Costello To Quit Politics; Will Not Seek Or Accept Liberal Leadership

The Treasurer in the defeated coalition government, Peter Costello, has announced that he “will not seek and will not accept” the leadership or deputy leadership of the Liberal Party.

Speaking at a press conference in Melbourne, Costello said: “I will continue to serve my constituents and in serving my constituents I hope that I will have a role to play perhaps mentoring some of the newer MPs.” Significantly, he did not commit to serving the full three years of the term he was elected to yesterday.

Costello said he “will be looking to build a career post-politics in the commercial world”.

Costello has been deputy leader of the Liberal Party since May 23, 1994. He was been Treasurer since the Howard government was elected in 1996. His decision to vacate the field will likely lead to a contest between outgoing ministers such as Malcolm Turnbull, Brendan Nelson, Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and Julie Bishop.

Standing beside her husband during the press conference, Mrs. Tanya Costello quoted C.J. Dennis when asked for her thoughts:

‘Yeh live, yeh love, yeh learn; an’ when yeh come
To square the ledger in some thortful hour,
The everlastin’ answer to the sum
Must allus be, “Where’s sense in gittin’ sour?”

“Livin’ an’ lovin’ — so life mooches on.”

She said: “For Peter and I, life will mooch on.”

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This is the transcript of Peter Costello’s press conference, held at Treasury Place, Melbourne at 12.40pm today.

Peter and Tanya Costello

COSTELLO:

Well thank you all for coming out on Sunday. Let me begin this press conference by congratulating Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party for their victory in the federal election yesterday. There was a very significant swing and it is clear that they have a substantial majority, and to do that as an Opposition Leader is a considerable achievement and I congratulate him on his victory.

Of course there were millions of Australians who voted for the Liberal and National parties and I want to thank them for the faith and the trust that they showed in us. And I do want to say that on their behalf and indeed on behalf of all Australians, it is important that this new federal Labor Government be held to its promises – that Kevin Rudd be held to his promise to keep food prices down, to keep petrol prices down, to keep inflation down and to take personal responsibility for each and every one of the public hospitals in Australia.

I have served the Liberal Party for 17 years as a Member of Parliament; the first six years in Opposition and whilst we were in Opposition I was elected the Deputy Leader, a position that I have held now for 13 ½ years and of course for the last 11½ years I have served as Treasurer. I have given every waking hour to government and to the people of Australia over those last 11½ years. And for me it has been a great privilege to serve with some wonderful people and I want to thank my wonderful colleagues with whom I have served – many of whom have asked me in the last 12 hours to become the Leader of the Liberal Party.

I have discussed this with my family and my wife Tanya who is here with me today, and we have decided that in fact the time has come for me to open a new chapter in my life. I will be looking to build a career post-politics in the commercial world.

As a consequence of that, I will not seek nor will I accept the leadership or deputy leadership of the Liberal Party. I want to spend more time with my family and do something for them. They have paid a heavy price for 11½ years as Treasurer.

I have been re-elected as the Member for Higgins and I thank the people of Higgins for the trust that they have shown in me. I will continue to serve my constituents and in serving my constituents I hope that I will have a role to play perhaps mentoring some of the newer MPs.

I believe in generational change in the Liberal Party. I came in as part of an Opposition, we took the Opposition up to the Hawke-Keating Government, we were elected and we formed Government. Now it is time for a new generation in Opposition to take the fight up to the Rudd Labor Government and to form the next Liberal Government.

And I do believe that it is time for the young people of talent and ability, of whom there are many, to be given their go in the Liberal Party. Just as I was given my go in the early 1990s, I think it is time for them to have their go and I am going to reprise my trust in the talented young members of the Liberal Party.

I want to pay tribute to John Howard. I had the privilege of serving alongside him. I have said in a recent interview with the possible exception of Sir Robert Menzies, he is Australia’s greatest Prime Minister. I believe that.

I think the achievements of recent years have been absolutely outstanding. I have personally been the longest serving Treasurer in Australia’s history. I have brought down 12 federal budgets. The incoming Treasurer will not inherit a situation that I did with a $10 billion deficit and $96 billion worth of debt.

The incoming Treasurer will have a balanced budget. There will be no Commonwealth debt, we are saving $9 billion a year in interest payments alone. We have reformed the tax system and introduced a broad base consumption tax, 2.2 million more Australians are in work and young people have a better opportunity for work than they have in a generation.

We have established a Future Fund which now has $61 billion to provision for Australia’s future. And I do want to say to the superannuation industry and the financial writers and everybody else, do not let an incoming government raid that Future Fund. Because once that Future Fund is opened for any purpose, it is open for all purposes. This is something that is much more important than politics for the long term interests of this country.

