Sophie Panopoulos, Cheryl Kernot, Natasha Stott-Despoja, election timing, superannuation, GST, Labor Party ineptitude

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Sophie Panopoulos, Cheryl Kernot, Natasha Stott-Despoja, election timing, superannuation, GST, Labor Party ineptitude

Transcript No. 2001/033



Hon Peter Costello MP


ABC Radio

Interview with Lisa Harris

Tuesday, 10 April 2001

SUBJECTS: Sophie Panopoulos, Cheryl Kernot, Natasha Stott-Despoja, election timing,

superannuation, GST, Labor Party ineptitude


(inaudible) visit to Wodonga today. Hello, how (inaudible)..


I’m very well and you?


I’m pretty good. You’re campaigning for the Liberal candidate for Indi today.


Sophie Panopoulos who I have known for, I guess, about 15 years. I have known Sophie

for a very long period of time. She is an outstanding candidate and it is going to be

tough, but, she is working very hard, so I am up to open her Wodonga electoral office



(inaudible) big things in the Party?


Look, you take these things one step at a time and the first thing is to win the seat.

We don’t take the seat for granted. It has been held by the Labor Party, it has been

held by the Country Party and most recently by Lou Lieberman, so, we have first of all got

to win the seat and if you win the seat you go to Canberra, your career is in front of

you. But, let’s not start running before we win the seat.


What I was kind of seeking here was a reassurance that there is a new generation of

Liberal leaders out there.


Oh, I think there is. I think there is a lot of talent coming through in the Liberal

Party and I think that they will take it down through the decades. We saw Cheryl Kernot,

yesterday, bagging her own leaders in Beazley and Crean. She came out, if you recall,

called them faded, old idealists who weren’t nearly as exciting as Natasha

Stott-Despoja. Don’t think you will see anybody on the Liberal front bench describing

our leadership as jaded, old idealists.


You mentioned that Stott-Despoja (inaudible), she is young, she (inaudible), she is

clearly aspirational. Is she a threat to your style of politics?


Look, it is far too early to say how she will work out. The thing about politics is

this, it is much more than giving people the kind of easy grabs that she seems to

specialise in. Politics is hard work. At the end of the day what we have to think about is

how do you make sure that families have enough to bring up their kids? How do you build a

better education system? How do you keep interest rates low so that people can afford

their mortgages? What kind of taxation system is going to support the aged when they are

old and infirm? And these are substantial issues. Politics is the stuff of making

people, improving the lot of peoples lives and, you know, wearing Doc Marten boots is the

easy part of politics I think.


I heard a whisper that we could be looking at a Federal election as soon as July,

others say that is rubbish, and the more I thought about it, I thought, well maybe so,

what can you tell us?


I don’t call the Federal election, obviously, that is the Prime Minister’s

prerogative. But I would say the election can be, here is a tip, the election can

be held at anytime between now and Christmas.


That is a pretty broad prediction.


And I would not be any more specific than that.


Okay, Peter Costello, how is it that you are coping with the cynicism out there, in the

sense that the Government is so much on the nose. You must be disappointed with how things

have turned out this year?


Look, things change very quickly in politics and just as sentiment can turn quickly

against you it can turn quickly back, and when you are looking at the whole of this year

you are (inaudible) to start calling the outcomes of elections now. We just don’t

know what is going to happen between now and the end of the year, but I can promise you

this, the Government will be running a consistent policy position and we will start

highlighting the alternatives. People forget this, it is that in politics, at the end of

the day somebody has got to form a government, and if it is not going to be the

Liberal/National Party Coalition it is going to be the Labor Party. It is not going to be

Stott-Despoja, it is not going to Pauline Hanson, and so it is a question of comparing and

contrasting our policies. Now, the good thing about being an election year is people are

now starting to ask, well, what does the Labor Party stand for. And on the weekend Mr

Crean did his first interview on the economy, came out and said that they were

going to put superannuation up by another 6 per cent, and within 24 hours, Mr Beazley did

a repudiation of the position. And it illustrates that after 5 years of opposition the

Labor Party have done no hard work, they have no policy descriptions and they are really a

pretty confused rabble. Now, people have got to think about that. Do you want a confused

rabble in office or would you prefer the safe, steady hand of the current Government? That

is going to be a big part of the debate during the course of this year.


It is a balancing act though isn’t it, politics, if you act decisively you are

seen as a control freak, if you don’t you are weak, I mean, what results I think,

what results we are getting at the moment from the Government, is that you are a listening

Government, that you are actually listening. I mean, if they hear another politician with

that listening nature I think I will throw up. I mean is that the result of that middle

ground between decisiveness and being seen as weak?


