9 November 2017




SABRA LANE: Penny Wong was at yesterday’s meeting. She’s Labor’s Senate Leader and the party’s Foreign Affairs spokeswoman. Senator Wong good morning. You just heard the Prime Minister. Why didn’t Labor bring any suggestions to that meeting?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good morning to you and can I just say, the petulance the Prime Minister has demonstrated this morning really is an embarrassing thing for the office. What we do know from what has occurred over the last 24 hours is this; we know that this is a Government falling apart at the seams. We have two different Cabinet leaks which confirm the Prime Minister himself wanted a stronger test than the one he proposed.

Now, Labor’s position publicly has been very clear and I articulated our initial response on the day he released his so-called plan. And those were the concerns we brought to the meeting and that Bill has been consistent on. We want, first, stronger disclosure, a disclosure regime that doesn’t water down the High Court test, and second, we want a shorter timeframe. The Prime Minister has not explained why he wants a timeframe that kicks it down the track. He has not explained why it is so difficult for MPs and Senators to disclose on the date that Bill Shorten has proposed, as he said, December the first. And the Prime Minister continues to argue either to kick it down the track or to spend an enormous amount of money bringing Parliament back in order to deal with this. There is no reason for that to occur.

LANE: Is Labor serious about being bipartisan on this? Does the party want a quick solution? In the eyes of the voters the whole Parliament is under a cloud and the public regards the whole body politic as a circus.

WONG: Of course we want an agreement on this. That is why we went to the meeting. That is why we said we would be constructive. That is why we have proposed to the Prime Minister and his office the changes to the regime, or the plan that he proposed.

But, you know, it is disappointing to see the petulance that has been on display, from, really, a man who, I know a lot of Australians used to have a lot of regard for, now I think is demonstrating that he is simply diminished and desperate, and that is Mr Turnbull.

LANE: Should MPs provide documents showing proof they are not eligible for dual citizenships if their parents are born overseas?

WONG: This goes to the point we have been raising, that the original plan Mr Turnbull released didn’t have sufficient details around disclosure. For example, it doesn’t include grandparents and as you know, we have found out is that there are a range of citizenships which or may not be inherited from a grandparent. So that is a manifest failure or manifest space, I suppose, omission, in the proposal that Mr Turnbull has put forward.

But let’s be clear, leaving aside the petulance we have seen from Mr Turnbull this morning, we are serious about trying to get an agreement. What we want is a stronger regime and we also want a timeframe that is sensible. Why should Australians pay more money for Parliament to return because Mr Turnbull wants to delay consideration of this? Something he has never explained.

LANE: Labor has, at least three MPs that might have issues here – Susan Lamb, Josh Wilson and Justine Keay. What process and legal advice does the party have to check their legality?

WONG: I can say this as someone who has been through this vetting process on a number of occasions, we have a thorough vetting process. We have a vetting process whereby candidates are checked and we have confidence that that vetting process has ensured that our people are eligible to sit in this Parliament.

LANE: In Justine Keay’s case, while she renounced her citizenship before polling, confirmation, she says, didn’t come until after the election and that didn’t happen at the time of nomination, which is the law. She appears to be in breach of the Constitution?

WONG: That isn’t the case and there are a whole range of facts in relation to a number of MPs. When the disclosure regime is put in place, it will be clear that the appropriate steps were taken in accordance with the law to ensure that Labor MPs are eligible to sit in the house.

Can I just make this point – Mr Turnbull wants to try to start throwing stones at others to desperately avoid scrutiny of his own people, where to my understanding there are a number of their people who are simply not saying that they did anything. So they have an issue with potential dual citizenship, but haven’t done anything about it. Now he wants to criticise Justine and others who actually took appropriate steps. It is a very inverse way of dealing with this.

LANE: When will the parties, major parties, agree on dates to sort this out?

WONG: That’s a matter for Mr Turnbull. We’ve made clear our position. Bill made it clear again this morning in the media, I understand, that we’re not going to be moving from the December first date and I think that is consistent with what Australians want. Australians want this dealt with. They don’t want to have to pay a lot of money for MPs and Senators to come back and for the Parliament to sit to suit Mr Turnbull’s political time frame.

He hasn’t explained why he wants to come back. I can only assume he is worried about making sure that the by-election in New England is resolved before he has the Parliament returned so he can shore up his numbers. That’s not a good reason to ask Australians to pay many dollars of their own money to deal with his lack of leadership.

LANE: Senator Wong, quickly, this new push for a different private member’s bill on same-sex marriage, is Labor prepared to look at that or stick with Dean Smith’s bill?

WONG: We are not prepared to look at another delaying and blocking tactic from the same people who have opposed equality every single step of the way.

Let’s be very clear Sabra, if the survey is a Yes, Australians are not going to tolerate this group of MPs and Senators blocking progress again. If the No case loses the survey they need to get over it and they need to get out of the way

LANE: Penny Wong thank you very much for joining AM this morning

WONG: Good to speak with you.