Michael Costa (politician)

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The Honourable
Michael Costa
MLC
Member of Legislative Council of New South Wales
In office
6 September 2001 – 23 September 2008
Preceded by Johno Johnson
Succeeded by John Robertson
Treasurer of
New South Wales
In office
17 February 2006 – 5 September 2008
Premier Morris Iemma
Preceded by Michael Egan
Succeeded by Eric Roozendaal
New South Wales
Minister for Police
In office
21 November 2001 – 2 April 2003
Premier Bob Carr
Preceded by Paul Whelan
Succeeded by John Watkins
Personal details
Born 15 July 1956
Newcastle, New South Wales
Nationality  Australia
Political party Australian Labor Party
Spouse(s) Helen (div.)
Deborah
Children 2 (m), 2 (f)
Occupation Union official
Website NSW Parliamentary Library

Michael Costa (born 15 July 1956) is a former Australian Labor politician. He was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council from 2001 until 2008, and Treasurer of New South Wales from 2006 to 2008 and held other ministerial portfolios in the governments of premiers Bob Carr and Morris Iemma.

Early life and career[edit]

Costa was born in Newcastle to Greek Cypriot migrants who came to Australia in the 1950s.[1] In 1979, Costa began work as a rigger at the Garden Island naval dockyard. It was there where he was first involved with the Australian labour movement becoming a Delegate for the Federated Ironworkers' Association (now Australian Workers' Union). During this period he also studied at night at the University of Sydney.[citation needed]

In 1983, Costa joined the NSW Railways and started work as a trainee engineman, but never progressed to a driver, and became active in the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen (AFULE). At the time the AFULE had a militant leadership who began a series of strikes over differences with the Australian Railways Union, whereby brake vans were removed from goods trains, and the guards were given locomotive jobs. Preferential treatment of the guards was seen by many as a reward for not striking over the loss of their jobs in brake vans.[citation needed] This led to Costa running against the incumbent leadership of the union in the AFULE's elections which Costa won convincingly.[citation needed] In 1989, Costa was elected as an organiser with the Labor Council of New South Wales. In 1998, he was elected as Secretary of the Labor Council. He was the first Secretary to be of a non-English speaking background.

New South Wales Parliamentary career[edit]

Costa shifted to a political career in 2001, when he became a member of the Legislative Council at a countback following the resignation of Johno Johnson in the Carr Labor Government. Costa served as Police Minister from 21 November 2001 until 2 April 2003.

Transport Services and Roads portfolios[edit]

Costa served as Transport Services Minister from 2 April 2003 until 21 January 2005. He was also appointed as Minister for the Hunter, Minister Assisting the Minister for Natural Resources and Minister Assisting the Minister for State Development. The Transport portfolio was controversial during this time, mainly due to rail line closures and the train driver dispute. Costa ordered the closure of the Murwillumbah line in April 2004 [2] and the near-closure of part of the Newcastle line.[3] In 2004, train reliability was further affected by a train driver dispute. This mainly stemmed from a "shortage of fit drivers and an unauthorised overtime ban" by drivers.[4] Journalist Miranda Devine said that:

So Costa has driven safety reform hard. But health and psychometric checks of drivers, random drug and alcohol testing and "data loggers" on trains, which can be used to monitor a driver's speed, have caused disquiet among workers.

NSW Unions said of Costa and the rail executive that:

There has been a total breakdown in goodwill between RailCorp and its workforce.[5]

Costa is credited with the bus reform policies pursued by the Government.[6]

When the Treasurer Michael Egan resigned unexpectedly in January 2005, the then Premier, Bob Carr, took the opportunity for a major reshuffle. Costa was subsequently shifted sideways to Roads and the minor portfolios of Ports and Economic Reform and replaced in Transport by John Watkins. Costa was Roads Minister between 21 January and 3 August 2005.

Following a cabinet reshuffle brought about by the resignation of Premier Carr in August 2005, Costa became the Minister for Finance and Infrastructure.

NSW Treasurer[edit]

Costa was appointed Treasurer on 17 February 2006. This is the most famous part of his political career.[citation needed] His time as Treasurer was marked by his relationship with his Federal counterpart, Peter Costello, at a time when the state's economy had begun to contract, raising the spectre of a recession.[7]

Costa was the architect of his government's plans to privatise NSW's electricity sector and in the face of union opposition was arguing that the move would create jobs and secure a new power station to meet power demand.[8] After the NSW ALP conference voted down the privatisation plans, Costa threatened to quit if the policy did not pass the NSW Parliament.[9]

In September 2008, with Opposition from the Liberal and National Parties, as well as dissident Labor MP's, the privatisation bill was defeated. Soon afterwards, amid mounting leadership speculation, Morris Iemma dumped Costa as Treasurer,[10][11] but then resigned as Premier after losing the support of the dominant right faction, and was replaced by Nathan Rees. Costa announced that he was quitting politics, and after resigning from his seat was replaced by John Robertson.

