20 June 2016




MARIUS BENSON: Penny Wong, good morning.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: Good morning Maurice. Good to be with you.

BENSON: Thanks indeed for being here. 50/50 but you are losing in the marginals that matter. Is that a fair reading?

WONG: What I know is that we’re talking about the issues that people care about. Australians care about Medicare, this election will be a referendum on Medicare. It will also be a referendum on funding for schools. The biggest choice in this election is a $50 billion tax cut for big business, most of which will go overseas to foreign shareholders, or having your Medicare protected, having your local school funded properly.

BENSON: Medicare and schools is obviously what the Labor Party wants people to have in their mind when they go into the booth on July 2, but saying that the Government is trying to wreck Medicare, that is simply a scare campaign, surely?

WONG: No, not at all. I think this Government has form and the Liberal Party has form. And this Government has consistently sought to fracture, to undermine, to dismantle Medicare. From the 2014 Budget, when we saw Tony Abbott put in place a GP co-payment, a GP tax, which was stopped by Labor in the Senate. Now we have Malcolm Turnbull trying to do the same thing by stealth by freezing the rebates, forcing GPs to do his dirty work.

We also know that the Liberals have set up a privatisation taskforce, they’re paying consultants to look at privatising the Medicare payments system and we also know they’ve tasked the Productivity Commission to investigate privatisation. Now, you might want to dismiss all that, but I think Australians in their heart of hearts know it has always been Labor which has protected Medicare, which has built Medicare and it has always been the Liberals which have tried to dismantle it.

BENSON: If the Liberals are trying to wreck Medicare, they’re not doing a very good job, are they? Bulk billing rates are substantially up on their watch?

WONG: That’s true that Labor in the Senate stopped the GP tax and it’s true in this election that we’ve seen Labor put in place our reversal cuts to diagnostics and pathology. That’s one of the things Bill Shorten announced yesterday. We don’t want to make these important tests more expensive for Australians, which is what Malcolm Turnbull wants to do.

BENSON: But again, a scare campaign, you talk about the Government wrecking Medicare. You’ve got ads running this morning saying Malcolm Turnbull is going to introduce a 15 per cent GST. That’s clearly not their policy. They’re fully against it.

WONG: They are today. I always think it’s amusing that people want Australians to believe what Malcolm Turnbull is saying now. Let’s remember–

BENSON: -Can I interrupt and ask you when did Malcom Turnbull ever advocate a 15 per cent GST beyond a discussion about tax changes?

WONG: First, let’s be clear. Tax Plan A that the Government floated was a company tax cut with a GST. Now what we’ve got is the first half of that and not the second. The second thing he floated was a double income tax, a state income tax. Now, instead we’ve got a $50 billion tax cut for companies.

Everybody knows that is a hit on the budget that the Government refuses to say how in the future they will fund the damage, how they will repair the damage that tax cut will do to the budget. Their own modelling says that will either have to come through increased taxes or spending cuts. Now Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t want to talk about it but everybody knows that the agenda of the Liberal Party has always been for a GST and it will return to a GST after the election.

BENSON: So you claim they’ll be a 15 per cent GST introduced, you claim that Medicare will be wrecked. The Government on its side says Labor is conducting a war on business and taxes. Couldn’t a reasonable voter say ‘what a load of nonsense, I’m not going to listen to any of them, they don’t believe it when they’re saying it’?

WONG: What I’d say on Medicare is this: look at their form. There has been nothing on the agenda from this Government this term, other than policies which damage Medicare. That’s the truth. They’ve sought to make it harder for people to visit a doctor. They’ve tried it one way through the GP tax, they couldn’t get that through the Parliament, so they are trying another. They put up the price of medicines and they’re trying to make it more expensive for people to get critical pathology and diagnostic tests.

Now those are not the actions of a government that is supportive of Medicare. On top of that we have a very clear reference to the Productivity Commission which asks them to look at contestability. Everybody knows what contestability is, that is code for competition between the private and public. That is not consistent with the way that Medicare is currently designed.

BENSON: Penny Wong, can I go to a potentially awkward moment for Labor, you’ve lost a candidate just two weeks out in the seat of Farrer, Christian Kunde was your candidate. He has resigned over reports that he has had friendly links with the terror associated group Hizb ut-Tahrir and also he has spoken on homosexuality comparing gay marriage to incest. What do you know about the demise as Christian Kunde as a candidate?

WONG: I know he offered his resignation which was appropriate and it was immediately accepted as is also appropriate.

BENSON: Why was it appropriate?

WONG: I think Australians can see very clearly what Labor’s position is when it comes to homophobia and Labor can see if people know what Labor’s position is on many other matters, it was appropriate that he resigned.

BENSON: Why was he chosen in the first place? What went wrong that it got to having a candidate who is homophobic, two weeks before the federal election?

WONG: Those I am sure will be matters that will be considered by the Party in due course as to the process.

BENSON: Doesn’t do you much good does it?

WONG: Well, we’ve seen some candidates in the Liberal Party make some pretty extraordinary statements, so regrettably these things happen in a federal election but Mr Kunde’s resigned which is appropriate.

BENSON: Penny Wong, thank you very much.

WONG: Good to speak with you.