They call him the great pretender – but Crikey understands that a phone call between Peter Costello and the Channel Seven bureau in the Press Gallery would have done Paul Keating proud.

Said conversation took place after the network ran Treasury documents released under Freedom of Information warning that family budgets are being stretched by the rising cost of mortgage payments.

Interest rates have risen four times since the “who do you trust to keep rates low” 2004 election.

The previously secret documents suggest that the Treasury believes households face a higher mortgage repayment burden than they did when interest rates peaked under the Labor government in the late 1980s.

The Prime Minister claims that the material has been misrepresented.

“What that document shows is that the repayment burden for a new home buyer now is lower than what it was in 1989,” he said earlier this week. “Lower, not higher, lower.”

“What they have grabbed hold of is the total interest bill payment, which includes a large number of older people who have paid off their homes and then borrowed again because they have huge equity in their homes and then used borrowing to buy an investment property or to help their children buy a property.”

Yet the Treasurer’s response shows just how sensitive the topic is with the government – and why more than mortgages are at stake here.

Interest rates might be lower, but loans are bigger and Australians are carrying more debt.

And it’s not just rates. It’s inflation and petrol prices and all those little tweaks on the hip pocket nerve that accumulate and turn into a major pain – pain for voters and political pain.

No wonder Dollar Sweetie’s sensitive.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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