Costello And Howard Comment On Leadership Claims By Michael Brissenden

This is the audio of comments by Treasurer Peter Costello on claims by the ABC’s Michael Brissenden on the Liberal Party leadership.

Brissenden and two other journalists claimed Costello told them that he wanted to destroy Howard’s leadership.

Costello denied the claims.

In a separate interview, Prime Minister John Howard said that he had a “wonderful, harmonious, professional relationship” with Costello.

  • Listen to Costello (10m)

Transcript of Treasurer Peter Costello’s doorstop interview.

COSTELLO: Well good morning. Let me say at the outset, I have never urged supporters of mine to carp against the Prime Minister. Nor have I ever urged supporters of mine to do anything which would undermine the Liberal Party. And anybody who wants to have a look at the record knows that and any suggestions that I have told any of my supporters to that effect is completely false.

Michael Brissenden said that I had dinner with him on the 5th of March, 2005. I have extremely accurate records. On the 5th of March 2005, I was in Melbourne at my brother’s birthday party. So that dinner didn’t occur.

I had a dinner with Michael Brissenden on the 2nd of June, 2005. And in the course of that dinner a lot of things were said, a lot of very interesting things were said. But I want to make it clear that I never carped at the Prime Minister nor did I ever go to the backbench. What in fact happened, subsequent to 2005, is that the Prime Minister and I had a discussion and he asked me in 2006, whether I would serve as Treasurer to the term of the election and support the re-election of the Liberal Government in 2007.

I put out a statement that I would do that. I am absolutely focussed on winning the next federal election and I think you would see from the way in which I have brought down two Budgets in 2006 and 2007, that I have been true to my word. I am focussed on winning the next election as Treasurer and supporting the bid of the Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: Did you ever say that Mr Howard couldn’t win the next election?

COSTELLO: No, Mr Howard could have beaten Kim Beazley. I think anybody could have beaten Kim Beazley. In the end it was Kevin Rudd that beat Kim Beazley. So I don’t think there is any doubt that Mr Howard could beat Kim Beazley.

JOURNALIST: So you are denying all that account that the three journalists agreed on?

COSTELLO: No, what I saying to you, is I never told my supporters to carp at the Prime Minister. I never told, I never went to the backbench, I never carped at the Prime Minister and as you know I never withdrew from the Treasurership. Now, there was no dinner on the date that Michael Brissenden said there was but there was a dinner with Michael Brissenden and I have very accurate records of those dates.

JOURNALIST: And the other two journalists?

COSTELLO: And the other two journalists. In the course of this discussion – by the way which is an off-the-record discussion – I think that point ought to be made, because I think that is an important point of journalistic ethics – there was a long discussion about politics. I never had any doubt in that discussion that John Howard could beat Kim Beazley who was the Labor leader. I don’t think there was any doubt about that. As I said, in the end the person who beat Kim Beazley was Kevin Rudd for the Labor leadership. But the leadership was being talked about at around these times. You will recall there was a statement made in Athens and there were long discussions about what might happen in Australian politics. I subsequently had a discussion with the Prime Minister. This is all known, this is all on the record. And we discussed the way in which we would go to the election. That was a discussion in 2006. I put out a statement in 2006. I said, at his request, that I would do everything I could to ensure the re-election of the Liberal Government and that is what I have done.

JOURNALIST: Treasurer, what caused your re-think in the 24 hours after the dinner?

COSTELLO: There wasn’t any re-think. There wasn’t any re-think. Now, Paul, you and I know we have discussions about politics all the time. You have got to remember two years after the event, journalists have decided to rev this issue up long after this was settled 12 months ago. Now, they would do that for their own reasons, obviously. But they are entitled to rev this up for their own reasons. But this matter was settled in 2006 when I put out a statement.

JOURNALIST: The three journalists all have notes. Are you saying that they have concocted their accounts of the evening?

COSTELLO: No, I am saying they have the wrong night.

JOURNALIST: Yes but that doesn’t change what was said.

COSTELLO: Well, wouldn’t their notes show the night? That’s the first point. The second point I would say is, journalists who come to dinners with notebooks are not very usual in my experience. But they have taken out of it what they think happened two years ago.

