today you would have seen a picture

of the Point…




…that is already a National Park.


The tip of the peninsula?


Yes, and The Age published the same photo on Sunday, that is, can I

just say to people, the tip of the peninsula is already a National Park, then

coming back from the peninsula the Commonwealth offered 205 hectares to additional

national park, so that is all in agreement, and the last part that has been

outstanding is the, what happens with the buildings and land around the buildings

which is the so called 90 hectares.


The old quarantine station, or the officers’ training…


Yes, there is a quarantine station there, there are barracks there, and there

are all sorts of other buildings. Now those buildings can’t be pulled

down, they have got heritage orders on them. So, if you can’t pull them

down, and if you just leave them, then they would just fall into disrepair.

So the object has always been to try and find a use for those buildings.


Your first choice was to flog them off and realise their value as a capital

return to the Commonwealth. Is this now not, is this not going ahead?


That was never the first choice, but let me go on and say, what the Commonwealth

wants to do, is it wants to, in accordance with the master plan, it wants to

get a use for those buildings which will be consistent with an education or

a charitable purpose and we called for expressions of interest, I believe that

there are people that are interested in doing that.


There are people who are interested in making housing developments, too. Lindsay

Fox’s name keeps coming up along with other prominent citizens who want

to develop the area.


It won’t be used for sub-division and it won’t be used for housing.


Are you giving it back to community purposes?


We will, what we want it to be done, what used for, is for a community purpose.

It might be education, it might be a charitable purpose. You know the Lord Mayor’s

camp just further down the Portsea area, where underprivileged kids can come

down and have a holiday at the Lord Mayor’s camp. Educational purpose,

that was what the master plan has (inaudible) and we believe that there are

people who would be interested in doing that, and that is our preference for

the site.


So the expressions of interest that you called for, are they all now off the

agenda, they are all wiped?


Well, well some of the expressions of interest were to use it for an educational

purpose and what that tells us is, subject to all of the legalities of course

you have to go through some legalities, is that there are some people who will

have a charitable or an educational purpose, I think that would be a great outcome

for the buildings.


So all of the private developers, all over red rover for them?


No chance whatsoever of a sub-division. No chance whatsoever, that will not

be allowed.


But what about some of the private developers were saying, we will have some

commercial development but also some community purposes, and it will be mixtures.

What about those?


Well we think the use ought to be consistent with the master plan, which is

an educational or a charitable use, and I think there were four purposes in

the master plan, but I think the community would be pretty happy if the use

is consistent with the master plan.


Then Peter Costello this is a victory for the community campaign, do you agree?


Well we were always against sub-division, and you know we also asked the Victorian

Government to take it over and buy it, and they refused…


Victory for Mr Bracks as well because he held out on paying the money?


No, it is not a victory for him because, I don’t want to go back through

who it is a victory for, but we did offer it to the State, and they didn’t

take it up. But the good thing is that the buildings will have a good use, I

hope, that the bushland will be preserved, and in fact much of it already is

bushland, and that the community will get some use out of it, and I think that

is a very, very good outcome.


Now this is also then a back flip for you and for your Government, because

you took a hard line approach here and you were saying well we won’t give

in to individual campaigns and claims of interest here, interest groups saying

that they want to be treated one way or another, this is an asset and it must

be sold, just a few weeks ago you were saying no, this has to be treated the

way any other surplus asset has to be treated.


I have always been against sub-division and development on that land, that

has always been the position. Jon, if we wanted to maximise the profit from

Point Nepean, you would divide it into quarter acre blocks and sell the lot,

right? Far from doing that, (inaudible) as you know is already a National Park,

another 205 acres was added to the National Park, 20 hectares was given away

to the council, or offered to the council, and the final remaining point has

always been these buildings. People say, well why don’t you just turn

the buildings into a National Park? These are ex-barracks quarantine station,

if you just say well that is a National Park they will get run-down, they will

become (inaudible)…


They have got to be used.


…you have got to get someone to use them. Now, this has always been about

who can actually make use of an old army barracks. Personally I have always

thought, it won’t be plush accommodation, it is an old army barracks right,

this, so who could make use of that?

