He might
have banned Crikey from this year’s budget lock-up and declared our
ezine wasn’t a reliable source over the Rob Gerard affair two weeks
ago, but Treasurer Peter Costello was good enough to come into the 774
ABC studio for a 20-minute chat this morning.

Continuing a
10-year strategy of never taking a backward step or conceding a
mistake, when asked to give his year a mark out of ten, the Treasurer
reeled off the usual list of economic achievements from strong
employment to the establishment of the Future Fund.

Asked to put
policy aside and to assess whether December 2005 has been his worst
month politically as Treasurer, Cossie again stuck to policy issues and
said fronting up in the office on Christmas Day 1998 to come up with a
$1 billion loan for Korea after it ran out of foreign reserves was his
toughest day in the job and nothing compared with that.

After
that, Cossie stuck by his line that he believed minimum wages would
rise faster under the newly deregulated IR system, something that his
Treasury doesn’t believe. As for any suggestion that he was cute or
even misleading in his parliamentary language, Cossie said he was
completely vindicated by everything Treasury secretary Ken Henry had
said. Crikey’s Christian Kerr and The Australian certainly don’t buy that line.

After
that we raced through a range of issues. The Treasurer went out of his
way not to blame Alan Jones for inciting the Cronulla riots because
that was triggered by gangs of thugs, he said. Thugs who wrap
themselves in the Australian flag are not to be condoned which was a
different line to the PM who said he would never criticise anyone for
patriotically using the flag.

On the NSW plan to float its 58%
stake in the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme, the Treasurer said
the Commonwealth would like to sell its 13% stake as well, but would
prefer if the Victorians also signed up to sell their 29% stake.

I read out this long quote from Malcolm Turnbull’s December email newsletter which went out at 4.30pm last night:

” I believe we have the means and the will to tackle a new
round of tax reform in Australia. If we cannot afford tax reform today,
when will we be able to afford it? And if a Government with a proven
and trusted track record of economic reform is not qualified to take it
on, who else would have the courage, let alone the public trust, to do
so? If not us who? If not now, when?”

Asked why he opposed comprehensive tax reform, Cossie said he preferred
an ongoing gradualist approach. We then had an exchange on the merits
of increasing capital gains tax and reducing the top tax rate, but he
did not accept that CGT concessions are largely enjoyed by the 3% of
Australians on the top marginal rate and tried to take a stand against
jacking up capital gains taxes.

The enlightening comments about
Rupert Murdoch are covered elsewhere in this edition and the other
interesting issue was his disclosure of a meeting this morning with
ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel after yesterday’s gathering of senior
cabinet ministers in Sydney. The AFR reported today that the PM
wants to exert some power over the regulatory decisions by the ACCC
over Telstra but Costello said he was against this, so today’s meeting
would have been interesting.

Cossie exited the studio declaring
that Reverend Howard Langmead of St John’s in Brunswick, who was about
to chat about church-going oncers that only show up at Christmas, was a
very talented comedian who he’d seen dressed up as a clown. Cossie
himself is more than a oncer and had attended his regular church
service last Sunday night and was looking forward to doing the same
with his family on Christmas Day.

Amen.