Look, at the end of the day you have got a two-fold job. You need to know what the

public wants and that is, at the risk of making you throw up, listening, but you also have

to be able to lead, because sometimes the public might want the end result and you have

got to show them that the end result can only come about if you go through all of the

steps to get there. Take tax reform. Why did we do tax reform. At the end of the day if

you want a decent society where you can fund the schools and the hospitals and the aged

care for the old and infirm, you have got to have a taxation base that will pay for them.

The public might say, well, we want all those services but we don’t really like the

necessary evil, the taxation base, to pay for it. And so, you have to take the

public with you and you have to say, that is the end result that we have here, that is

what we want, and we have to be able to lead you through the steps that get there. Now,

let’s take GST for example, today GST pays for, pays the equivalent in money to the

Victorian State Government, of the salary of every teacher in every classroom in every

school, in the state. That is what pays for it.


It is a logical message that simply is not getting through is it? I mean you must

cringe when you read the press reports in the daily papers. I mean I bet (inaudible) about



Look, when I read newspapers, some of my best friends are journalists, (inaudible),

what I read in the newspapers sometimes I think they are incredibly unfair, incredibly

unfair. But, we don’t let their negativity dissuade us. We keep on doing the things

that are right and I think even in their heart of hearts some of those journalists will

say deep down, yes, we know that they are doing the right thing, we will give them

terrible trouble on the way to it. But deep down, I mean, there is a glint of humanity

even in the worst journalists.


It’s funny though Peter Costello, I mean federally the Labor Party was seen as a bunch

of losers up until late last year. That has completely changed, hasn’t it?


Oh coming out of last year, this is how politics changes so quickly. At the end of last

year, quite right, everybody would have said well you know there’s a Labor Party, they’re

still meandering around, they don’t stand for anything, they’ll never win an

election. And then you had the West Australian election, you had the Queensland election

and you had the Ryan by-election and everyone now says well Beazley’s a (inaudible) to be

Prime Minister. And even more frighteningly, Crean could be Treasurer. Now let’s just stop

a moment there, and say yes, that is a distinct possibility now and now the public is

entitled to know what they stand for. This meandering around without announcing policies

which they got away for the last 5 years has to come to an end now. The press has to ask

them to step up to the mark and say what they stand for.


But the other side…


And this is what happened on Saturday. Somebody does the first interview with Crean and

says what do you stand for? And he said well I stand for increasing employers

contributions to superannuation. We’re going to put that up 6 per cent for every

employee and the policy is repudiated by his own leader within 24 hours. Now, I think as

people start to focus on the alternatives, and they’re entitled to now focus, we’re going

to get a much better political debate in Australia.


But the flip side of that is that most Australians I reckon could imagine having a beer

with Kim Beazley or Simon Crean, they couldn’t imagine having a beer with yourself or

John Howard. Do you accept that?


No, not in the slightest. In fact I find that whenever I’m having a beer mostly they

want me to shout them as well.


What’s the message…?


And can I say I also find as I’m doing now having a cup of coffee with people a lot of

fun too.


Okay what’s the Governments message into the election? What piece of truth do you want

us to believe?


I think what I’d say to people is this. That running a Government is a pretty tough

business. And it requires competence and it requires people who are prepared to lead and

take the right decisions. And as I look out I think it’s just going to get harder and

harder. And the days of the policy vacuum, the days of the smart one-liner which you hear

from Labor are over. That’s not going to run a country which wants to have decent aged

care and decent education and wants to have proper defence and it has to be strengthened

in the light of all of the challenges that are now in front of us. And I would say that

the Government is showing that it’s prepared to take tough decisions in Australia’s

national interest and we have to continue to make the right decisions to secure our future

now more than ever. I think that’s the point I’d make, more than ever we now have to take

the right decisions to secure our fortunes. It’s not going to come by laziness. It’s not

going to come by luck. It’s only going to come by dedicated and purposeful working towards

that end.


Okay just to finish Peter Costello, what do you fear much, fear most, looking for a big

finish here. What is your greatest fear Peter Costello?


Personal or political?


Take your pick.


Oh look, you know I’m, you know, I think I’m just probably like most parents in our

society. I care a lot and worry a lot about my kids. I want to know that they’re going to

get a good education and have a chance of a job and that we can keep them away from the

drugs menace and like most parents I just want to see a better Australia where they can

fulfil their own dreams. And I would be very worried if we lost that opportunity in this

country. That’s you know I care about, I must say to you the reason I’m in politics is I

care about Australia and its future and that’s the reason I’m in politics and that’s why I

sort of work night and day to try and bring that about.


Thanks for joining us. Enjoy the North-East.


Thanks very much.