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Transcript of joint doorstop interview: Prime Minister the Hon John Howard MP and Treasurer, the Hon Peter Costello: Melbourne: 8 September 2004 \n\n



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PRIME MINISTER

8 September 2004

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP AND TREASURER, THE HON PETER COSTELLO MP JOINT DOORSTOP INTERVIEW, MELBOURNE

E&OE………………………………………………………………………………………..

TREASURER:

Well, ladies and gentlemen, this is the site of the Scoresby Freeway. This is the freeway which Steve Bracks promised every resident of the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, for the last State election, that if they voted for him, he would build without the tolls. This is the freeway which the Labor Party promised in the Aston by-election and in the October 2001 election that if people voted Labor they would build without tolls. This is the freeway which is the subject of a signed written agreement between the Commonwealth and the State of Victoria to be built without tolls. As a road of national importance it qualifies for 50% Commonwealth funding. The Commonwealth has allocated already $445 million as its share of building a freeway. Today the Coalition announces that it will allocate an additional $120 million, bringing its contribution up to $565 million, which meets 50% of the increased cost to build the Scoresby Freeway, to build it as a freeway, and to build it without tolls.

Our pledge to the people of the eastern suburbs of Melbourne is the freeway that they’ve been promised. There is no reason why the people of the eastern suburbs should have to pay tolls if Mr Bracks withdraws the money from this freeway and allocates it to the western suburbs of Melbourne. The people of the eastern suburbs of Melbourne were promised this. The Commonwealth will deliver its promise. The one way they can put pressure to get a freeway is to vote for the Liberal Party on October the 9th, to vote for people like Chris Pearce and Phil Barresi and Tony Smith and Kevin Andrews, to vote for people like Bruce Billson, Jason Wood, the candidate for La Trobe - a vote for those candidates is a vote for a freeway. A vote for Labor is a vote for tolls for the rest of your life. The people of the eastern suburbs, we appeal, one last chance to pressure the Bracks Government to deliver on its promise and it’s on October the 9th of this year.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] upping the anti, isn’t it Treasurer, in the hopes that Bracks will yield in the next five weeks?

www.pm.gov.au

TREASURER:

Oh, I think Mr Bracks will yield. If people vote Liberal on October the 9th and say they want a freeway, I think Mr Bracks will yield. It’s their last chance to get a freeway but if they vote Labor on October the 9th they will be taxed with a toll every single day of their lives, every day on their way to work, every day on their way home from work, everyday on their way to their entertainment, to their football matches. A vote for Mark Latham in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne is a vote to be taxed every day to use your road.

JOURNALIST:

Is this a bribe Treasurer?

TREASURER:

No, this is the increased cost, the increased cost of which the Commonwealth will make it entirely clear, it will meet 50% of the increased cost. And can I say this, today we’ve given Steve Bracks and the Labor Party 120 million new reasons to keep their word and to build a freeway - 120 million new reasons for a freeway to keep faith with the people of the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

JOURNALIST:

And he says, how about I put in 120 million less, would you accept that as a reasonable deal?

TREASURER:

No, because it’s got to be fully funded, it’s got to be fully funded - 50%, 50%.

JOURNALIST:

So it’s become more expensive, why the extra 120 million?

TREASURER:

Because if [inaudible] become more expensive, yes, and the longer you delay the more expensive road construction becomes. Could I just make one other point, the Bracks Government’s contribution, of course, would be $565 million - the same as the Commonwealth’s - the Victorian Government has that money. It has in its bottom line. There is no financial reason why Mr Bracks can’t keep his word, there is no financial reason whatsoever. But the people of the eastern suburbs of Melbourne have got to know this - if you vote for Latham on October the 9th you’re voting to pay a toll every day of your life on your own roads.

JOURNALIST:

Are you advocating that the Victorian Government just clean out almost the entire surplus [inaudible]

TREASURER:

No, this is to build over four years, over four years.

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JOURNALIST:

Will the Government match Labor’s tax cuts announced yesterday?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we don’t think the tax package announced yesterday stands up to proper scrutiny. To start with, everybody under $52,000 does not get $8 a week. Many people only get $3.50 a week. Anybody earning under $21,500 only gets $3.50 a week. We have already given very substantial tax cuts. But the important thing to understand about that policy announced yesterday is the economic context in which it was delivered to the Australian people. And I say to any Australian family who might think they could gain under the package just remember that a rise in interest rates will more than wipe out any advantage you might get under that package. Now that is quite apart from the many flaws and inadequacies in the package, quite apart from the fact that within a few hours the nine out of ten and falling to seven out of ten and still falling, quite apart from the fact that the package savagely penalises some of the most vulnerable in our community. How can you justify adding to the annual tax burden to the tune of $400 or $500 of a single income family with an income of less than $35,000? How can you justify a party that’s meant to believe in social justice, how can it possibly justify those propositions? The package imposes severe penalties on single income families. The more you dig into the detail, low income single income families are severely hit and higher level single income families are also severely hit. And, of course, for a party that is meant to be talking about the future and a party that’s vying for office in a country that has an ageing population and, therefore, a savings challenge, how can you justify the ransacking of the superannuation benefits now available to low and middle income Australians. And the co-contribution is the best piece of pro-savings policy that middle Australia has had in decades and Labor is going to rob the future for the short term expediency of the present.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Costello, yesterday you questioned the accuracy of the tables that were in Labor’s package. This morning Mr Latham has said that he downloaded Centrelink tables from the Centrelink internet site and they don’t contain the $600 payment in its estimates of your day to day fortnightly earnings. What do you say to that?

