2 November 2011




TONY EASTLEY: Senator Wong is speaking here to our chief political correspondent Sabra Lane.

LANE: Penny Wong, thanks for joining us.

WONG: Good to be with you.

LANE: You need the support of four out of six of the crossbenchers in the Lower House to support the Minerals Resources Rent Tax through.

Tony Windsor says he won’t support it until the issues around coal seam gas are resolved, and he wants a moratorium on further exploration until the results of independent research are in. Will the Government agree?

WONG: We will keep talking to Mr Windsor and the other crossbenchers to obtain the passage of this bill because it’s very important legislation. This is about securing the benefits of the boom for all Australians.

We are in the middle of a boom. We are seeing a lot of resources being exported. But we know one thing about this – you can only dig them up once. And it’s very important that we spread the benefits of the boom and that’s what the Government’s package does.

LANE: Well, what about his concerns that he’s linking this to coal seam gas and he wants a moratorium on further exploration? Will the Government entertain that?

WONG: These are discussions which are ongoing. The Prime Minister’s made clear that obviously generally these things are dealt with by state governments. But we are very clear that this is important legislation for the nation.

It’s important for the future of the nation. So that we secure the benefits of the boom, spread the benefits of the boom for all Australians. We know that you can only dig these things up once and it’s very important that we are able to put forward our company tax cuts funded by this – our benefits for small business, and of course, superannuation for all workers.

LANE: This will be flicked off to a parliamentary inquiry probably, or two, maybe. How do you expect that you will get the numbers in the Lower House, because you’ve got none of the support yet from the cross bench?

WONG: Well I recall people saying that about Prime Minister Gillard working through the clean energy package, that it would be almost impossible for her to secure agreement between people from Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott to Bob Brown. She did manage to pull together a parliamentary majority on that piece of legislation and that’s gone through the Lower House.

We’ll continue to work on this and it’s very important that the Parliament looks, I think, to the national interest here and remembers the time in history where we are – in the middle of a boom. But we know booms never last forever. That’s why we’ve got to get legislation through that gets a better share of the proceeds of the boom for all Australians.

LANE: To the cut in official interest rates. Two of the big four banks are yet to announce when and if they’ll pass it on in full. Has anyone picked up the phone to the ANZ’s Mike Smith and the National Australia Bank’s Cameron Clyne to find out why they haven’t passed it on and when they will?

WONG: I have no doubt there’s always ongoing dialogue between the banks and the Government but I would commend those banks which have come out and indicated they will pass the rate on in full.

Obviously this is a very good result for Australians with mortgages and businesses. Average mortgages will save around $50 a month. That’s very welcome and it’s something that’s been able to occur because the Government has ensured that the bank has space to move given our very clear fiscal consolidation strategy.

LANE: The bank is always quick to pass on an increase.

WONG: Well yes, and what I’d say is this, that there is no excuse for no bank failing to pass on the full decrease that the Reserve Bank has put in place.

LANE: It’s been reported in Fairfax today that a Qantas spokesman told Anthony Albanese on the 21st of October – so more than a week before the grounding of the company’s fleet – that that option was a real possibility. Could it be that the Government was told but you thought this was a game of bluff?

WONG: Well, let’s be very clear about what’s being said here and what has occurred.

It is true that grounding of planes was occurring as a result of engineer industrial action. I think some seven planes had already been grounded.

That is a very different proposition to an employer locking out every pilot, every flight attendant, every baggage handler, and every person on the check in counter, which is what Qantas proposed to do. It is a very different proposition to ground the fleet because you are locking out your entire workforce and the Government was not told prior to the Saturday of that proposition.

But what is interesting is the way in which Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have dodged this question. When were they first told about the prospect of a lockout? A lockout of all employees. I noticed yesterday on 7.30 Report Mr Hockey again tried to fudge that question.

LANE: So why do you think Qantas is saying this information?

WONG: I think Mr Albanese’s made very clear it is the case that there was grounding of planes. I think he said some seven planes as a result of industrial action.

That is a very different thing to locking out the entire workforce. The equivalent on the side of the worker would be everybody working for Qantas saying ‘We’re not going in today. We’re refusing to fly planes, we’re refusing to handle baggage, we’re refusing to check people in, we’re refusing to work on planes as flight attendants’. And if that had occurred, the Government would have been equally critical of the people engaged in that kind of extreme industrial action.

LANE: So you’re saying that this is a lie, that Qantas is rewriting history?

WONG: I’m saying that it’s very important that when people talk about grounding, they are clear about the distinction between grounding as a result of engineer industrial action and grounding as a result of an employer making a unilateral decision to lock out its entire workforce and ground the entire fleet.

EASTLEY: The Finance Minister Penny Wong speaking to chief political correspondent Sabra Lane.