2 May 2012




BENSON: Penny Wong, no move from the big banks yet. Is that delay acceptable?

WONG: I don’t think Australian customers want the banks to hold off on passing through a rate cut. The Reserve Bank acted yesterday – that’s good for households, good for business, and all of us would like the banks to get on with the job.

BENSON: The universal expectation is that the cut will not be the full 50 basis points the Reserve brought in yesterday, but about 35 – about two-thirds. Is that a pass mark?

WONG: My view about this has always been banks have got to do the right thing by their customers. And I think most customers would absolutely expect their banks to pass on the full rate cut. And if they’re not happy, if people aren’t happy with what decision is made by their bank, I’d encourage them to look around. We’ve put a lot of work into increasing competition in this sector and people should look around and make sure they’re getting the best deal they can.

BENSON: But if they all come in around two-thirds, around 35 basis points, there’s not much to look around at.

WONG: I think if you look around there is a fair bit of variation between different institutions. People should look around and make sure they get the best deal they can.

BENSON: The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, was patting himself on the back yesterday, saying it’s the Government’s economic program which has allowed the Reserve to do this, to bring in this cut. Joe Hockey takes a different view; he says it’s more like a vote of no confidence in the economy from the Reserve.

WONG: The only no confidence in the economy is out of the mouths of Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey. And it is a real pity because that isn’t a good thing for the economy. It’s not a good thing for Australians to have the alternative government trash-talking the economy.

BENSON: You and other Government finance and economics spokespeople point to the strength of the economy, the growth figures that Australia is recording, the low unemployment. How is it that you have turned this economic silk purse, in your assessment, into the political sow’s ear which is Labor’s lot at the moment?

WONG: There’s no doubt we’ve got a lot of work to do, we know that. And there’s also no doubt that politics at the moment is pretty willing. Tony Abbott likes a fight and he’s very good at the fight.

BENSON: But you’re losing the fight. You say you’re winning the economic war but you’re losing the political fight. Why that disconnect?

WONG: You know, if I could choose whether or not we had the sorts of figures we’ve seen, of over 750,000 jobs created since we came to government, an economy bigger than when we came to government, interest rates lower than when we came to government then… they are very good results.

Now, we know in terms of the politics we’ve got a fair bit of work to do, but the most important thing to do in politics, in public life, is to deliver good things for the Australian people and that’s what we’re always working towards.

BENSON: Kristina Keneally, the former New South Wales Labor Premier, says the carbon tax is hurting you, it should be reconsidered. That Julia Gillard should think seriously about whether she can revoke it or dial it back – you ‘need a game changer’. Is Kristina Keneally right?

WONG: The carbon price has passed the Parliament; it’s passed the Parliament after many years of political argy bargy. It’s passed the Parliament after John Howard nearly five years ago promised to deliver it. And I think in the years to come people will see how important it is to the long-term health and competitiveness of the Australian economy.

BENSON: Can the carbon tax be changed in the Budget?

WONG: The carbon price has passed the Parliament, and I think it’s been through an exhaustive process. We’re getting on with implementing it.

BENSON: So there’ll be no change on that specific in the Budget?

WONG: I’m in this difficult position where you can’t rule in or rule out in terms of the Budget. But we have made very clear the carbon price has passed the Parliament. And Greg Combet is doing the right thing in terms of making sure that its implementation is as smooth as possible.

As you know we’ve already seen some payments to Australians going out the door, and there’ll be more aspects of the assistance package the Government is providing in the months to come.

BENSON: John Howard says, in his political assessment – and he’s a pretty good political assessor – that Kevin Rudd will return as Labor leader. What do you think of that?

WONG: I don’t take advice from former Liberal Prime Ministers about Labor Party matters. And the Prime Minister has the full support of her caucus and will lead us to the election.

BENSON: Penny Wong, thanks very much.

WONG: Good to speak with you.