JOURNALIST: So they didn’t have notebooks with them at the time?

COSTELLO: I didn’t see them writing any notes. And by the way, if I was giving an interview to journalists, I would have done it on camera, on tape, as I always do, as I am doing now. And by the way, if this had been an on-the-record conversation, I assume it would have been published. But here we are in 2007, this dinner according to my records took place in June of 2005 – it certainly didn’t take place on the 5th of Match – they have their recollections. I am not going to get into arguments with journalists but I am going to point out to you; here at the undeniable facts: Did I become a backbencher? No. Did I carp? No. What did I do? I put out a statement pledging to continue as Treasurer and support the Prime Minister which I have.

JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott said this morning that you are impatient about becoming Prime Minister.

COSTELLO: Well I think I am pretty patient. I don’t think any person has served in the position as Treasurer longer than me.

JOURNALIST: Treasurer, did your Press Secretary change the rules of the dinner as it were? There was one understanding at the dinner but within 24 hours…?

COSTELLO: I don’t think so, Paul.

JOURNALIST: Are you sure that is right?

COSTELLO: I don’t think so. Pretty sure.

JOURNALIST: So their recollection of the conversation, their recollection of the on-the-record (inaudible).

COSTELLO: I am pretty sure. Because if I was doing an on-the-record interview, not only would you expect a journalist to bring a tape, we would bring one ourselves, wouldn’t we?

JOURNALIST: I think (inaudible) is not attributable.

COSTELLO: Well I don’t know all of these rules. According to me…

JOURNALIST: Mr Costello, of course you do.

COSTELLO: No, I am sorry, I don’t know all of these rules. According to me, if you have something to say to be reported you stand in front of a media camera and you put a tape on it and you say it. That is what I do.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) incorrect?

COSTELLO: Pardon?

JOURNALIST: Their recollection of the conversation and things that…?

COSTELLO: I am saying, look, I am not going to get into an argument with them, they have their recollections, I certainly have mine, but here is the proof. Did anything of what they said would happen, happen? No.

JOURNALIST: But did you threaten at that dinner…?

COSTELLO: No, hang on. Did anything of what they said would happen, happen? Bear in mind this is two years ago. Nothing happened. Have a look at the record and these matters were resolved and brought to finality last year. So, you know, it is all an interesting academic debate, isn’t it, of what happened in 2005? You don’t need to go back to 2005 because we have had two years to assess what happened and it is all there. It is there for the world to see.

JOURNALIST: Yes or no though, Treasurer, did you say at that dinner in 2005, that you had set April 2006 as the deadline, the mid-term for challenging Mr Howard?

COSTELLO: No, the journalists have very different recollections to what I have and did I set April? No. Did I set April? No. Did anything happen in April? No.

JOURNALIST: But did you say…?

COSTELLO: Did I go to the backbench? No. All of these things…

JOURNALIST: Does that mean…?

COSTELLO: Hang on, all of these things which you know, in their recollection were going to happen, didn’t happen. And so, you know, it is an interesting discussion isn’t it, about what was said two years ago, that the outcome of it is nothing happened?

JOURNALIST: Did you say you would challenge for the leadership?

COSTELLO: No.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) yesterday on television when you said you absolutely denied saying…?

COSTELLO: I absolutely deny ever saying to any of my supporters, absolutely…

JOURNALIST: Do you absolutely deny saying (inaudible)?

COSTELLO: …that they should, they carp, I absolutely deny saying that I would go to the backbench. I didn’t do it and therein lies the tale. Thank you. Thank you.

Transcript of doorstop interview with Prime Minister John Howard at Questacon, Canberra.

HOWARD: Good morning, any questions?

JOURNALIST: Three senior journalists are saying that Mr Costello told them that he wanted to go out and destroy your leadership, what’s your response to that?

HOWARD: My response is that Mr Costello and I have a wonderful, harmonious, professional relationship. There was a dinner two-and-a half years ago and I guess some of the subjects discussed at that dinner have centred around one job. Since then Mr Costello and I have seen the creation of 350,000 new jobs for Australians and that’s what really matters. And I can tell all of you that Mr Costello and I will continue to work together in very close professional harmony. We’re working together very closely to ensure that the Government is very strongly competitive in, and is successful in, the coming election campaign.

