Costello turns to helping women
Steve Lewis, Chief political correspondent
March 02, 2006
PETER Costello raised the prospect yesterday of turning Australia into the most female-friendly country in the world as he outlined his reform vision on the 10th anniversary of the Howard Government.
The frustrated prime ministerial aspirant continued to expand his policy agendas yesterday, saying he also wanted Australia to embrace "first-class" policy settings and forge an "energy freeway" into Asia and the US to lock in the prosperity of the past decade.
The Treasurer said Australia was already in the "front row" of nations that have embraced affirmative action to improve the status of women, but more had to be done.
A week after speaking out on multiculturalism, he signalled greater spending on childcare and more women-friendly policies in the workplace.
Last month, Mr Costello broke from the Prime Minister in casting a conscience vote for a bill to remove the veto power of the health minister over the controversial RU486 abortion pill. The bill was passed with strong cross-party support from female members and senators.
Yesterday, Mr Costello denied Australia was a sexist country. "Australia is not a perfect place ... but, you know, are we bad by international standards? No.
"We are actually quite good by international standards and, you know, I think we can be quite proud that we have had a good tradition of female equality. But I just think it can be better."
He singled out reining in the costs of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme as part of a longer-term campaign to ensure national health costs did not cripple the economy as the population aged.
However, Mr Costello's call for PBS savings came after federal cabinet baulked at a series of reform options at a meeting on Monday. These would have slashed hundreds of millions of dollars off annual PBS expenditure.
Reflecting on the past 10 years, the Treasurer claimed Australia had emerged from the despair of the recession in the early 1990s and was now treated with much greater respect by other countries. "The nation feels more secure about itself. This is the Australian revival," he said.
Mr Costello said part of Australia's success flowed from the Government's unwillingness to "jump on the Asian Tiger model and run a corporatist government. We didn't. We could have been swept up by dotcom mania, as urged by many, but we didn't. We could have miscalculated in the face of the Asian financial crisis, or the worst drought in 100 years, or in the face of threats from terror or war or SARS or the current oil shock. We didn't. And while we have improved our position in the world, we cannot sit back and relax."
Mr Costello's push to claim credit for Australia's economic success comes as he tries to convince his Liberal colleagues he is ready to lead the country.
His efforts are lost on the Prime Minister, however, who shows no sign of wishing to retire as the Government embarks on a series of corporate-backed dinners to celebrate a decade in power.
Trying to set out a more modern agenda than Mr Howard, Mr Costello issued a call to "create the most female-friendly environment in the world".
The Treasurer's supporters are hoping Mr Howard will step down as Prime Minister before the next election, scheduled to be held in late 2007.
But Mr Howard is sticking to a safe form of words, saying he will remain while his Liberal colleagues want him and it is in the best interests of the party.
Mr Costello is determined to broaden his image by speaking out on a wide range of issues.
His backing for an energy freeway comes as Australia pushes to lock in further multi-billion-dollar deals to sell liquefied natural gas to China and other Asian economies.
The Treasurer said an energy "freeway" would link energy-producing nations such as Australia with countries such as China and Korea, which have an insatiable appetite for LNG and other energy sources.
Achieving this will mean, in part, improving national regulation of export infrastructure.
The Treasurer used his speech to claim his share of credit for Australia's robust economic performance in the past decade. He also played down concerns over Australia's rising levels of foreign debt, saying most of it was used for "good outcomes ... to boost the economy".
Although Mr Costello has been criticised for his controversial multiculturalism remarks last Thursday night, the Treasurer said he would continue to hammer this theme.
"I think we have to engage, we have to engage leadership, and we have to explain our values," he said.
The grating pretender
This shallow, lazy, lucky and opportunistic Treasurer does not deserve to run the country