Peter Costello’s relationship with Crikey has waxed and waned over the years, but what can be said for sure is that his email inbox received the sealed section editions in 2003 about Rob Gerard’s Reserve Bank board appointment and his subsequent tax troubles. The Costello forces were certainly big fans of Crikey’s editorial line in the early days as Christian Kerr, aka Hillary Bray, hopped into the PM on a regular basis.
I’ve only met the Treasurer once at the ABC on October 9 during the 2001 election campaign and this is what we wrote at the time:
Crikey has heard regular feedback that Cossie is an avid reader of Crikey who has picked up on some of the nicknames and quotes many of Hillary’s columns around the place. But his knowledge and interest was still a revelation when we bumped into each other at the top of the stairs outside Virginia Trioli’s studio.
Can’t say I disagreed when Cossie described the Kennett government as a “regime” and he then proceeded to pose several questions about Hillary. What was her sex, how did you email her, is this latest suggestion about several people being Hillary correct and could she really be actually working on the Liberal campaign?
Whilst readily acknowledging that Hillary gives the Treasurer a relatively easy time, I fudged on some of the detail but basically acknowledged that Hillary’s success in keeping her identity unknown for 20 months reflected her subtlety and rat cunning.
But the secret is no more. The conversation ended with Cossie raising his arms in the air and proclaiming in front of Heather Ewart and his staffers Nicki Savva and Mitch Fifield that “I am Hillary Bray.”
Cossie’s direct email address wasn’t on the Crikey database at that point but we gave him a free subscription under our subs for comment scandal in June 2002 when he told Parliament the following:
Those of you who follow crikey.com as closely as I do will see that the member has been recycling a few things in his electorate recently including tips, in a leaflet mailed out to his electorate in Melbourne, on how to recycle Perth waste, with the phone number of the member for Swan on his leaflet. I recommend crikey.com. It includes very good reading about Delia Delegate this week and the internal machinations of the Victorian ALP.
Such was Cossie’s enthusiasm for Crikey, a staffer once called the bunker inquiring where that day’s sealed section was because the Treasurer wanted to read it. Nine different sealed sections in 2003 mentioned either Gerard’s donations, Reserve Bank appointment or his tax troubles as you can see here, so how does this tally with the following exchange in Parliament yesterday?:
Kim Beazley: Treasurer, isn’t it the case that you knew about Mr Gerard’s tax problems and cooked up a cover-up so you could reward a million dollar Liberal Party dynamite?
Peter Costello: Mr Speaker, the suggestion that I knew or my office knew or had gone through court records in 2003 is absolutely repudiated. The idea that I knew anything that was in The AFR is absolutely repudiated. The idea that my Chief of Staff knew those matters is absolutely repudiated. The idea that there was any conspiracy is absolutely repudiated. It is absolutely repudiated and, Mr Speaker, it does not have a skerrick of evidence.
Both Michelle Grattan in The Age and Michael Brissenden on The 7.30 Report have picked up on this Crikey angle, but it is much stronger than both alluded to given Costello’s publicly stated enthusiasm for Crikey at the time and the fact that the sealed sections were sent directly to his Treasury email address.
Sure, relations are not so good these days as Cossie banned Crikey from this year’s budget lock-up and removed his email address from our data base, but the Opposition has more direct evidence that Costello did know about Rob Gerard’s tax problems. Unless, of course, he wasn’t closely following his sealed sections in 2003.
We had more than 100 Federal Parliament House email addresses on our data base in 2003, so the idea that Gerard’s tax problems weren’t in the political consciousness two years ago is a complete joke.