31 July 2015




JANE AAGAARD: Joining me on the line now, we have a very special guest, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Penny Wong, and I believe she’s got somebody else helping her this morning. Good morning Senator Wong.


SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good morning. I don’t know if she’s helping me, at the moment she’s quiet on my shoulder. Hannah is three and a half months old and I’m on duty this morning. So, if you hear a gurgle, that’s why.


AAGAARD: That sounds fabulous, congratulations for that.


WONG: Thank you.


AAGAARD: So last week we saw the 47th ALP National Conference in Melbourne. What actually is a National Conference, for listeners?


WONG: That’s a very good question. It’s the supreme decision making body of the Labor Party and it comprises of hundreds of delegates from all over the country, from the Territories and States. And we come together to discuss the National Platform and there’s a lot of work that goes into that beforehand, a lot of discussion about what should be in there in terms of the economy and jobs, climate change, trade, all sorts of issues, and we also debate our rules.


There are some really big steps forward, I think we have a really strong economic platform, we had good progress on women’s representation, we had announcements on climate change and the importance of the Renewable Energy Target and of course we also debated marriage equality, and of course refugees. It was a very robust debate, we’re the only political party that’s prepared to do it in the glare of the public eye, but I think our party is stronger for it.


AAGAARD: So, this platform then becomes the policies for the next election, is that right?


WONG: That’s right, it’s the foundation for the policies for the next election. Obviously the policies you actually take are based on the platform, are more detailed, so you need for example, costings and how you are going to fund things and how you are going to implement them. But the broad principles about greater focus on the jobs of the future, a stronger health system and a stronger education system, is important not just for opportunity, but also for our economy. Those are the sorts of things which we made sure were in our platform and which will absolutely be central to Labor’s campaign for the next election.


AAGAARD: So in relation to women, the quota has increased to 50 per cent, is that correct?


WONG: That’s right, 50 per cent by 2025, and equally importantly stronger mechanisms to ensure we actually deliver that. So this isn’t just a chat about 50 per cent, it’s actually let’s put in place stronger mechanisms to ensure the Party actually gets there. And really stands in stark contrast, I think, to the Liberals, who seem to really have an aversion to both preselecting women and certainly putting women into their Cabinet. And we’ve seen Liberal women nationally in recent days become quite critical of their own party for failing to recognise they’ve got a problem with it comes to women’s representation.

AAGAARD: There are actually challenges, I think, for women becoming Members of Parliament. As you may know, I’m a former Member of Parliament and Speaker myself. There are definitely challenges and it’s, from my perspective, particularly in the Territory, very male dominated area. What’s been your experience?


WONG: It certainly is a pretty tough environment. I think it has been of benefit to me, and I think to many women inside the Party, to have more Labor women come into the Parliament. We’ve now got over 40 per cent, 43 per cent, almost double what the Liberals have. And having more women in the room not only reflects the society that we represent, the community we represent, but also does help change some of the dynamics which you are referencing.


There’s no doubt there’s a really blokey culture in the Liberal Party and you don’t need to listen to me, I think you can listen to Sharman Stone and other Liberal women, who said that we’ve got a problem, we’re simply not preselecting women and even when we’re preselecting them we’re not promoting them.


AAGAARD: Of course a Liberal woman who is in the media a lot is Speaker Bronwyn Bishop.


WONG: One Speaker to another.


AAGAARD: That’s right. A fascinating story as an ex-Speaker, I’d have to say. What are you making of all that?

WONG: I have to say, when the story first broke about the helicopter, like most Australians I thought it was a dreadful abuse of entitlement. But I was actually quite shocked that she actually could think that that was an appropriate thing to do. I’ve driven the Melbourne Geelong road a few times during campaigns and as a minister and it’s hardly the sort of trip you need a helicopter for.


But I think the issue here is the Prime Minister. We’ve seen senior Liberals walk away from Mrs Bishop and what we’ve continued to see is the person who made the captain’s call to make her the Speaker, which is the Prime Minister of Australia, has continued to back her in, which I think really does say something about the extent to which he is not in touch with how most people feel.


There have been few issues in recent times which have generated such public comment and so much response from Australians and it’s perfectly understandable. People raise it with me all the time as I’m going through airports. I was back in Adelaide yesterday and I went to the market to get some food for the family and people were raising it with me in the fishmongers. Tony really needs to understand Australians are rightly angry about this and I suspect they’re going to continue to be angry with his failure to take action.

AAGAARD: I think also the political nature of Mrs Bishop, sort of the commentary she makes. We don’t hear anything, for example, from the President of the Senate, which is exactly the same position, but in the Senate. He seems to be a person who is doing his job very well and a Liberal Party member.

WONG: You’ve been a former Speaker, and she certainly takes a very overtly partisan role to a job where generally people have toned it down. The ideal may well be that you have a truly independent Speaker, which was one of the things discussed previously in the House of Representatives, but she takes a very partisan role both in the House and more generally. And as you said, the Senate President, he doesn’t. He plays it must more straight. And I think people have really noted the hyperpartisanship of Mrs Bishop.

AAGAARD: Just finally, statehood is on the agenda here Northern Territory again and you may be aware that at COAG the Prime Minister, with our Chief Minister Adam Giles, has said that the Northern Territory will be a State on 1 July 2018. What’s the Labor Party’s position on this?


WONG: My view is, I’d always be guided by my Northern Territory colleagues. We’ve got very strong representatives both in the Territory itself, but also in the Federal Parliament representing the Territory, so Warren Snowdon obviously, Senator Nova Peris, both are doing a great job for the Territory, and of course Luke Gosling, who is our candidate for Solomon. That’s something I’d be taking counsel from them. Ultimately, I suppose, it’s a matter for the people of the Northern Territory if that’s the way they want to go. It certainly, COAG as you said, had a conversation about that and a discussion about that, but ultimately it’s a matter for the people of the Territory.

AAGAARD: Look, thank you very much for joining us this morning, Senator Wong.


WONG: Good to speak with you.