Well it has always occurred to me that students, you know are used to living

in shared accommodation, campers are used to living in shared accommodation,

if you could have somebody with an educational, or a camping use, or one of

those sorts of things, you could preserve the buildings and make use of them

at the same time.


And just finally before we move on Peter Costello, this puts to an end what

was turning into an ugly Sydney-Melbourne stoush too, because a lot of people

were saying, well Sydney was treated differently when harbourside assets, defence

assets were being sold off in Sydney, why is Melbourne being treated differently?


Can I just go back over that because it, I hope that the argument is now ended

but for the sake of the historical record can I make a point, because I think

it is very important here. When we set up the Federation Fund, and I set it

up in the 1997 Budget, $1 billion to be shared amongst the whole of Australia

to commemorate the Federation. We went to each of the States and said, you are

all entitled to so much of this fund, what would you like as your project to

commemorate the Federation. And New South Wales said, well we would like to

preserve this Sydney Harbour land…




…Victoria had the opportunity to say we would like to preserve Point

Nepean, but the Victorian Government didn’t want that. Do you know what

it wanted?


Federation Square.


Federation Square.


In effect then, we double dip.


And Victoria got the money for Federation Square…


And now we get Point Nepean as well.


…well Mr Bracks will say no doubt, oh yes, but that was Jeff Kennet’s

decision, it was Jeff Kennet’s decision but that was the Victorian Government

nominated project. So the idea that Sydney got land but Melbourne didn’t,

Sydney got land because it asked for land, Melbourne asked for Federation Square.

Now you can form your own view as to which State Government nominated the best



You are not a fan of Federation Square.


…I am not a fan of Federation Square, but at the end of the day look

if we can get an outcome where somebody has a use for this land down at Point

Nepean, the building, I should say for the buildings on this land at Point Nepean

which is consistent with the master plan, I think it would be a great outcome.


Peter Costello, Pauline Hanson is in jail. Her lawyers say they will be making

an application for leave to appeal and also to get bail for her, pending the

hearing of her appeal. Various politicians have expressed their views on whether

or not the jail sentence of three years without parol was appropriate. Do you

think it was?


Well, I think there are two points here. The first point is that the charges

were heard before a jury and I think I am right in saying, you would know better

than me, you have still got to have a unanimous, in Queensland you’ve

still got to have unanimous view for a conviction, I think that is the case.



They only took an hour to make up their mind.


…so, on that jury you would have to say, a jury after hearing the case,

and they comprise people of the community, came to that conclusion. So, the

idea that this was all some kind of fix is nonsense. This was a jury, I believe

a unanimous verdict, they heard all of the evidence and they were drawn from

representative Queensland. Then you come to the question did the judge give

a sentence that was too harsh? Well, I think that the public thinks three years,

they hear all these sentences for assaults and so on and they sometimes seem

shorter than three years. So, I think from the public’s view it sounds

like a long sentence but she will appeal against that. We will see what comes

out of it. But the one thing I don’t agree with is the view that is now

being put around that somehow this is all a political fix against Pauline Hanson.

It was not, the charge was heard in front of a jury, the jury dealt with all

of the evidence and the jury came to the conclusion. It wasn’t a judge,

it wasn’t anybody in politics, it was a jury.


When Hanson’s lawyer says that her appeal amongst other things will allege

that senior National Party figures and your colleague Tony Abbott were involved

in behind the scenes negotiations to stitch up Pauline Hanson and make sure

she was prosecuted. Tim Fisher, Ron Boswell, Bill O’Chee and particularly

Tony Abbott are named as people who made sure that this prosecution went ahead.


I don’t think that affects things one way or the other. The prosecution

was heard in the court, the witnesses gave evidence to the court, the jury came

to its conclusion.


But going back one step before that. Who was gathering the information to set

up the prosecution the first place? It seems Tony Abbott was personally involved.


The lawyers could have called Mr Abbott if they thought he had evidence. Apparently

they didn’t. You see, as you know the critical thing with this evidence

is what it actually says, not who gathered it.


