E&OE - PROOF ONLY
O’CONNOR: The Finance Minister Penny Wong joins us now from Adelaide. Penny Wong, many thanks for your time this morning.
WONG: Good to be with you.
O’CONNOR: How do you feel when you get up this morning, and you see the headlines again, Kevin Rudd back on all the front pages and leadership speculation once again to the fore?
WONG: I welcome Kevin making clear what he’s going to do between now and the election day and that is to fight every day for the re-election of a Labor Government.
I thought he put it very well yesterday, that we don’t just fight for ourselves; we fight for the people who put us into Parliament and the people we represent. The 960,000 Australians who have jobs as a result of the economic policies of this Government, the pensioners who’ve had a pension increase as a result of the policies of this Government, and of course all the children across every school in Australia across the whole nation who will get more resourcing for the things they need for a great education if a Labor Government is returned.
O’CONNOR: But isn’t the problem, Penny Wong, that that isn’t what was on the front pages this morning, that was the subtext of what he had to say. But what is, is whether indeed he is now thinking again that he may be the saviour of the Labor Party?
WONG: I take Kevin at his word and I watched that interview and I thought that it was great that he was out there campaigning for Labor. That’s what we all need to do to get out and campaign for the Labor Party. Because the choice at this next election is a choice about the future and it is a choice between a Government that puts jobs and growth, opportunity and fairness first and a man who would take Australia backwards – a man who is a risk to Australia.
O’CONNOR: Do you think it’s… I mean, did you have discussions with Kevin Rudd? Both you and Wayne Swan have been trying to discuss the economy this week and the fact that it has contracted to a degree, that domestic spending is going backwards and discussions as to whether WA the centre of the mining boom is now technically in a recession. Did you have discussions with him as to whether he should be going out and selling this message instead of the two of you?
WONG: I welcome any member of caucus getting out and campaigning for the Labor Party. But can I pick up a couple of things you’ve just said. I don’t think that you should believe everything that the Liberal Party say when it comes to Western Australia. Let’s remember what we have seen in the National Accounts, including for Western Australia, is a solid result. What we’ve seen in the National Accounts is a couple of very good indicators, an increase in exports – that’s a good thing for the nation particularly as we go through this transition in our economy and we’re also seeing improvement in productivity. That’s a good thing. We need to continue to improve our productivity because that’s how we ensure good incomes for all Australians in the years ahead.
O’CONNOR: The reality though is that we’ve seen news about Ford almost daily, we have companies considering their future. Today it was Simplot, whether they are going to cut and close major manufacturing plants. This is a very difficult time for you to be in Government and to be getting that message across that everything is OK.
WONG: This is a challenging time for the Australian economy, there’s no doubt about that. We face those challenges from a position of relative strength, of great resilience, but there are a lot of changes happening. You know we’re seeing changes in terms of what’s happening in mining, we’re seeing changes as a result of the high dollar although that’s come off a bit.
But I can tell you one thing: unlike the Coalition we’re not going to give up on manufacturing, we’re not going to walk away from the auto industry and all the workers who rely on that industry here in Australia. And we’re not going to go down the path of austerity and cutting to the bone which would be a recipe for higher unemployment and lower growth, and that’s the Coalition’s recipe.
O’CONNOR: You’re talking of manufacturing discussions around the car industry today. What do you hope practically to come out of those talks?
WONG: This is an important continued dialogue with the manufacturing sector; it’s a sector that’s undergone a great deal of change. It’s facing a lot of challenges, particularly from the high dollar, although I’m sure they’d welcome some of the movement downward in the dollar we’ve seen recently. And we will work alongside these industries and this workforce because there are many people across Australia whose jobs and livelihoods do depend on governments making the right decisions when it comes to manufacturing.
O’CONNOR: Penny Wong, we’ve seen a lot of attention focused on a number of your members packing up their offices ahead of the last week of Parliament, almost giving up essentially the fight. What is going to be the circuit breaker? It seems that almost everyone has accepted that this is almost going to be a handover to the Coalition, rather than any real battle when it comes to election day.
WONG: When it comes to the future of Australia, none of us should ever lie down and give up. None of us should ever think of anything as other than an absolute fight for the future we want. And as I said at the outset, it’s not just for ourselves, it’s for the people we represent. For the people who need Labor governments to foster opportunity, to ensure there’s fairness. For the people in jobs who would not have been, but for the Labor Government’s policies. For the pensioners who’ve got a pension increase and for all those students across this country who aren’t getting the education they deserve. They are the people we need to fight for. We need to fight every day until the next election.
O’CONNOR: Penny Wong, thank you very much for your time.
WONG: Good to speak with you.