E&OE - PROOF ONLY
BENSON: Penny Wong, good morning.
WONG: Good morning, Marius.
BENSON: It was a bit embarrassing for the Government in the House of Reps yesterday when the Opposition managed to produce pamphlets published by the Treasurer and others, referring to the surplus you had achieved. It would have been better for those not to have gone to the printer in retrospect…
WONG: Look, the Government’s been completely upfront about the reasons we’ve made the decision we’ve made, and that’s about protecting jobs and growth. But if you want to talk about embarrassing, Marius, I think the person who should be embarrassed today is Tony Abbott with his plans to make Australians move north and to open up more foreign labour places in the north and to gold-plate infrastructure in the north of Australia while not being able to promise infrastructure in our major cities. I think that’s far more embarrassing…
BENSON: Just to clarify what you’re talking about there for those who haven’t read the Daily Telegraph and other News Limited papers, this is a bit of an Opposition kite being flown suggesting that the tropical north could become an economic powerhouse and the Opposition to achieve that end might provide tax incentives and direct payments. Not a goer in your mind?
WONG: Well, I think that it’s a little bit more than that. It very clearly breaches not only the Constitution, but Mr Abbott’s essentially saying ‘Let’s take jobs out of western Sydney’, ‘Let’s take jobs out of Melbourne’, ‘Let’s force people to move north’, ‘Let’s change our migration policy’. I mean it sounds frankly like something Barnaby Joyce would have dreamed up.
BENSON: Alright, let me leave that there because it’s not an official Opposition policy as I say…
WONG: Hang on a sec. I mean, it is true that his ‘Real Solutions’ document that was put out doesn’t read a word of this but that’s simply because Tony Abbot really doesn’t want anybody to know what his plans are. But it’s quite clear from things that Opposition members have said that they do want to do things in the north; they do want to look at things like different taxation arrangements in the north. The issue here is we see what a policy lightweight Mr Abbott really is and this is simply a ridiculous set of propositions which are not only not implementable but they are also unfair.
BENSON: Well, let me ask you not about Opposition policies but Government policies, because you have made it pretty clear that the ‘better off’ superannuation payers are going to be stung in the Budget because you have planned changes to wind back some of the concessions – across $32 billion which is getting on to ten per cent of your budget; that’s the cost of the current concessions. The Opposition says your conducting class warfare. Are you happy to wear that label?
WONG: I always find it interesting that whenever anything that might look like a bit of fairness in the system is proposed, Tony Abbott immediately uses the words ‘class warfare’. You might recall he’s used that before. I think the class warfare that’s being waged is things like increasing taxation on low income workers which the Coalition has pledged to do should they win government. They will wind back the tax breaks where we’re giving workers – a third of Australia’s workers who are on low incomes – we’re giving tax breaks on their superannuation and Tony Abbott made quite clear at the Press Club that he’ll wind that back. I think that’s class warfare.
BENSON: So you think he’s…
WONG: In terms of the proposition’s you’ve raised, obviously we don’t get into ‘rule in, rule out’ in pre-Budget periods and apparently that’s started in February already.
BENSON: That’s okay, your intentions are fairly clear…
WONG: I don’t get into what the Government may or may not do. What I would say is this on superannuation: Labor built the superannuation system. We want it to be strong, we want it to be sustainable, we want it to be fair, and we want to ensure it continues to enable working Australians to save for their retirement in the decades ahead. We built this system over the opposition of people like John Howard and Tony Abbott.
BENSON: But it sounds like you are in agreement with the Opposition, at least to the extent that you think they’re conducting class warfare, they think you’re conducting class warfare; you’re after the rich, they’re after the poor. That’s the line being put out by each side.
WONG: Well, I’m not into warfare. I’m into looking at the federal budget and working out what is the best way to ensure that prosperity is shared; what’s the best mix of policies to ensure we have a fair and prosperous Australia in the years ahead. And the point I’m making is I don’t think there is either an economic nor other policy rationale for saying to a third of Australia’s workers we’re going to increase the taxes on your superannuation, and that’s precisely what Tony Abbott is doing.
BENSON: Penny Wong, thank you very much.
WONG: Good to speak with you.