A week after his sacking, Costa said the Government was dominated by "spin merchants" and "machine politicians" unqualified to govern in an essay written for The Daily Telegraph.[12]

Political views[edit]

Costa is seen as pro-economic development. The Sydney Morning Herald described him as:

There's no holding back from Costa when he advocates coal mining, aluminium smelters and the privatisation of the electricity industry. This is an unabashed supporter of economic considerations above all else, for public service reform and for not believing climate-change doomsayers. As he puts it: "I want to see economic prosperity. I make no apology for that."[13]

Costa has been described as the "State Government's leading climate change sceptic" mainly because of his views supporting increasing capacity of smelters and power stations.[14]

In June 2007, during Question Time in the New South Wales Legislative Council, Costa launched into a tirade against the theory of global warming and told caucus it should adopt a proposal that would allow big power users such as aluminium smelters to avoid the costs of meeting the Government's renewable energy targets to "save jobs in Newcastle and Wollongong". He also said he did not support Tim Flannery being made 2007 Australian of the Year.[15] Part of Costa's statement is as follows:

But the Greens and idiots like Tim Flannery said it will never rain. Well it has started to rain and it seems as though it is going to rain forever. These people do not understand climate cycles. When it comes to the climate they are alarmists and cannot see beyond the end of their noses. They create division, panic and fear so that they can rustle up a few naive people to vote for them at election time. Climates change.[16]

Political commentator[edit]

After quitting politics, Costa became a regular columnist for The Australian newspaper. His columns were controversial for their attacks on environmentalists and the then prime minister Kevin Rudd. For instance, in one column he attacked Rudd's essay The Global Financial Crisis, published in the left-leaning journal, The Monthly, arguing that "All the way through his essay Rudd tries to have it both ways, cherrypicking economic history to support his political prejudices".[17] Another column claimed that "Rudd has a highly developed ability to ignore inconvenient views he has recently held when they conflict with his immediate political requirements".[18] Costa was also critical of Rudd's plan to lift the age pension eligibility threshold to 67, arguing that "it will alone make very little real contribution to the important challenge of dealing with the costs of an ageing population".[19]

Costa was also critical of Malcolm Turnbull, then leader of the Opposition, writing that "The Howard government lost many ministers but continued to have electoral success because, whether you liked it or not, you knew what the Howard government stood for. Does anybody know what the Turnbull opposition stands for?",[20] a comment that earned the praise of conservative Daily Telegraph columnist Tim Blair.[21]

In mid-2009, Costa stopped writing regular columns, but returned a year later, after the revelation in Betrayal, a book by Daily Telegraph journalist Simon Benson, that Rudd had reneged on a promise he made to Iemma to publicly support the electricity privatisation. Costa wrote that:

At a personal level these events are a kind of political morality tale. On one side is Iemma, an honourable man who was motivated by a misguided but strongly held belief in labour solidarity and doing the right thing by the ALP. On the other side is Rudd, a person who made a promise and consequently accrued benefits without reciprocating when he was required to do so. It is about the selflessness and selfishness. It is about character.[22]

Costa also predicted that Rudd's character would be an issue at the 2010 Federal election stating that "(Rudd) chose to put his political popularity before the policy position. He chose to take the advice of machine men. These same machine men no doubt are closely watching the opinion polls and planning to politically execute him if his standing in the polls continues to decline".[22] A few weeks later, Rudd resigned as prime minister shortly before a leadership ballot which he would have lost.[23]

In December 2010, Costa had a piece titled Reform the cure for Labor's ills published in The Australian, contributing to the Labor Party's internal debate after the 2010 federal election which nearly saw Labor lose government after only one term in office. In that article, Costa argued that Labor's problems were due to the rise of individuals who valued winning elections at all costs, and had scant regard for sound policy. Costa also warned that Julia Gillard's embrace of the Greens was a tactical mistake as it had the effect of legitimising the Greens. Costa recommended that Labor reject the Greens by showing the negative economic and social consequences of their policies.[24]

In recent times, Costa has appeared on The Bolt Report on a number of occasions to provide political commentary. Since October 2012, he has appeared on Channel 7 breakfast show Sunrise on Wednesdays as a Hot Topics regular, along with 2GB breakfast radio host Alan Jones.