TREASURER:

Well, Mr Latham got caught rigging the tables. He wanted to do a comparison, weekly comparison between his policy and the value of the current entitlement, he rigged the table. He didn’t just leave a $600 per annum, can I tell you if you have one child the Coalition proposal was under costed by $600 per annum, two children, $1200, three children, standard family, $1800. So he’s adopted $1800 of the current benefits then compared himself against it and said look I’m doing quite well - that’s number one. Number two is he left out of those calculations the low income tax offset. Now, the Prime Minister just said he has a working tax credit in place of the low income tax offset. He factored into his tables his working tax credit but just omitted to put the low income tax offset into the Coalition comparison. If you try and rig the tables you get caught. He was caught within the first two hours, he then said well maybe nine out of ten were better off. He now says maybe seven out of ten. Let me tell you that’s falling fast, falling fast.

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JOURNALIST:

Centrelink’s own website does points out that because it’s only paid at the end of the financial year, it doesn’t include the $600 in fortnightly calculation.

TREASURER:

But you see, it’s a benefit he’s abolishing. He is abolishing that benefit. So he wants to compare his policy with the abolished benefit to our policy which held it.

PRIME MINISTER:

I point out that on the World Today, a programme you’ll be familiar with, Peter Dawkins himself said it would have been better if the Labor Party had not used the weekly tables and it stuck to the annual tables. Now this is a Labor adviser on this very policy saying that he should not have used the weekly or fortnightly tables, the weekly tables saying it would have been a more honest comparison if you had compared the annual amounts. And to be caught out rigging the figures so early in the piece is shameful.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, will you announce tax cuts in this election campaign?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, we have a number of policies that are about the future that we will unveil. I’ve said previously and I don’t add anything to it today that some of those policies will impinge on taxation issues. Now some of those policies will impinge on taxation issues.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] interest rates, housing finance figures have come out today, and they’re up three per cent. Consumer confidence is at an all time high. Isn’t it fair to say that interest rates will go up even if your government’s re-elected?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, can I first of all say don’t those figures demonstrate what a strong economy we have at the moment? Don’t those figures demonstrate that this is not a time to hand over the management of this economy to people who are a risk and people who rig their own figures and get their own policies wrong and get even their own economic advisers ticking them off the day after their policies are released. Our claim has always been that interest rates will be lower under a Coalition Government than under a Labor Government. Firstly, Labor Governments run deficits, despite what they say in Opposition, look at what they do in Government, and Labor’s industrial relations policy because it will suck productivity out of the process, inevitably will produce inflationary wage rises not based on productivity and when that happens the Reserve Bank will be forced to put up interest rates to control inflation. Now that is the guts of our economic argument in relation to Labor and interest rates, it’s been our argument all along. On policy grounds, it is legitimate and fair to claim that interest rates will be higher under a Labor Government and that is the biggest risk of all for middle Australia. If middle Australia is worried about its economic security, nothing strikes at that more directly and more decisively than the threat of higher interest rates.

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JOURNALIST:

… tax cuts?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think the first thing is, we’ve got to work out just how real the tax are. Mr Latham says the $600 is not real, which is an absurd proposition. As we speak, it is being mailed to people, in September, so it’s very real indeed.

JOURNALIST:

Isn’t it ... $600 not good policy given that [Inaudible] had a poker machine bonanza in Aboriginal communities and [Inaudible] on alcohol…

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve heard that argument and I don’t agree with it and my experience as I move around Australia is that responsible parents, and that’s 95 per cent, responsible parents appreciate the lump sum. It’s a form of compulsory saving and it’s an insult to the 95 per cent of Australian parents who do the right thing for Mr Latham to say they can’t be trusted with $600. How dare he say to the parents of Australia that they don’t know how to spend $600 wisely for their children - that is an insult and I have found as I move around the country that parents appreciate it. They say, gee, you can do something with $600. If you just get it itty-bitty wise every fortnight somehow or other you don’t get any benefit. And you can buy something meaningful with $600 and I think we all…you know, the experience when occasionally you get a refund from the tax commissioner and you say - you beaut, I’ve got something, it’s a cheque, a sizeable cheque from the Government, now that’s what the $600 is. Remember, you should never penalise the responsible majority for the inadequacies and the indiscretions of the irresponsible minority. That is a form of patronising intervention as politics which the Government will have no part. Thank you.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] in relation to the tax cut?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, what I make of that is a very shallow attempt to cover up the fact that single income families are being mugged by this tax package because the $20 of that income splitting has to be set off against the fact that a large number of families are going to lose the full benefit of Family Tax Benefit B because it’s effectively being abolished and they are on that sort of basis worse off.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] the Green Island Naval Base, have you received that advice from the NSW Police?

PRIME MINISTER:

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I have not received any advice of that kind…

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it’s news to me. Thank you, done well.

[ends]