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Howard Decision ‘Not My Happiest Day’, Says Costello

Following the statement by John Howard that he intends to remain as Prime Minister, the Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello, gave the following press conference.

  • Listen to the start of the press conference (6m)

Peter Costello press conference.

Peter Costello, Federal TreasurerTREASURER: Well, as you know, the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, made a statement to the Liberal Party Room this morning and in response I also made a statement, the essence of which was that over the last nine years I have served the Liberal Party as its Deputy Leader, I have served under two Leaders, I gave both of them the utmost of my loyalty and I worked tirelessly for the good of the Party and the good of the country.

I think one of the successes of the Government has been that we have run a strong economy and we have had a unity of purpose at our upper echelons. Naturally, as the Deputy Leader, you think about the long term future of the Party, where you think it can be improved, you think about the long term future of the country, what can be done to improve things. And you think about the opportunities that you may have to do that. And you would be surprised if I hadn’t thought about that quite a bit over recent years.

I will not have the opportunity at present to step up and to take that role but I will continue to commit myself to being the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, I will continue to be working on a very ambitious policy agenda for our Party and for our country. And as I said to the Party Room today, if the opportunity were to present itself and my colleagues were to support me it would be a great honour to serve the Liberal Party as its Leader and to serve Australia in that capacity.

But in the current environment I will continue to serve the Party as the Deputy Leader and the country as the Treasurer.

JOURNALIST: Were you disappointed?

TREASURER: Well, it wasn’t my happiest day, put it that way, Matt.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the Prime Minister will serve through to the next election?

TREASURER: Look, the Prime Minister has made a statement and any questions about how he
understands that statement I think should be directed towards him.

JOURNALIST: How long would you be prepared to wait?

TREASURER: Well, look, as I said earlier, obviously, I have been the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party for over nine years. In that time I have served two Leaders. You do think about where you want to see the country going, where you want to see the Party going, you do think about that. In fact you would be delinquent if you didn’t think about that. And I have thought about that a lot, an awful lot. I don’t have the opportunity to put that into practice at present. I said to my colleagues today, if I did have that opportunity it would be an honour to do it. But it is a question in politics of when the opportunities arise.

JOURNALIST: Given your disappointment Mr Costello, do you think that you and the Prime Minister can operate as effectively as a team as you have done in the first seven years of this Government and indeed in the year or so before you were elected?

TREASURER: Well, Jim, can I tell you, I think I have got a track record in the Liberal Party, and I think all of you would agree as somebody who has worked extraordinarily hard, been devoted to the Party, put the Party’s interests ahead of private ambition and served under two Leaders. I am proud of what the Government has been able to achieve during my time as Deputy Leader. I think as Deputy Leader of the Party I have brought a lot of stability to the Liberal Party. Bear that in mind, I became Deputy Leader in 1994 and I continue to work for what I believe is in the interests of the Liberal Party and the country.

JOURNALIST: One more thing Mr Costello, do you now regret not taking the opportunity to become leader, which was basically offered to you when John Hewson was at his end in ’94?

TREASURER: Oh, Jim, you know, life’s too short to go back over past events. I’ve got enough trouble worrying about current and future ones to go back over past ones. Yes, Michelle, sorry, perhaps if people put their hands up and I’ll, yes, Michelle.

JOURNALIST: Can you rule out ever, under any circumstances, challenging the Prime Minister?

TREASURER: Michelle, someone with the track record of loyalty to the Party that I’ve shown, I think doesn’t have to answer questions like that.

JOURNALIST: Could you answer it nevertheless?

TREASURER: I don’t have to.

JOURNALIST: Treasurer, has the Prime Minister welshed on a deal with you today?

TREASURER: Look, the Prime Minister has made a decision, which he thinks is in the interests of the Party, and the country. And, I notice that obviously it means that there is no opportunity for me to fill that vacancy. But as I say again, if the opportunity arises, it’s up to my colleagues if they give it to me.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it is in the interests of the Party and the country?

