7 March 2012




BENSON: Penny Wong, the Federal Government moved yesterday to build its relations with business. Is it fair to say that you need to repair relations to some extent? Business is not happy with Labor, particularly just over recent days, with the Treasurer’s attack on resources magnates.

WONG: I think we’ve worked very closely with the business community on many policies. We may not always agree; sometimes the dialogue is robust. But there is a dialogue, and I think what we understand, and what business leaders understand, is you have to have that robust dialogue if you want to ensure you look to the national interest and implement the right policies.

BENSON: Are you concerned that the Treasurer might have offended business with his remarks about the magnates?

WONG: I think the Treasurer is quite rightly saying that if people want to engage in a policy debate about national interest matters then they need to look to the national interest, not to vested interests.

BENSON: Gina Rinehart, the West Australian magnate and Australia’s richest person, is reportedly – she was visiting yesterday the Fairfax board, the newspaper board, yesterday – and she is reportedly seeking a position on the Fairfax board. How do you feel about her having a seat on one of two newspaper companies in the country?

WONG: That’s a matter for her, but what I would say about Ms Rinehart is I think everybody knows that her position on the mining tax – and she’s entitled to put it – but her position is not motivated, or is not about what’s in the national interest. It’s what’s in her business interest. And as I’ve said, she’s entitled to put it, and the Government is entitled to say that what we have to look at is what’s in the interests of all Australians. We support the mining tax, because it’s about making sure that we spread the benefits of the boom, lower the company tax rate across the country, and ask miners to pay more tax to fund it. This is a good policy, and a policy that will ensure that we can manage the changing economy that we’ve seen.

BENSON: Joe Hockey, the Shadow Treasurer, in a speech today to the Sydney Business Chamber – he’s promising to cut red tape by $1 billion a year. He’s also talking about workplace relations, and saying it’s clear your Government, the Labor Government’s changes to industrial relations, have made the system less flexible and more bound by regulations.

WONG: A couple of comments on that. First, on industrial relations, when Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party talk about flexibility when it comes to the labour market what they’re talking about is lower wages and conditions. And we saw that with WorkChoices. Full stop.

The second thing I’d say on deregulation is look at what the Liberals do rather than what they say. John Howard promised in 1997 that he would cut business red tape by 50 per cent in his first term of government. Didn’t happen. They commissioned a review in government on deregulation and it recommended a number of things. Guess which government is implementing them? This government, our Government.

We’re the ones implementing things like payroll tax harmonisation. We’re the ones working to harmonise occupational health and safety reforms recommended twice to the Howard Government, but never delivered. And then yesterday, we saw the Prime Minister say ‘I want to invite business leaders into the Council of Australian Governments process to push along deregulation, because I understand we get productivity benefits of billions of dollars a year, with less cost to business’. And that’s good for all Australians.

BENSON: Can I get you to respond to some criticisms of economic management by Labor from another quarter, which is Warwick McKibbin, who was a Reserve Bank Board member for six years I think, and a fairly substantial figure in economic circles. He says Wayne Swan, the Treasurer, is destroying the fabric of good economic policy in Australia. He goes on to say he’s incapable of accepting criticism.

WONG: I don’t agree with him. What I’d say about this Treasurer is he’s the Treasurer that steered the economy through the largest global downturn since the global depression – the global financial crisis. A Treasurer under whom we’ve seen continued growth, despite the global economic circumstances. Low unemployment, low debt, and inflation in the target band. And a Treasurer who is putting in place policies bitterly opposed by the Liberal Party, which are all about the jobs of the future. So I think it is most unfair, that criticism.

BENSON: Penny Wong, thank you very much.

WONG: Good to speak with you.