LAURIE OAKES: Mr Smith, welcome to the program.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning, Laurie.
LAURIE OAKES: As predicted, Kevin Rudd's rewarded another Liberal. He's given Peter Costello a job as a member of the Future Fund Board of Guardians.
Why is Mr Costello uniquely qualified for that job?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, he was Treasurer for over a decade. The requirements and the duties of the governors of the Future Fund are set out, they're well established and you can't be Treasurer of the Commonwealth for ten years and not pick up the knowledge that you need. But also, no one's ever disputed that Mr Costello is a person of abilities. So, the appointment's made on merit. We think it's a good one and we think he'll make a contribution.
We don't disqualify people just because they happen at some stage to have been political opponents.
LAURIE OAKES: But the Labor Party spent 12 years, near enough, bagging Peter Costello as Treasurer. They said he indeed failed to properly spend the money from the boom. They said he ignored warning after warning from the Reserve Bank about inflation. They said, basically, he was hopeless.
Yet, now he's a genius and we need to give him this job.
STEPHEN SMITH: We had our criticisms of the Howard/Costello Government's economic policies. But I don't think people dispute the fact that Peter Costello does have ability and he's got relevant experience. So we believe that on merit it's a decent appointment.
LAURIE OAKES: Well, he's hopeless one minute, he's a decent appointment the next. Doesn't this expose the hypocrisy of politics and politicians?
STEPHEN SMITH: What it does do and what it shows, I think Laurie, is it is possible after someone completes their time in Parliament or in a Government, that you can look at these things objectively and dispassionately and it's not inappropriate for someone who does have ability to serve.
This is a national interest job. I don't think anyone has ever doubted, irrespective of differences of policy or politics, that people like Mr Costello, or for example, Mr Nelson, or indeed Mr Beazley, won't put the national interest first when they're asked to do these jobs after their time as Ministers and in the Parliament.
So, we think he'll make a contribution and we think he'll serve that and play that national interest task.
LAURIE OAKES: Well, you mentioned Kim Beazley's going to Washington. Apart from him, all the jobs for the boys have gone to people in the Coalition side. You're aware, aren't you, of growing resentment in the ALP about that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Kim Beazley was a very fine appointment. And the Prime Minister's made it clear that, irrespective of past Parliamentary or Government service, that won't disqualify you. The Prime Minister, quite rightly, wants to make appointments on merit. He wants to find the best people for the best particular jobs. We believe that Mr Nelson...
LAURIE OAKES: So all the best people are on the Coalition side?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, it's a matter of horses for courses, Laurie. It's a matter of the best people for particular jobs.
Mr Nelson was very appropriately suited to the Brussels job because of his experience as a Defence Minister and the importance of NATO to that job. So, it doesn't mean that just because you happen to be a former Member of Parliament that you get special treatment, nor does it mean that you're disqualified.
We like to make these appointments, and we do make these appointments, on merit and we try and make sure that the person appointed is the best available person for the job. That applies irrespective of politics.
LAURIE OAKES: And there's no resentment in the Labor Party about that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, there are always views in the Labor Party about who should be appointed where. One thing I am absolutely sure of is that there was rejoicing in the Labor Party at Kim Beazley's appointment because that was seen to be a most appropriate appointment.
LAURIE OAKES: A one off.
STEPHEN SMITH: I wouldn't describe it in that way. It's, in very many respects, one of our most important diplomatic appointments. He was uniquely qualified for that job and the best person available and that's why we appointed him.
LAURIE OAKES: Well, I won't embarrass you any more over this. So, we'll move onto asylum seekers...
Nine Network political editor Laurie Oakes interviewing Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, "Today on Sunday", 1 November 2009