5 December 2011




TONY EASTLEY:  Penny Wong, who is a same-sex relationship and expecting a child, is speaking to our chief political correspondent, Sabra Lane.

WONG: I think Labor governments are reforming governments and we are also a party that is a party of principle. We believe in equality. This has been an issue that has been around for many years.
There are obviously pretty different views in different parts of the party and different parts of the community but I think we took a historic step this weekend and one which is consistent with the best traditions of Labor. As a matter of principle, most Australians would believe that we ought to treat people equally and that’s what we’re doing.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have to go out there and explain to people what our views are. It doesn’t mean we don’t have to campaign and it doesn’t mean we don’t have to advocate for Labor whether it is on this or many other issues.

LANE: Was it a hollow victory? The platform will be changed to recognise same-sex marriage but it is a conscience vote, it doesn’t bind MPs which almost certainly means it won’t get up in Parliament on the current numbers.

WONG: It’s an historic change to the platform and we should recognise that. We’ve never had this equality enshrined in Labor’s platform and we now do. It is the case that a conscience vote has been granted and that reflects the very strongly held views of some people in the party and some people in the federal party.

But in terms of getting it through Parliament, well that’s the next step. The next step in the campaign across the community for marriage equality is a private member’s bill that we will be moving, that Stephen Jones will be moving in the federal Parliament, and what we would say to Liberal Members of Parliament and to the members of the, ordinary rank and file members of the Coalition who support equality, it is time to get behind this.

LANE: Did you celebrate it, have you celebrated, will you celebrate?

WONG: I did go to a celebration for a period of time last night then I went out for a quiet dinner and it was very nice.

LANE: On party reform, many delegates have said that the party absolutely squibbed it on democratisation. Rank and file members will be elected to the next conference but a committee will decide how many are sent. Is that a disappointment? Did the party squib it?

WONG: Well I am sure there is always more that can be done but equally, more was done than could have been. That is always the case at national conferences. My view is that we have to continue to look at ways in which we better engage our membership.

We have taken some important steps at this conference. Online membership, we’ve got the President being elected for three-year term, we’ve got various organisations such as Rainbow Labor and Labor for Refugees and the Labor Environment Network being recognised and given more status within the party structures and that’s a good thing.

We’ve got to work through how we ensure this rank and file delegate process to conference works. I am a supporter of more participation by rank and file delegates and I look forward to the committee doing good work on how we bring that forward for the next conference.

LANE: Lots of things are said in the debate and I’ll just go back to same-sex marriage, your colleagues Deb O’Neill and Helen Polley spoke very strongly on this issue. How can you work alongside them knowing that they’re the views that they put and you’re in a same-sex relationship yourself? Is it the case that you are able to shake hands with them afterwards and say I understand it is not personal? How do you take it?

WONG: Of course I can. I mean I think, we are the Labor Party and we are a party of government and that means there are a diversity of views in our party on many issues just as there are a diversity of views in the community on these issues.

We don’t in the Labor Party just preach to people who agree with us. That is not what parties of government do. Minority parties can do that, they can just talk to people who agree with them. We don’t do that. We have to talk to Australians across the board and convince them as to why what we are saying is the right policy for Australia.

I respect that people have different views, within the party and I actually thought it was a very respectfully conducted debate. I don’t agree with some of the views that were put but I thought people did listen to the Prime Minister in her request for a respectful debate.

EASTLEY: The Finance Minister Penny Wong, speaking to Sabra Lane.