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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 19 July 2007; Costello's comments on Howard.



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BOB MCMULLAN SHADOW MINISTER FOR FEDERAL/STATE RELATIONS SHADOW MINISTER FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE

FEDERAL MEMBER FOR FRASER

Transcript of doorstop interview - Parliament House, Canberra

19 July 2007

PROOF ONLY

Subject: Costello’s comments on Howard

JOURNALIST: Mr McMullan, how do you think that the comments that have been in the papers this morning, what Mr Costello has had to say about Mr Howard when he was Treasurer, are going to impact on the Liberal Party?

MCMULLAN: Look, I’ve been in politics a long time, and after a while you get a feel for when a government is so obsessed with its own internal dealings, with its arguments, its internal strife, it loses sight of the concerns of ordinary Australians. That’s what I think this is an example of, and will reinforce the public view that the government’s too concerned with itself. It’s been there so long its obsession now is

with its own internal operations and not about the lives of ordinary Australians.

JOURNALIST: The Coalition are already down in the polls. Do you think that this is just going to add fuel to what’s happening?

MCMULLAN: It’s hard to know what effect it’ll have on the polls, but I do think it will reinforce the perception in the public mind that Australians have that the government is so obsessed with itself it’s lost sight of the concerns of ordinary Australians. When people think the Treasurer ought to be talking about their housing, he’s talking about the Prime Minister’s record. Now, they’ve just got their priorities wrong.

JOURNALIST: Bob, you’ve experienced leadership challenges in the past. How damaging is this one going to be?

MCMULLAN: If you don’t mind me repeating, I’ve been involved a long time, and you do get a sense of when a government gets obsessed with its own internal contradictions and challenges and loses sight of the concerns of ordinary Australians. I think the problem for the government with the report this morning is that it will reinforce the view that the government is too concerned with itself, and not focused enough on the concerns of ordinary Australians.

JOURNALIST: Is the relationship untenable between Mr Costello and John Howard?

MCMULLAN: That’s a matter for the Liberal Party. I can’t really tell that. These things are really only a problem for you if they reinforce existing views. If this came from nowhere and the public had no sense that this was a government out of touch, these matters wouldn’t be so important, but when you have a government that the public already thinks is out of touch with their concerns, these sorts of stories reinforce that view. All my experience in politics, and I’ve been in parliament and politics a long time, is that this is the sort of event that reinforces in the public mind, if they think the government is out of touch, these sorts of events reinforce it and set in the public’s mind the sense that “They don’t care about us. They just care about themselves.”

JOURNALIST: Has Peter Costello been a better Treasurer than John Howard was?

MCMULLAN: Well, history will be the judge about Peter Costello because he’s been the Treasurer through a period of remarkable boom, but certainly, the Treasurer’s made it very apparent that he thinks, and I think, that John Howard was a terrible failure as Treasurer, and I think history will certainly judge that.

JOURNALIST: As a member of the Labor Party, you were pretty pleased, though, to see these reports in the paper this morning?

MCMULLAN: Well, nobody wins, in a sense. I’m very proud of the political process and my role in it and you don’t like to see it trashed, so nobody really wins out of this thing, and therefore that’s what I said before - I can’t tell what effect it’s going to have on the polls, but the concern for the government must be that it reinforces the view that they are just out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Australians after 11 years in office. They’re thinking about themselves all the time, about each other, not about ordinary Australians out there trying to pay their mortgage.

JOURNALIST: Is this going to be the nail in the coffin for John Howard?

MCMULLAN: Well, I think that’s much too strong. I think, if it came in a context where there was no concern about the government being out of touch, it would be one of those passing things that happen just for one day, but because it fits into a pattern, where Australians already think the government is out of touch, my experience suggests this sort of event can only reinforce that view.

JOURNALIST: Assuming that John Howard does move on after this election, if either he loses or he gets rolled by the Party, has Peter Costello got himself in a good position to assume the leadership? Is it fair to assume he’ll be the heir apparent?

MCMULLAN: Well, I think the Liberal Party’s internal dynamics are very fascinating. See what’s going on in their preselection in NSW with this batch of right-wing extremists winning preselection, and the fact that even in a key seat like Lindsay they can’t agree on a candidate yet, then we do have a situation where what will happen after the election, whoever wins, inside the Liberal Party has got to be a very troubled affair.

I always think it’s dangerous to get more than one step ahead, and the one step ahead is we’ve got to go on being positive. We won’t win the next election unless we go on being positive. These sorts of negative events for the government won’t win the

election for us. We have to win it by being positive.

It’s certainly reinforcing the public view that it’s a government obsessed with itself and not concerned enough about their problems. You can imagine Australians sitting at home in their lounge room watching the television saying “Why are they talking about this? This is not what’s affecting my life. What’s affecting my life is what

they’re doing about housing,” or “I’m a worker in Geelong. I’ve just lost my job. Why are they talking about themselves and not me?”

JOURNALIST: Is the government sustainable if there’s so much in-fighting going on?

MCMULLAN: The government will be there till the next election. They’re elected, they will continue till they call the election. That’s just a given. This will reinforce in the public’s mind a very sad assessment. I think it’s not good for Australian politics, it’s not good in the long term for the Australian nation, but the public comes to the view from time to time that governments lose touch with the reality of their lives. In some ways, I think I ought to welcome it, but I don’t. I don’t think it’s good for Australia and in all my years, I’ve seen it happen a few times, it’s never good to see these sorts of things happen. Australians don’t like it. They certainly mark the government down, and I think they mark the whole political process down.

Thanks very much.