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Foreign Minister discusses relationship between Prime Minister and Treasurer.

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T hursday 19 July 2007

Foreign Minister discusses relationship between Prime Minister and Treasurer


MARK COLVIN: The minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer joins me now. 


Mr Downer, have you and your wife had dinner at Kirribilli and the Lodge? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Look all of the Cabinet have frequently been to Kirribilli and the Lodge but can I say… 


MARK COLVIN: But that's not the question is it? It's about the social arrangements. It's about whether you go with your wife. 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, with the greatest of respect, I don't think that these are issues that get to the heart of the future of our country. 


MARK COLVIN: So why did Peter Costello raise them? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well look, I've often said this of Peter Costello. I think he has been an extraordinarily successful Treasurer and that is important to the public. That has meant a great deal to them and I think he has been successful for a lot of reasons. And one of the reasons is he's had the wholehearted support, for 11.5 years of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet in the work that he's done. 


MARK COLVIN: Hawke/Keating, Blair/Brown, Costello/Howard, is it inevitable that Treasurers and Prime Ministers will, if they don't hate each other to start off with, come to hate each other? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Of course they don't hate each other. But look inevitably in a government there are discussions and agreements and disagreements day in and day out between ministers. Whether it's the British Government, whether it's the Australian Government, the American Government, the Italian Government. 


Of course there are debates and agreements and disagreements from time to time. Otherwise you just have one person in the government and that'd be all you'd ever do. The reason you have a lot of people is to ensure that there is an administrative and a policy dynamic. 


Now my point is this; that over the last 11.5 years, whether we have all agreed with each other or not, and obviously we haven't always agreed with each other, we have produced fantastic results for Australia, particularly the Treasurer and the Prime Minister. 


MARK COLVIN: But this appears, from what we're reading out of the book, and obviously we haven't got the book yet, to be a poisoned relationship, a toxic relationship. 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well look at it from the point of view of the average person with a mortgage with a job, concerned about their children. Not from the point of view of the excitement of the Canberra press gallery. But look at it from their point of view.  


From their point of view this is a relationship that has delivered increasing living standards, lower interest rates, the lowest unemployment in a generation. This is a relationship that has proved extremely successful. And Treasurers perform best with the support of a good Prime Minister and in Peter Costello's case, he's had the wholehearted support of the prime Minister and the Cabinet with the job he's done. 


And there have been difficult decisions. There have often been controversial decisions. Sometimes I regret to say we've had to make unpopular decisions, but they have yielded very good results for the Australian people. 


MARK COLVIN: But in a lunch with Ellen Fanning, printed in the Bulletin this week, Mr Costello speaks almost wistfully about the success of the Blair/Brown handover. Should Mr Howard have done something similar? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: I think the Parliamentary Party's view, which is ultimately what counts here. Our Parliamentary Party's view is that the combination of John Howard as Prime Minister, and Peter Costello as the Treasurer, has been a spectacularly successful combination for Australia and I think will continue to be so. 


I mean at the end of the day, for all the gossip that there is in politics, day in and day out, and that'll always be a feature of political life of course, it's understandable, but, the fundamental issue is the quality of the policy decisions that are being made, and that team has made great policy decisions over a long period of time to the benefit of this country. 


MARK COLVIN: But an election's looming up, these revelations couldn't have come at a worse time could they? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well my political judgement is that the public are a great deal more concerned about their mortgages, their jobs, their children's education, the health system, the state of the country in an overall sense, whether Australia's going in the right direction or whether it isn't, than the tittle-tattle of a biography. 


I mean I don't think those sorts of issues at the end of the day cut through to the public to anything like the extent that some commentators think.  


MARK COLVIN: But as you know the opinion polls are flowing right against you, surely this can't help. 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, look at the end of the day we'll see how the election turns out. Whatever the opinion polls may say today. It seems to me that whatever people say about John Howard and Peter Costello let us be sure of one thing, they know them. They know about their relationship… 


MARK COLVIN: But maybe they know them too well by now, 11.5 years? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: They certainly know them well but they know the results of their policies. 


MARK COLVIN: But have they stopped listening? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well I think there's another question actually, there is a question about the alternative, about Mr Rudd. 


Where I think Mr Rudd has been successful is by taking a popular position on every single issue, but I think to tell you the truth, as time goes on, Mr Rudd will be exposed increasingly to the public as the policy phoney that he is. And I think that is going to become much more of an issue. 


I mean you can throw what you like at John Howard and Peter Costello, and me and so on. But we are a known quantity and we have a record that people can see and know about. In Mr Rudd's case, the challenge for him is to demonstrate that he has some substance. And at the moment, it's all stunts. 


MARK COLVIN: Alexander Downer thank you very much for your time. 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: It's a pleasure.