E&OE - PROOF ONLY
BENSON: Penny Wong, good morning. Tony Abbott yesterday was making the point that it is just 50 days until the Budget is brought down by you and the other finance ministers in the Labor Government. A specific issue: superannuation. You’re believed to have super in your sights as a source of revenue. The Prime Minister has said super is a precious Labor creation but she’s only ruled out new taxes on withdrawals of super. Still open is the prospect of cutting back concessions for people with super. Should they be worried?
WONG: In the lead up to a Budget, Marius, and I think you and I have had this conversation in previous years, there’s always a round of speculation, a lot of stories in the newspaper. On budget night many of them will turn out to be wrong. That’s almost inevitable.
When it comes to superannuation I’d say this: we are the Party that built superannuation. The Labor Party created the superannuation system in this country – at the time, over the opposition of John Howard and the Liberal Party. And we are adding and building on that achievement for Australians by the increase in the superannuation guarantee charge from 9 to 12 per cent.
If Tony Abbott’s so concerned about superannuation, he could explain to all the low income Australians why his policy is to ensure they get a tax hike on their superannuation. The millions of people who would get benefit from the Government’s tax breaks on low income superannuation – why is it that Tony Abbott would reverse that should he become Prime Minister?
BENSON: Is the superannuation set up, as it now exists, fair or does it favour the better off?
WONG: Hang on, I think, Marius, you’re going to draw me into Budget speculation by that question. I think -
BENSON: Well that’s well short of Budget speculation. It’s just an assessment of the existing system.
WONG: Well as I said, Treasury’s published the tax expenditure statements and you’ll see some benefits accrue more to very high income earners. But I don’t think that’s the key issue. The key issue is to consider what do we need to ensure a stronger and more sustainable superannuation system?
BENSON: Government ministers say they don’t play rule in, rule out games before the Budget but, in fact, they do. Wayne Swan ruled out any increase in income tax in the Budget. Can you rule out any removal of tax concessions for superannuation in the Budget?
WONG: Marius, you and I have I think danced this dance over a few years, haven’t we?
BENSON: Yeah but Wayne Swan when he dances, sometimes agrees to rule things out. Can you rule that one out?
WONG: Well I’m a different sort of dancer, clearly.
WONG: You and I have done this dance before, I think almost every Budget update and Budget. And you know I don’t intend to do that.
BENSON: You have to find a lot of money in the Budget to pay for NDIS, the Disability Insurance Scheme, and the Gonski reforms. Joe Hockey yesterday was calling for you to set out full funding. Can you say what the cost of those schemes per year is?
WONG: These are issues we’re considering in the context of the Budget. The Prime Minister made very clear at the Press Club earlier this year that we recognise these are significant spends. These are programs which are important for Australia’s future.
I think if Joe Hockey really cares about Budget figures he might remedy his last effort in the election where he was found to have a multi-billion dollar black hole that he tried to hide from the Australian people.
BENSON: Julia Gillard has said she was appalled by the events of last week. The voters, according to Newspoll at least, seem to be equally appalled. Are you surprised by the low polling figures for Labor today?
WONG: No I’m not. I think if you have a week like we had, where you’re clearly focused on your internals and not focused on doing what’s best for Australians, then the voters will indicate their view about that and I share their view.
BENSON: The Prime Minister has indicated that those issues have now been resolved. Do you believe all Labor’s woes were caused by Kevin Rudd’s position?
WONG: I don’t believe any political party can present anything other than a united front in Government or in opposition. And we didn’t do our Labor tradition proud last week. It’s time to put that behind us. There are a lot of important things the Government has done and we need to build on that between now and the election.
BENSON: Did the appalling events go beyond the simple leadership tensions and include the untidiness over the media laws, for example?
WONG: Look, let me say this: it was not the best week the Government’s ever had. And I think that’s self-evident on a whole range of fronts. But it’s past us and it’s behind us. I’m very focused, as the Minister for Finance, on doing what I need to do, which is to work with Wayne Swan to put the Budget together in pretty challenging circumstances.
BENSON: Penny Wong, thank you very much.
WONG: Good to speak with you.