Personal life[edit]

Michael Costa currently resides in Wollombi in the Hunter Valley in rural New South Wales with his wife Deborah, a primary school teacher, with their two young children including Valentina.[25] He also has a son and daughter from a previous marriage; an established lawyer and award-winning playwright, respectively. He has revealed that he struggled with bipolar disorder in 2001.[25][26]

On 14 April 2011, an armed man broke into Costa's home, threatening his wife with a knife before tying her up and fleeing with their car. [27]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Maiden Speech - Hon. Michael Costa". Hansard. Parliament of New South Wales. 19 September 2001. Retrieved 26 June 2007. 
  2. ^ Kerr, Joseph (24 August 2004). "Costa spurns federal rail offer". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 5 May 2008. 
  3. ^ Kerr, Joseph (16 December 2004). "RailCorp reversal: now it's back to single-deck carriages". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 5 May 2008. 
  4. ^ Dempster, Quentin (13 February 2004). "How to fail in rail". Stateline - NSW (Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)). Retrieved 25 June 2007. 
  5. ^ Devine, Miranda (18 November 2004). "The bitter stand-off ruining the railways". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 25 June 2007. 
  6. ^ "Costa 2 - Let's do a deal". Australasian Bus and Coach (ACP Magazines). Retrieved 25 June 2007. 
  7. ^ "NSW slides towards recession". Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). AAP. 6 December 2006. Retrieved 10 December 2006. 
  8. ^ "Energy privatisation will bring jobs, Costa says". ABC News (ABC). 6 February 2008. Retrieved 21 December 2010. 
  9. ^ "Costa threatens to quit as privatisation push fails". ABC News (ABC). 28 August 2008. Retrieved 21 December 2010. 
  10. ^ Robins, Brian (5 September 2008). "Costa dumped". Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 5 September 2008. 
  11. ^ Penberthy, David (19 September 2009). "Declare state of civil war, kill the factions and save the party". The Australian (News Limited). Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  12. ^ Benson, Simon (13 September 2008). "Abolish state governments, says Michael Costa". The Daily Telegraph (News Limited). Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  13. ^ Clennell, Andrew (22 June 2007). "It's the economy, stupid: Costa's tough stand". Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 25 June 2007. 
  14. ^ Clennell, Andrew (13 June 2007). "Costa joins push to lift smelter capacity". Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 25 June 2007. 
  15. ^ Clennell, Andrew (28 June 2007). "Tim Flannery an idiot, says Costa". Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 29 June 2007. 
  16. ^ Smith, Alexandra (1 July 2007). "Costa's climate jibe pure colour: Iemma". Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 2 July 2007. 
  17. ^ Costa, Michael (6 February 2009). "Rudd on a dangerous, ill-informed crusade". The Australian (News Limited). Retrieved 19 December 2010. 
  18. ^ Costa, Michael (15 May 2009). "Model of reinvention". The Australian (News Limited). Retrieved 18 December 2010. 
  19. ^ Costa, Michael (29 May 2009). "Age will weary Kevin Rudd, and spin condemn". The Australian (News Limited). Retrieved 18 December 2010. 
  20. ^ Andrews, Tim (26 June 2009). "A Question for all (Australian) Liberals". Inside the Mind of Tim (WordPress). Retrieved 1 January 2011. 
  21. ^ Blair, Tim (26 June 2009). "They Don't Like Questions". The Daily Telegraph (News Limited). Retrieved 1 January 2011. 
  22. ^ a b Costa, Michael (1 June 2010). "Rudd will pay for voodoo politics". The Australian (News Limited). Retrieved 16 July 2010. 
  23. ^ Rodgers, Emma (24 June 2010). "Gillard ousts Rudd in bloodless coup". ABC News (ABC). Retrieved 19 December 2010. 
  24. ^ Costa, Michael (1 December 2010). "Reform the cure for Labor's ills". The Australian (News Limited). Retrieved 19 December 2010. 
  25. ^ a b Salusinszky, Imre (15 April 2008). "The Free Radical". The Australian (News Limited). Retrieved 25 June 2009. 
  26. ^ Hildebrand, Joe (24 July 2008). "Depressive Michael Costa calls Labor critics stupid". The Daily Telegraph (News Limited). Retrieved 2 January 2011. 
  27. ^ Dunning, Craig (14 April 2011). "Deb Costa tied up and robbed by a balaclava clad man during break-in". The Daily Telegraph (News Limited). Retrieved 14 April 2011.