But at the same time the suspicion and you conceded it a moment ago, the feeling,

the sentiment in the community is that she is being punished in a way that other

people aren’t in the political system. You’ve got people who do

all sorts of shonky things and we’ve seen them exposed in the last few

months. We’ve seen Nick Bolkus doing shonky raffles. We’ve seen

questions being asked about Philip Ruddock’s fundraising and cash for

visas, to say nothing of Wilson Tuckey and shonkiness there and yet here is

Pauline Hanson – everybody goes to the extreme effort to make sure she is stitched



Well, go back over it. Andrew Theophanous is in jail and he is appealing. In

Queensland you recall coming out of the Fitzgerald inquiry, there was some Queensland

Minister, lady Minister, I forget her name, who went to jail because she had

charged a haircut, hairstyling, do you recall that?…




…to the public purse.


Amongst other things.


Amongst, yes. That seemed to be largest and there were a number of those Ministers

that went to jail. Recently as I recall in Townsville an ALP branchstacker,

somebody who pleaded guilty or was convicted of branchstacking in Townsville

went to jail, so it is not uncommon. But people, look, I think what people say

is three years, when there are people who go up on manslaughter or assault who

don’t even get three years, they say three years is a long time. To which

the judge says yes but anybody in a position of authority gets a tougher sentence.

I think that is what the judge said. Because you are in a position of trust

you get tougher sentences. The only thing I can say to you John without knowing,

you know how sentences work in Queensland is on appeal, the appeal court would

look at all of that and it would say whether or not three years was too much.

But I don’t think that you can say that there is something with the conviction,

that it was politically inspired, because there was a jury and the jury apparently

came to a unanimous verdict.


Not the conviction, but the prosecution, the fact that everybody went to such

extreme lengths including your colleague Tony Abbott to make sure the pieces

of the jigsaw puzzle were laid out for the DPP in Queensland to go down and

take the path that they took. That is the allegation…


Not uncommon in politics I am sure that our political enemies try and gather

evidence on us every single day.


So it’s just part of the rough and tumble?


It is what happens unfortunately in politics. It has happened to a lot of people.

Now look as I said before if Tony, if Tony, if Mrs Hanson’s lawyers think

that he had some relevant evidence to give they would have called him as witness.


Alright, well we will wait and see what developments happen up there. You have

been talking a lot about social capital, you’ve been making some speeches

revealing the non-economic side to Peter Costello. I think by and large even

though we have had little glimpses people are still puzzled as to what it all

means and where you stand on all sorts of other issues. What do you regard as

the single biggest problem confronting Australia for its future? Is it superannuation

and its shortfall, is it the gap between rich and poor or housing affordability,

exactly where do you see it?


Well, I don’t think, I wouldn’t try and reduce it to one single

problem. But I think there are numbers of things that are confronting Australia.

I think one of the biggest is water. How we maintain our population in a dry

continent, which has just been through shocking drought. How we allocate water,

who uses it, how we price it. Whether or not it can sustain population increase.

I think one of the other big issues which Australia is going to have to confront

in the modern economic world is where does a country of 20 million people fit,

as the world divides into huge trading blocks. (Inaudible), Europe, China. How

do you keep a country of 20 million in a strong trading position in the midst

of that? I think another issue which we’re going to confront John is this

is a very difficult neighbourhood we live in.


Talking about the terror, is that what you mean?


You have got rebellion in Aceh. You have got Christian Muslim violence in Ambon.

You have got an independence movement in West Papua. You’ve got economic

problems in Papua New Guinea. You’ve got Australian troops in the Solomons.

You’ve had coups in Fiji. This is a difficult neighbourhood we’re

living in. And we’re living at a difficult time so, resources and how

we allocate them, our population and how we, how we survive economically, our

security in our neighbourhoods, and then and then I would come right down to

our own neighbourhoods and you raised the question of (inaudible) some people

call it social capital. What I would call a sense of community in our own immediate

neighbourhood. I think that this is something that we have got to devote a lot

more attention to thinking about. Building, how do you build community in a

modern economy? We have been fantastically successful economically. Australia

is one of the richest countries in the world and we are living in a time where

people have never, never had the accumulation of wealth to the degree that we

have seen coming out of real estate markets. And yet we know that in some respects

in the accumulation of wealth we’ve had a dis-accumulation of community.


