7 April 2014




MARIUS BENSON, PRESENTER: Penny Wong, good morning.

PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good morning. It’s good to be with you.

BENSON: Good to have you. Beginning with the trade agreements, Labor was working towards these free trade agreements itself for six years. The Government now seems close to them. Do you back the Government in these negotiations?

WONG: We back good trade outcomes for Australia; that means more jobs and sustained prosperity into the future. That’s why we worked very hard not only on trade but also on Australia in the Asian Century and deeper economic engagement with our region.  But they have to be the right trade deals. They have to be high quality agreements; they have to be agreements that deliver real outcomes to Australian firms and Australian industries, particularly in the context of Japan, our beef producers. What we don’t want is a focus on getting trade agreements for Tony Abbott’s trophy cabinet which aren’t the, aren’t the best trade agreements the country can get.

BENSON: You’re reserving judgment pending the detail –

WONG: I think a trade agreement is as good as the outcomes for Australian firms and for key industries. Obviously, as has been widely reported, the Japanese are holding out when it comes to beef. I think there was an outcome in Korea that got a reasonable position for our beef producers. If that position in any Japanese deal that Tony Abbott signs up to is worse than what he got in the Korean deal I think he has some explaining to do.

BENSON: The Prime Minister will today in Japan become the first foreign leader to address Japan’s National Security Council. It’s also being reported that Japan and Australia are expected to sign a deal to jointly develop military equipment. Do you think that is the right way to go? Or is that going to upset Chinese sensibilities?

WONG: I think that we need strong relationships, broad relationships that go to all aspects of engagement with both China and Japan. That’s certainly the approach Labor took in Government. You might recall Prime Minister Gillard was successful in achieving a strategic dialogue with China, which was a very significant diplomatic advance enabling annual leader to leader discussions, as well as Treasurer and Trade Minister discussions on an annual basis. We need strong relationships with China and with Japan.

BENSON: Can I go to domestic politics. In September last year Labor recorded what is described as its worst vote in WA since 1949 with a primary vote of 26%. At the weekend that went down another 5%. Why such a disastrous result?

WONG: I’ll make a couple of comments about the Senate election in Western Australia. First, obviously we’re still hoping Louise Pratt will be returned. She has made an outstanding contribution to Labor in the Senate and as Senate Leader I’m hoping that she can get over the line.

I’d also make the point that Tony Abbott suffered a bigger swing away from him than the Opposition, and I think that does say something about the wariness that many Australians hold about Mr Abbott. Having said that, there’s no running away from it, this is a disappointing result for the Labor Party, and we need to take a good hard look at our result across the country and in WA last year, and also at this election.

BENSON: To what extent was the bad result the result of the one person who has succeeded in the Senate for Labor: [Joe] Bullock. He’s your only WA Senator now. Four months ago gave a speech in which he admitted he hadn’t always voted Labor, that the party – the Labor Party was full of mad people, that working families didn’t trust it, and then he questioned the sexual preferences of the number two candidate Louise Pratt. How damaging was that?

WONG: I think Joe made some comments about that and apologised for some of those comments which were made some time ago, and I’ll leave it at that –

BENSON: November.

WONG: What I would say is we’ve got to look forward and we’ve also got to recognise that the problems we face as a party are not about one individual, they’re about are our party not only reaches out to more people, not only ensures that we have more involvement from our membership in pre-selections – which was one of the drivers around the change in the leadership ballot – but we also need to look at how we communicate and what policies we put on the table when it comes to voters. We’ve got a result in WA that does require us to look very hard at a whole range of matters and have a conversation within the Labor Party about how we improve our performance in Western Australia.

BENSON: On Party reform, Bill Shorten has issued the text of a speech in which he calls for reforms including dropping the requirement that ALP political members be union members. Do you support that?

WONG: I do and I think it’s one of many issues that we need to look at. We have to build a bigger party, we have to build a more engaged party. We have to bring more people not only into the Labor Party but more broadly into the labour movement as our supporters and we have to look at ways in which we do that.

Now I’m sure there will be a lot of discussion about some of the options that we should look at. There will be a proper contest of ideas – that’s a good thing. But fundamentally I believe this country is far better for Labor governments and for strong Labor governments and a strong labour movement, and now is the time given some of the challenges we face, that we work out, work through, with the community and with our members how we build a stronger party and a stronger movement.

BENSON: Penny Wong, thank you very much.

WONG: Good to speak with you.