JOURNALIST: Whose versions of events do you believe?

HOWARD: Can I say in relation to the dinner or dinners or whatever, I wasn’t there, I don’t know what was discussed, I can only say though that I have always found in my dealings with him, Mr Costello, to be an honest and forthright man and I trust Mr Costello. He’s an ambitious man, there’s nothing wrong with ambition. I mean why are we pretending that there’s something odd about ambition? I’m ambitious, people in the Labor Party are ambitious, Mr Rudd spent a fair amount of time being ambitious in the second half of last year, so let’s be a bit adult about all of this. The critical thing to the public is whether Mr Costello and I deliver and in 11-and-a half years we’ve delivered the lowest level of unemployment in 33 years, we’ve delivered a very strong economy and we’ve talked this morning about a number of issues, including this, and I’m sorry to disappoint some of you, we’re still working together very, very closely and I suggest you focus on the output of the partnership rather than fevered interpretations of aspects of it.

JOURNALIST: But Mr Howard how can the voters be confident that if you win again this partnership will continue as productively seeing it’s quite clear Mr Costello doesn’t feel all that much loyalty to you?

HOWARD: Michelle, the public pays on results and the results of the partnership between Howard and Costello have been the lowest unemployment figures in 33 years, a very strong economy and much lower interest rates than the Labor Party delivered. The public is very smart, the public sees through the fever of the Canberra beltway and actually looks at results and the results of the Howard-Costello partnership are a very strong economy and a team that is better able to lead the Australian economy through some of the international storms that are now gathering. And this capacity will become more important in the minds of the public in the weeks and months ahead.

JOURNALIST: You were present when you asked the Treasurer for a statement of support, what was the consideration…..

HOWARD: What statement?

JOURNALIST: Well the statement that he says that you asked him to make in 2006 that he would continue as Treasurer through…..

HOWARD: Oh I’m sorry, I thought you were referring to this morning.

JOURNALIST: What was the consideration for that promise?

HOWARD: The consideration?

JOURNALIST: Indeed.

HOWARD: There was no consideration. I’ve indicated all along, if you’re using consideration in the contractual legal sense, are you?

JOURNALIST: I am.

HOWARD: Yes, thought you were. What happened in 2006 was that I canvassed extensively my colleagues about the leadership issue and as I indicated publicly my colleagues expressed an overwhelming view that they wanted to retain the partnership of me as Prime Minister and Mr Costello as Treasurer. And I discussed that matter and before I made my statement I indicated to Mr Costello that I intended to remain as leader of the Party because that’s what the Party overwhelmingly wanted, but it also overwhelmingly wanted him to continue as Treasurer, and I asked him to continue as Treasurer and that was all that was involved. And I remember the day very well, I was in Innisfail, in Far North Queensland, and I spoke to him on the phone and he indicated that after consideration, because we’d spoken the day earlier, he would continue. Now you have to understand that what matters to the public is what we deliver for them. The public is interested in jobs and interest rates and prosperity, they’re not interested in what might be discussed over a very pleasant dinner in Canberra. I mean there’s nothing wrong with people having pleasant dinners in Canberra and many of you I’ve had dinners with and you’re very pleasant company, and I like you all, and I know you are very, very keen on these stories, but in the end the public pays on results. The public is very clever, it always gets these things right. They look at something and say well, of course people are ambitious, I was ambitious, I’m ambitious for Australia’s future, there’s nothing wrong with ambition and I don’t decry ambition in Mr Costello, I respect it. The critical thing is whether when it comes to the public interests, we can work together, and we’ve demonstrated that time and time again that we can work together.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard are you confident that this latest incident hasn’t harmed your re-election chances?

HOWARD: No I don’t believe it has. See the public sees through all of this. The public says can they work together for us?

JOURNALIST: These things keep coming up it appears?

HOWARD: Clinton, the public sees through all of that and they say can these two men continue to deliver for us and we have for 11-and-a half years and we certainly will continue to do so in the future. Thank you.

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