October 5th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Hurdles to the sell-off of Telstra

Queensland sugar protests grow

Turnbull contradicts Costello's new agenda

GERMANY: Floods, Iraq help Schroeder scrape back

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Goodbye to all that? Surely!

ECONOMICS: Globalisation: where is it going?

MEDIA: September 11: media's 'greed for tears' writ large

LETTERS: Vietnam commitment right (letter)

LETTERS: On our own terms (letter)

LETTERS: Democrats' suicide (letter)

LETTERS: Singapore (letter)

HISTORY: When we dead awaken

OBITUARY: Heroic Vietnamese cardinal Van Thuan dies in Rome

BOOKS:Demon of the Waters, by Gregory Gibson

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Turnbull contradicts Costello's new agenda

by News Weekly

News Weekly, October 5, 2002
Treasurer Peter Costello might have been half-joking last month when he called those wanting to make divorce and abortion harder to get, as "Stalinists", but his overall intentions were very clear.

Yet within weeks one of Australia's more wealthy "Stalinists" came along, in the form of Liberal Party Treasurer Malcolm Turnbull, to give Costello a lesson in the kind of thinking a Prime Ministerial aspirant should be engaging in, rather than declaring that it was all too hard.

While Costello says governments have no role in arresting Australia's declining fertility rate, Turnbull came out and listed a host of novel ideas which he argued should be explored.

Turnbull is not yet in Parliament but is already making his run, engaging public debate, maintaining his high profile, while earning his safe seat by re-building the depleted coffers of the party.


In contrast, Costello's run appears to be going in fits and starts. The current 12 months was meant to be a "broadening out" of Costello in which he would discuss a wider range of issues than interest rates and fiscal policy.

However, during his recent Longreach tour accompanied by half the federal press gallery, Costello declared he had no truck for conservatives in the party who were searching for ways to arrest Australia's freefalling fertility rate, who were looking at reforming the Family Law Act, and who wanted the Coalition Government to be more active in social policy.

Despite his self-proclaimed "moral conservatism" Costello has revealed himself unequivocally to be a "free marketeer" when it comes to social issues, with reproductive technology a case in point.

"Governments have no place in trying to enforce patterns of behaviour through social policy," Costello declared in an interview with The Australian during his outback Queensland outing.

"I am very wary of social engineering. I am very wary of governments saying they are going to engineer fertility outcomes or marriage outcomes. I think these are very deep personal issues and I believe in limited government and I don't think governments are there for every issue."

In so clearly outlining his views, Costello was intending to differentiate himself from other Liberal Prime Ministerial aspirants like Tony Abbott, and possibly from John Howard as well.

Costello has offered just one practical solution to the problems associated with the ageing population - keep 55-65-year-olds working. Yet the irrepressible Turnbull has embarrassed Costello by outlining a series of considered ideas on what governments could be doing to encourage women to have more babies.

In a recent lecture at Sydney University, Turnbull repudiated Costello's "hands-off" approach to social policy.

"Australia's destiny, prosperity and security" depended on how we responded to the fertility crisis, Turnbull declared.

Far from saying that governments had no business in buying into the affairs of its populace, Turnbull listed a range of government initiatives to arrest the decline.

Turnbull's ideas included compulsory school training for marriages, making divorce harder to get, reducing the tax burden on families, making part-time work more attractive, requiring employers to report on measures to promote a pro-family workplace.

Single family payment

Perhaps Turnbull's most controversial proposal involved replacing the complex system of child and childcare support with a single payment of about $4000 to each mother per child.

Significantly, Turnbull asked if there was any reason why the state should spend differential amounts in respect of a child based on whether the mother of that child works full-time, part-time or cares for the child at home.

Turnbull argued that this proposal would give the mother at home the recognition of the work she does in looking after a child; the mother at work the means to afford child care; and the bulk of those in the middle the flexibility to fund a diverse range of child care solutions, formal and informal.

The fact is, Peter Costello spends $19 billion of our taxes in payments to families in various forms - and discussions about the best way to spend that money for the best outcomes should not be ridiculed as "social engineering".

And there have been thousands and thousands of changes to the Taxation Act, yet Lionel Murphy's Family Law Act is somehow sacrosanct.

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