E&OE - PROOF ONLY
BENSON: Penny Wong, good morning.
WONG: Good morning, Marius.
BENSON: Can I begin with your thoughts on Margaret Thatcher … did she make an impression on you when you were starting out on your own political road?
WONG: Obviously, she was a highly influential political figure as Britain’s first female prime minister. I, like all other people in the Labor Party, disagreed with her policies, and you can see she remains a polarising and pretty controversial figure, but I think Ed Miliband put it best – he said we can disagree and also greatly respect her political achievements and her personal strength.
BENSON: Okay, to domestic issues, has the Holden management done the wrong thing by Australia’s car workers?
WONG: Yes, well this is a very disappointing decision and our thoughts are with the families of the workers and the workers themselves. It is a very distressing thing for people to have to go through. Obviously, Holden’s made a commercial decision, driven by the appreciation of the dollar – the high dollar – which has made their position much more challenging. The Government’s view, though, is that it’s very important to, first, support those workers – and employment services will be in place to assist them – but, second, to recognise the challenges that the manufacturing sector more broadly faces and to put in place policies to support it.
BENSON: Do you believe Holden has ratted on a deal?
WONG: As I said, it’s a disappointing decision, but the way the Government considers it is that we design our assistance – this is the way Greg Combet has managed this assistance – we’ve designed it to leverage capital investment. The best way to support an ongoing and viable industry is to ensure that the company continues to invest, and that’s what the Government’s policies are about. And can I say, it is in stark contrast to the Opposition who not only want to make political capital out of people losing their jobs, which is disappointing for those families, but want to take $1.5 billion out of the car industry and offer them a review. I mean, that’s hardly going to support employment.
BENSON: What about the Government yourself? Will you review federal assistance given also; Premier Jay Weatherill is saying these people aren’t keeping up their side of the deal?
WONG: Our arrangement is about leveraging investment and Holden is investing over a billion dollars in return for the federal Government’s investment in the industry. We want to see continued capital investment and we want to see continued employment.
BENSON: Tens of thousands of jobs go every year when other people close down their video shops or whatever technology demands changes in the workforce – the trick is to create more jobs not save old ones, is an argument. Do you see validity in that argument? It’s just too expensive keeping these jobs …
WONG: I don’t think anybody could suggest Labor hasn’t put job creation first and foremost. I mean, since we came to Government, over 920,000 jobs have been created. We put in place a stimulus package through the GFC that ensured we continued employment, growth; we averted the disaster of high levels of unemployment and recession that we see in too many other advanced economies. Labor is all about ensuring we continue to have strong employment. What we do have to recognise is that the manufacturing sector is struggling in the face of a high dollar and, whether it’s cars or other aspects of manufacturing, it’s in Australia’s interests to ensure we have a resilient and diversified economic base.
BENSON: Newspoll – a bit better for you. You’re still miles behind. Have you given up hope?
WONG: (laughs) First, you and I have had a lot of discussions about polls and I don’t comment on them. I think it is important in an election year that Tony Abbott starts to become accountable for his plans and he starts to tell people what his policies are. Remember, this is a bloke who, as recently as last week, decided to liken the Government’s approach on superannuation to what was happening in Cyprus. I mean, that is simply economically reckless. It’s not a position that anybody fit for high office would publicly articulate.
BENSON: Penny Wong, thank you.
WONG: Good to be with you.