And an increase in debt. I mean household debt to the point where families

are struggling to survive.


And, you know how, in some respects the seeds of the disengagement in the community

is a consequence of increasing affluence. Back in the old days when you made

your own entertainment people went round and sang around a piano, nobody would

do that these days because if you wanted to listen to a piano you would get

out your CD of somebody on a symphony orchestra and you would listen to it with

crystal clear, hi-fi in your own home. And, there is another side to the accumulation

of assets and I’m not against that – I have been a Treasurer for seven

and a half years, it’s been my object to try and make Australia strong

economically, which is this sense of disengagement in community. And how we

balance those issues I think is a big, big thing for the future of Australia.


Alright I will ask you some more questions about that, but you have not mentioned

the Republic, reconciliation, immigration, some of these big picture, big-ticket

items that just seem to have slipped off the agenda. Do they concern you? Do

you see them as challenges for the immediate future?


I don’t think the public, I think the view of most people in the public

is, one day Australia most probably would be a republic, but will it change

much, no.


So you adopt the John Howard position on that in other words.


I just don’t think it is a top of mind issue for people. I don’t

think it’s, I don’t think, I think it is a symbolic issue, and I

have argued that it is a significant symbolic issue, but I don’t think

it will change the way in which we live that much, no.


So if you were to become Prime Minister in the immediate future which looks

less and less likely, with the Prime Minister seeming to be prepared to go on

forever, would you leave it on the back burner, or would you bring it to the



I think when the public is, we had a referendum, was it 1999, I think it was

1999 or 98, I think I said at the time that I couldn’t see it coming back

within 10 years, I said that at the time. I don’t think the public, I

don’t think it is a top of mind issue with the public anymore, very few

people raise that with me.


And reconciliation now seems to have disappeared as an issue, instead we talk

about the Prime Minister recently went to visit Aboriginal communities in distress.

Are you able, either as Treasurer or as a senior figure in the Coalition to

share his concern and do something about it?


I have always thought that the real importance of reconciliation is between

individuals, this is how reconciliation actually works, when individuals can

appreciate each other when there is an understanding, that is the basis of reconciliation

and I argued that at the time, and I think as you get that mutual understanding,

not in a political, it is not this sort of big macro-thing, people say ‘Oh

to have reconciliation you have got make a statement of this, that or the other,’

– you can make a statement of this, that and the other and I don’t think

it would change a thing. I think the importance of reconciliation is actually

at the individual level.


Alright, if we are talking about individual reconciliation and a more compassionate

country, how does that fit in with the Howard Government’s position on

asylum seekers and refugees?


Well, look I think that in relation to people who have applications outstanding,

we have to do everything we can to have them dealt with as fast as possible.

Everyone agrees with that. And once they are dealt with, if a person is a genuine

refugee they can be admitted, or if they are not they can be repatriated.


Twenty-one people that we have sent to Nauru, are facing trial, protesting

about the conditions in the detention centre in which we arranged for them to

be detained. No lawyers, no observers, no international human rights organisations,

no representation – aren’t you offended that the Australian Government

is so involved in breaching every imaginable human rights standard for these



Well I don’t think we have. The actual determination in Nauru as to whether

or not these claimants are genuine refugees is being done by the UN body…


But quite separately whilst they are away…


…can I just say, which is actually there and which is actually determining

their applications. Now, I am just going on what I have read in the newspaper…


…but while they are waiting the outcome of their processing they are

up on riot charges…




…no representation.


Well let me go through that. They are alleged to have taken part in a riot…


A protest it would seem.


…well I mean, you say it is a protest, no doubt that will be their defence.

The Government of Nauru, or the legal authorities in Nauru, wants to charge

them with riot. That is the charge is it not?