I want to pay tribute to other Members of Parliament, particularly those that have lost their seats in this most recent election. It may well be that John Howard has lost his seat, and Phil Barresi a very dear colleague of mine. I want to say to Mal Brough, I think it is particularly tough on Mal Brough, who I think would have been part of any future leadership in the Liberal Party and to lose him has been a heavy blow.

I want to conclude by thanking my staff, who have been magnificent, led by Phil Gaetjens who had a very, very difficult year, David Gazard, David Alexander, Kelly O’Dwyer, Renae Stoikos, Jonathan Epstein, Gabe, Phil and all of the staff, Karina, who have been here with me through the campaign, all of you have been wonderful and I want to thank each and every one of you. And I also want to pay tribute again to my wife who has been absolutely wonderful. She has put up with a lot over the last 11½ years, raising our children single handedly. Whilst I have been doing my work, she has been doing much more important work.

I have great belief in Australia and its people. I want to see this country be everything it possibly can be and for me it has been a privilege to play my part in making this a better country.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, there will be a lot of people who believe the Liberal Party needs you now. When did you make the decision to stand down and can you tell us also when you communicated this to the Prime Minister?

COSTELLO:

Last year I argued the case for generational change and I put that view to my colleagues, a majority of whom did not agree. And my thinking then was that if we won the election there would be generational change after the election if we won, but if we lost I thought it would be time for a new generation. And that was really my thinking from last year. I spoke to the Prime Minister about this matter last night.

JOURNALIST:

Do you regret not being more forceful in challenging the PM?

COSTELLO:

No look, I put the case to the Liberal Party and I put it very strongly. I put it personally. And the reality was that a majority didn’t agree with me. Now if a majority doesn’t agree with you, that’s it. I accepted their decision, I have to accept their decision. It is the same in a federal election. You put your case forcefully to the people and if a majority don’t agree with you, that’s it.

JOURNALIST:

So do you believe…

COSTELLO:

That’s life.

JOURNALIST:

Do you believe the outcome of this election would have been different if the Party Room had made a different decision?

COSTELLO:

Look, I argued the case, you know what my view was. I was very upfront about it, I put it publicly in this room and many other rooms. I put it on TV, I put individually to colleagues. A majority didn’t agree and that’s it.

JOURNALIST:

How are you feeling, Mr Costello?

COSTELLO:

Well I am feeling tired because I have been campaigning very, very hard and we had a late night last night and an early morning this morning. I must say to you, I feel concerned for our country. I do think that there are a couple of things that if they are done could badly affect its prospects and I wouldn’t want to see them done. One of the things I have just told you about – the raiding of the Future Fund – in my view is one of the worst pieces of public policy that has ever been put forward. And once you start doing this, all of the savings that we have built up to prepare Australia for the future will be at risk.

JOURNALIST:

How are you feeling for yourself?

COSTELLO:

Oh for myself, I don’t really think about these things personally. I have always been in politics to do what I can for Australia and its people and I have done the best that I can over the last 11 ½ years and people will judge me by my results.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Costello…

COSTELLO:

Sorry.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Costello, who should lead your Party?

COSTELLO:

Look, I will have a vote and now it is up to the candidates to put themselves forward. I will carefully consider my vote in that ballot. Personally I believe in generational change. Look, the political cycle goes in generations, in my view:- a period of testing in Opposition followed by the opportunity to govern; a period of testing followed by the opportunity to govern. And you know, I think we have some really good people in the next generation. I think it is up to the Liberal Party to give them a go. You gave me a go in 1994 when I was, I can’t quite remember how old I was, but I wasn’t all that old, and, how old was I?

MRS COSTELLO:

I don’t know. 36?

COSTELLO:

36? You gave me a go and now is the time to give some others a go.

JOURNALIST:

Who are they?

COSTELLO:

I don’t want to get into names because I will leave somebody out and that would be a terrible tragedy. Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Costello, given what you have just said, you are still the most appropriate person to ask this to, what will this new Rudd Labor Government mean for small business in Australia given the IR laws and WorkChoices?

COSTELLO:

I would be worried for small business. You saw the Sensis Small Business survey come out on Friday, you saw the biggest drop in confidence that they have ever measured and that drop in confidence was because of a change of government. And small business will be worried and I am worried for small business. I am a great believer in small business. Small business creates the jobs. You have got to give them a go. And I think the idea that union officials are going to start knocking on small business doors will strike fear and terror into their hearts.

