Costello Relationship Is Professional, Effective And Friendly: Howard

Following his announcment yesterday that he intended to remain leader of the Liberal Party, the Prime Minister, John Howard, gave this interview to Neil Mitchell, on Melbourne radio 3AW.

Prime Minister John Howard interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW.

MITCHELL: Mr Howard, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning.

MITCHELL: Thank you for speaking to us. Has your relationship with Peter Costello changed now?

PRIME MINISTER: I don’t believe there has been any fundamental change, I have no doubt we will continue to work in a very effective and friendly and professional way.

MITCHELL: Was he, did he express disappointment to you?

PRIME MINISTER: Peter is obviously disappointed with my decision and I understand that. And he indicated that and I don’t express any surprises at that at all.

MITCHELL: Is he angry?

PRIME MINISTER: He’s disappointed but I’m not going to describe our conversation. We met on Monday morning at 9:30 and talked about the matter for an hour and I indicated to him what my position was, I showed him the short statement I was going to make to the Party Room, and I made that statement and that’s the one that was issued out of the Party Room yesterday.

MITCHELL: When did you make up your mind, finally?

PRIME MINISTER: I guess I finally made up my mind in the previous couple of weeks. I talked about the matter over a period of time to my wife and my three children and one or two other people who I talk to, and I had also listened to the views of a number of people and a number of people in the parliamentary party and party organisation, and the business community had spontaneously expressed views to me.

MITCHELL: Had you sought to discuss it with Mr Costello?

PRIME MINISTER: We had talked about the matter on at least one occasion over the past months.

MITCHELL: Had you, at any stage had you decided I might go and then changed your mind or did you always feel you would go… would stay rather?

PRIME MINISTER: I think there were periods when, particularly last year, when I thought it was even-money kind of thing but….

MITCHELL: Why was that, why would you think…..?

PRIME MINISTER: Well you sort of when you’ve said you’re going to think about something you do think about it. But as it got closer I came to the view that I’ve good health, I’m very committed. There was certainly a strong view being expressed to me in the parliamentary party that they wanted me to stay and that is not a view that was critical of Peter in any way because he is my logical successor and I have no doubt he’ll be the next leader, no doubt.

MITCHELL: His supporters quoted in the Herald Sun today talking about you – he is mortgaging his standing in history by a petulant desire to win a fourth term. These are members of your parliamentary party.

PRIME MINISTER: Well I’m not going to respond to that.

MITCHELL: But do you believe you still have the unified party behind you?

PRIME MINISTER: I’m sure I have.

MITCHELL: Totally unified?


MITCHELL: Mr Costello made it clear yesterday he would be speaking outside his portfolio in the future. Do you support that?

PRIME MINISTER: I think a deputy leader has got the right to talk fairly broadly. We all have an obligation to, myself included, to talk consistent with government policy but that doesn’t mean to say somebody who’s been around as long as Peter has and as Deputy Leader, just because he’s the Treasurer it doesn’t mean to say he can’t from time to time make a speech about the law, or foreign policy or defence.

MITCHELL: Provided he stays within government policy.

PRIME MINISTER: Well that applies to all of us.

MITCHELL: I can imagine the two of you don’t agree on everything.

PRIME MINISTER: Well can I tell you, I mean can I just remind you and your listeners that both of us took an opposite view on the republic and argued it publicly in the final weeks of the referendum campaign. It made absolutely no difference. I think the public is more mature than sometimes it is given credit for. I mean I think the public is very mature about those things and of course they don’t expect that Peter and I would agree on every single thing. We don’t. We have a broad coincidence of views, because we belong to the same political party we have the same political philosophy, we work together very professionally and we’ll go on working together very professionally and I’m unconcerned about what will happen in the future on that score.

MITCHELL: Were you intrigued by his choice of words when asked about a challenge which were identical to your choice of words in 1984, will you challenge Andrew Peacock?

PRIME MINISTER: I thought that was a very good answer, in fact I told him so yesterday.

MITCHELL: You don’t think it was pointed?

PRIME MINISTER: No. I thought it was a good answer.

MITCHELL: Because you’d used them to rule out a challenge which then went ahead.

PRIME MINISTER: Well actually, no, it was the other way around. Let’s correct history. I was challenged remember.


PRIME MINISTER: Yes in 1985 I was challenged. I was Deputy Leader, I was challenged. That’s how it ended up but I mean that’s history now and I don’t want to go over it. Andrew Peacock and I have long since buried and hatchets we may have had.

MITCHELL: So you saw no significance….

PRIME MINISTER: No no. Look I said to Peter yesterday I thought it was a very good answer. I said that to him in the House.

MITCHELL: You will I believe, you’ve decided you will contest the next election.

PRIME MINISTER: What I’ve said Neil is I’ll be honoured, is the expression I used and I mean that, as long as it’s in the party’s best interest and my colleagues want me to and obviously that includes the next election.

MITCHELL: And that does include the next election?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course. I mean while ever those two conditions obtain I’ll be leader.

MITCHELL: Well with respect to you, you won’t go on forever. Even you…I remember you….

PRIME MINISTER: No no, I’m not going on…..but I don’t, you know, I mean my expectation obviously is to lead to the next election.

MITCHELL: And then in the next term consider it probably?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I will deal with the next term when the election campaign comes upon us.

MITCHELL: Last time you talked about that all hell broke loose.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah I know, well maybe. But in the end shouldn’t we be just a little bit mature about these things? I mean I will not go on forever and it would be ridiculous to suggest otherwise and there must come a point where a person can say well this is my position for the future which doesn’t sort of include effectively well I either die in office or I never retire. I mean it’s silly. I think we just have to be more mature about it and what I said in that radio interview a few years ago was that yeah I would think about things when I got to a certain age. Now I have done that and I have decided to do what I announced yesterday and what I said yesterday people should look at. I said while ever it’s in the party’s best interest and my colleagues want me. The Liberal Party has been very good to me and I would never want to do something that would damage it.

MITCHELL: Now was your family unanimous in your continuing?


MITCHELL: A touch [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER: No, they were, they were very strong. I talked individually to my children and of course to my wife and sometimes collectively. But one of my children is overseas at present but we talked about it a lot and they were very much of that view yes.

MITCHELL: Is there a possibility that this issue, because a lot of people are interpreting, including me, I thought Mr Costello’s press conference yesterday was a bit petulant. Is there a possibility this will be diverting the government, that there could be a degree of tension now between the two of you?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I don’t believe so. We had a normal leadership group meeting this morning, Peter was there, we talked about different issues and life will go on.

MITCHELL: Have you seen the National Accounts figures, released today?

PRIME MINISTER: What time is it? They’re under embargo you see and I don’t want to get trapped into saying something I shouldn’t.

MITCHELL: Are you looking forward to their release?

PRIME MINISTER: I think they’ve been released, it’s now twenty-to-twelve. I’ve been doing a few interviews and I’ve lost track of the time.

MITCHELL: It’s twenty-one-minutes-to-twelve.

PRIME MINISTER: Alright, well I can talk about them. I have seen them, yeah. They show annual growth of about 3%.

MITCHELL: Good enough?

PRIME MINISTER: In the circumstances, magnificent.

MITCHELL: Those circumstances being what, international….

PRIME MINISTER: Well a drought, internationally depressed economy. I think they’re very good.

MITCHELL: Congratulations to Peter Costello.

PRIME MINISTER: Yes. I think Peter’s done a great job as Treasurer.

MITCHELL: Thank you very much for your time.


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