Now, that will be held, heard under Nauru Law, now their rights to representation

in Nauru are going to be determined by the Nauruans. If it were Australia, do

I think they should be represented, yes, in Australia they would be eligible

for representation.


Well we are pulling strings in Nauru, let’s not be fooled by that…


Well Jon…


…this fiction that Nauru is doing all this off its own bat.


…well Jon, you know, there aren’t that many countries around the

world, if I may say so, that has the kind of legal regime that we have in this

country, and Nauru is not as a developed country as Australia, and I have no

doubt that it would be harder to get legal representation, and a whole lot of

other things in Nauru. But if I may say so, what is the conclusion I draw from

that? I draw the conclusion that this, that Australia is actually a place where

we respect rights a lot more than the rest of the world.


Four minutes to nine, tomorrow…


Not to mention the fact that people spend a lot of time trying to denigrate

Australia’s position on human rights.


Tomorrow is the second anniversary of the Tampa, a large number of, a substantial

proportion of the people from the Tampa were re-settled in New Zealand, they

have been there living completely worthwhile lives for two years contributing

to a new country that they have made their own, why couldn’t Australia

have simply adopted exactly the same position?


Well Jon, it is because of this. Not everybody who arrives on our shores without

a passport is a refugee. It is a very simple proposition. And if you concede

that, then you have to have a process of analysing to determine which people

are refugees and which are not. Now Australia takes refugees, it takes 12,000

refugees a year, but you cannot say every person that arrives on our shores

just because they say they are a refugee, is a refugee. We now know that. Look

at the, well I won’t go through individual cases but there is one very,

very familiar case where we were told someone was a refugee…


But there are hundreds of people in New Zealand who the Prime Minister and

your colleagues said they will never set foot on this country, on this land,

are living blameless and productive lives in New Zealand.


Some of the people that were on the Tampa have been genuine refugees and they

have been given refugee status, in New Zealand and elsewhere. Others unfortunately

were not, and they have…


So on the one hand, on the one hand you want to position yourself as a more

compassionate, caring, community-minded politician, on the other hand you stick

to the hard line on all of the signature issues of the Howard Government.


… I don’t think it is a hard line, and as I understand it, it is

actually bipartisan between the major parties in Australia, and it was certainly

the case historically and it is this, that Australia should take refugees, genuine

refugees, and we do. But you can’t get to a situation where everybody

who arrives in Australia and says they are a refugee is automatically granted

refugee status…




…you have to analyse it, and the UN requires us to analyse it.


…two minutes to nine, before we run out of time Peter Costello, if you

were Prime Minister, would you continue to have a fool as one of your Cabinet

Ministers? Wilson Tuckey, self-confessed and nominated as a fool, is a Minister

in this Government.


Well Wilson shouldn’t have done what he did, and he was foolish to do

it, and it didn’t work and it…


But is he so foolish he shouldn’t be a Minister?


…well he wrote a letter on behalf of his son when he shouldn’t

have done it…


Poor judgement.


…poor judgement and…


People with poor judgement shouldn’t be Cabinet Ministers.


…is that grounds for sacking?


People with poor judgement shouldn’t be Cabinet Ministers.


It is a bit like the Pauline Hanson case, I think we all agree on, in this

case that he was foolish, the question is the penalty. Would you sack someone

for foolishly writing a letter?


It shows an error, a lack of judgement surely.


It shows a lack of judgement, yes it does. It shows a lack of judgement. Is

it a sackable offence, I think it would be far too coercive to sack somebody,

we have all said things that we’ve regretted later on, he wrote something,

he has regretted it later on. Is it a sacking offence? Well it would be a pretty

tough penalty.


We will see whether it continues to dog to Howard Government. Are Essendon

going to win the flag this year?


They will give it a shake. They are coming good, and…


Timing is everything.


…we had Dustin Fletcher and Sean Wellman out on Saturday, so…


You have got a big grin on your face. Peter Costello thank you for your time

this morning, we will take calls straight after the news on 774 ABC Melbourne,

eleven degrees, heading for a top of thirteen, news time now, nine o’clock.