TREASURER: Look, Jim, you know, I think that the interests of the Party and the interests of the country are this – it’s in the interests of the Party to have good strong leadership, it’s in the interests of the country to have a Liberal Government, and a Liberal Government which is a reforming Government, a Liberal Government which continues the good work and that’s what governs my thinking, and we all think about how we can contribute to that, that’s what I’m thinking about.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible).

TREASURER: Sorry. Yes, yes.

JOURNALIST: Did this really take you by great surprise? Haven’t you over the last few months been reading the Prime Minister to the point where you may have come to the conclusion that that was what he was going to say anyway? Did it come as a big surprise?

TREASURER: Well, look, I’ve been reading tea leaves in much the same way as all of you have been reading tea leaves. But, you know, reading tea leaves is not quite the same thing as a definitive statement, is it?

JOURNALIST: (inaudible).


JOURNALIST: How did you read them?

TREASURER: Well, look, I said, I said to you all, I think, every time I was asked, I said, there’s no point conjecturing, a statement will be made and when the statement is made, we will all determine our responses. You know, I just don’t have enough wasted energy to go into tea leaf reading on a full time basis. Sorry.

JOURNALIST: But, Treasurer, you’re in that position now, aren’t you, to continue reading
the tea leaves until the Prime Minister gives you some sort of definitive statement about what he intends to do.

TREASURER: Well, he’s made his statement. There it is, it’s plain, everybody can read
it. You, well, you…

JOURNALIST: (inaudible).

TREASURER: …well if you have questions about it, Matt, I’m not the person to ask. All right.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible).

TREASURER: Sorry. Yes.

JOURNALIST: Treasurer, you talked about how you’d do things differently, you’ve given some thought to it, can you expand on this? What different direction would you take the party in?

TREASURER: Well, obviously, I’ve given some thought to it. I won’t have the immediate opportunity to put that into practice, so there’s no point in giving you a run down on that now. But, I, bear this in mind, I intend to contribute to political debate, absolutely. And as the Deputy Leader, I think my colleagues will expect me to contribute on a wide range of issues, which I intend to do. But that’s something for the months to come. Yes.

JOURNALIST: Mr Costello, when did Mr Howard tell you of his decision?

TREASURER: Yesterday.


TREASURER: In words.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible).

TREASURER: Yes, you know, words, which I heard through my ears. Sorry. Yes.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible).

TREASURER: It was yesterday Michelle. The sun had risen, there was rain coming down, wind was going on, it was in words and it was heard through my ears and it was comprehended by my brain. Dennis. Sorry.

JOURNALIST: You have been Treasurer for a long time, would you like another portfolio?

TREASURER: Well, I said on Friday, when I was asked this question, I had seen speculation in the paper, that I was imminently going off to Foreign Affairs, and that speculation did not come from me. I was asked the question for the first time, direct question on Friday, would you like to be the Minister for Foreign Affairs, I said no, that is not something I am contemplating. And there are lots of reasons for that, but one of which is, I think the Treasury is the second most senior job in the Government, and that is a pretty significant reason, and there are other reasons. Sorry, Louise, last question. Sorry.

JOURNALIST: Mr Costello, do you think that your relationship with the Prime Minister will enter a new phase, from now on, you know, after your nine years as Deputy?

TREASURER: Well, you know, I haven’t been Deputy to him for all of those nine years of course, but look, we have worked together competently and professionally, I think it has been a very big part of the success of the Government. I really do. I think it has given the Government a lot of stability and I think the strong economic management has been the foundation for everything else that the Government has done and I continue to want to work competently and professionally towards the objectives of good government in Australia. I want to see Australia be everything it can possibly be. I want to see it prosperous and strong and secure and tolerant, and I want it to be able to fulfil all of those objectives and I want to make a contribution to that. Thanks very much.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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