JOURNALIST:

Mrs Costello, can I ask you what you think of your husband’s decision?

MRS COSTELLO:

That’s a great question. C J Dennis, the well-known and well-loved Australian poet wrote in a series of poems entitled the Songs of the Sentimental Bloke the following lines, and I think that’s where I am and where Peter is:

‘Yeh live, yeh love, yeh learn; an’ when yeh come
To square the ledger in some thortful hour,
The everlastin’ answer to the sum
Must allus be, “Where’s sense in gittin’ sour?”

“Livin’ an’ lovin’ — so life mooches on.”

For Peter and I, life will mooch on.

COSTELLO:

Thank you.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Costello, Alexander Downer on the Insiders programme this morning that he suspected the election was lost all year. Do you share that assessment?

COSTELLO:

Look, the polls showed that Labor opened up a margin at the end of last year which hardly ever varied. There was statistical error up and down, two or three per cent. You know, it was just about 53/47, 54/46 for 12 months. And nothing seemed to shake them. And my assessment was that it wasn’t particular policies that the electorate was reacting to, there was a just a segment of the electorate that had decided that it was time to change the Government and it wouldn’t be a big risk. And that was enough, really. Now, were we coming back in the last couple of days? It’s hard to tell. There were some polls that said we were because I think there were people at the end who were starting to worry about the risk – which I see as a real risk by the way. But the events of the last couple of days just deprived us of oxygen, I think.

JOURNALIST:

Just to clarify your view on the shenanigans in Lindsay, they certainly wouldn’t have helped the Prime Minister in Bennelong because of its high immigrant population count. Do you think that that derailed any opportunity that might have been?

COSTELLO:

Look, I don’t think that people sitting around Australia would have said, ‘well I’ll vote against the Liberal Party because of what happened in Lindsay’. This was an isolated, stupid thing in one seat. But that, was it the Thursday after it happened, AM went 17 minutes on it, from 8 to 8.17 am. Lateline started it, AM went from 8 to 8.17, the World Today opened up, I went on PM. They had an intro and then an interview with me which ended at 6.30 pm. So after AM had gone for 17 minutes, PM went 20 minutes. Backed into the news, the 7.30 Report and then Lateline again. And the blanket coverage just squeezed the oxygen out of any other message. It wasn’t that people were saying, ‘because of this, I’ll vote against the Government’. It was because of this, they never actually heard a clear message from the Government in the last 48 hours. That’s my assessment. Sorry, yes.

JOURNALIST:

When do you intend to start your career in the commercial world and what will you be doing?

COSTELLO:

Well, as I said, I intend to continue on for a time as the Member for Higgins but I’ll be looking to a post-political career in the commercial world. I mean, I was in the law before I went into Parliament. You know, I’ve learnt a few things about law and business.

JOURNALIST:

Is this partly also you not having the appetite to lead in Opposition?

COSTELLO:

Oh I’m not afraid of Opposition, I spent the first six years in Opposition. But I think that the Party now has to invest itself in long-term prospects. I think it’s time for generational change.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Costello, given the mandate, how much of this related to WorkChoices? What should the Liberal Party do in the Senate when those laws arrive? What should the strategy, will you block the abolition of WorkChoices in the Senate?

COSTELLO:

Well, it’s not up to me to make that call. What will happen now – and you all know what will happen now – is Labor will try and rewrite history. And all of those things that they think are still live targets will be blamed for the loss. You know how politics works. And I would say to the Liberal Party that it is very important that the Liberal Party is open and frank and honest in its assessment, but don’t take your assessments from Labor or the media. You make them yourself.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) worse for the party…

COSTELLO:

I think I’ve just answered that question.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Costello, despite what you’ve said about the Party not listening to you, do you take any personal responsibility for yesterday’s loss?

COSTELLO:

I was a Member of the Government that has been voted out of office. But I would actually say to you that you can look at our record and you can compare it to any other government in Australian history. I think it will compare well. You know, don’t take it from me, but you know what the Budget is like, you know what debt is like, you know what inflation is like, you know what unemployment is like, you know what the tax system is like, you know what growth has been. Compare that to any other government in Australian history and I invite you to draw your own conclusions. Nobody actually said to me at any stage during the campaign, you’ve done a bad job. In fact, quite the reverse. But you did pick up, from time to time – you’ve done a good job, maybe it’s time for a change. I don’t think they quite knew what they were getting. I don’t think, to be frank with you, even Mr Rudd knows what they are going to be getting, but they’ll soon find out soon enough.

So thank you all very much for your attendance. I intend to go home and have a barbeque.

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