8 December 2017




EMMA ALBERICI: For more on the historic day, I was joined from Canberra by Opposition Senate Leader and Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong.

Penny Wong, congratulations on everything you’ve done thus far to get to this point.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Oh, what a day, it’s just a wonderful day.

ALBERICI: How does it feel?

WONG: I just feel elated actually. Really, really happy, and it probably hasn’t quite sunk in, but Australians have been fantastic. I know I said on the day of the survey thank you Australia. I really mean it. The Australian people led our Parliament and finally today the Parliament delivered. We shouldn’t have had to go through the process and do all of that but what a wonderful day.

ALBERICI: Are your children old enough to understand the significance of today?

WONG: I think Alexandra is, our 5-year-old who’s turning six in a few days’ time. I think she does. She always asks me, “Does he support marriage equality? Does Tony Abbott support marriage equality?” I said no.

ALBERICI: Well, he voted yes yesterday.

WONG: Well, he did so I can tell her yes now.

ALBERICI: Have you and Sophie begun making plans to — plans to marry?

WONG: I can’t believe you’re asking me that.

ALBERICI: Now like the rest of us you get that same question.

WONG: We’ve been together – it will be 11 years soon, so, two kids…

ALBERICI: Don’t want to rush into things.

WONG: Yeah, don’t want to rush into things.

ALBERICI: Now, Tony Abbott, speaking of which, he spoke of his disappointment with this bill. On freedom of religion, he says a promise was made but it wasn’t adequately delivered. How do you assuage the concerns of people like him?

WONG: I don’t necessarily accuse all who voted for the amendments of this, but a lot of people raising religious freedom concerns I think were people who were very strongly advocating a no vote so I think some of them had those intentions.

But there are people who are genuinely concerned and what I would say to them is this bill doesn’t constrain your religious freedom, it respects it. It works within Australia’s anti-discrimination laws. Nothing in this bill requires churches to recognise marriages or conduct ceremonies for marriages, where they don’t agree, ie same-sex marriages, and it preserves the right of religious institutions to make their own views, to make their own internal laws around marriage.

So it does preserve freedom of religion. What it does say is that we’re going to end discrimination, and we have ended it. We have ended it.

ALBERICI: And yet – you know, I don’t want to take anything away from the celebration of today.

WONG: Are you going to be a dark cloud now, Emma?

ALBERICI: I just want to know, did it shock you, after everything that’s gone on over this past decade and longer, to hear Bob Katter stand up in the Parliament and accuse gay people of spreading AIDS among children with their donations of blood. He also said people are genetically programmed to be heterosexual and that the LGBTI community had only appeared in the past 40 years.

WONG: Well, we know none of those things are true.

You know what I think? Someone asked me today, “Did you ever think you’d get here?” And I said, “Yes. It might have taken a little longer than I would have hoped.” She asked why. And I said there’s nothing as strong as a good idea. You know, a compelling principle ultimately will win out and there was no argument really against this legislation that could hold. And I think the greatest demonstration of that was the survey result and the majority of the Australian people saying yes.

ALBERICI: Penny Wong, tonight is historic for another reason, of course, because it’s the end of Lateline. We have a clip from your first appearance on this program from 2005. You were employment spokesperson in Opposition and you were in a Friday debate with Maxine McKew and Andrew Robb who was a backbencher back then. Let’s take a look.

WONG: (2005) What we have is a massive tax cut for Australians earning over $125,000 a year and a slap in the face for the rest of Australia.

ROBB: I don’t think Penny heard what I was saying about 60% of all families get more back in benefits now than they pay in tax.

ALBERICI: Penny Wong, the most remarkable thing about that clip is not how you haven’t aged a bit…

WONG: Oh, I have aged a lot but that’s very sweet of you.

ALBERICI: But that we are talking about the same issues 12 years later!

WONG: I think it’s a sad day, and I want to say this. Our democracy depends on many things. But one of the things it really does depend on is making sure people like me are held accountable by people like you, and that we’re not able to simply get away with lines. We’re not able to simply control the story.

We have to be accountable to the Australian people. The public policy debate, the national debate is better for long-form interviews where we are pushed and where we are probed on what we’re asserting. It’s also an opportunity for us to actually articulate what we believe in. I hope that the national broadcaster, the public broadcaster, will continue to recognise how important this sort of journalism is to the country.

So thank you, although sometimes I have haven’t liked your questions or your predecessors. I want to thank you and your team for what you have done because I think it is a service to the nation.

ALBERICI: Thank you very much. Do you have any particular…

WONG: Bad memories?

ALBERICI: They don’t have to be bad memories, any particularly standout memories from your time on Lateline?

WONG: I remember that first one. I was incredibly nervous and also I think my flight had been delayed so I was late to the pre-record and Maxine McKew was very grumpy with me, so I do remember that one. There you go.

ALBERICI: You don’t want the presenter to be grumpy with you. It’s not a good start.

WONG: I don’t know how well it went, to be honest with you, but I learnt a lot doing interviews like this. As I said, I think really it’s important for the democracy.

ALBERICI: What do you – what’s your reflection on Lateline as a program? What did it mean to you?

WONG: It is one of the shows where you have to prep a lot and where you know you’re going to be pressed on policy issues in a way that you might not be in some other forums.

Although that’s hard sometimes, I do think, as our public policy problems get harder as the world gets more complicated and as Australians demand a higher standard of debate, that’s a very important medium for people.

ALBERICI: Well, I thank you very much for all the times you’ve come on Lateline and supported the show, and congratulations again for what you’ve achieved in this very historic moment in the Parliament.

WONG: Well, we have achieved it together but thanks very much, Emma.