18 July 2012




BENSON: Penny Wong, good morning.

WONG: Good morning Marius. I apologise to you and your listeners for my ‘flu voice.

BENSON: Bit of it going around. Can I ask you firstly about these Queensland gaming figures which indicate that poker machine revenue in May this year is 7 per cent up on May the previous year, and that was when the compensation started for the carbon tax. In June, up 12 per cent. A lot of that compensation money seems to be going into the pokies. That wasn’t the plan.

WONG: I think most Australian families would ensure any additional money they received from the Government was used towards cost of living pressures which people are dealing with. And I am sure that the vast majority of Australian families are using the assistance they get from the Government for precisely those purposes.

Obviously the Government doesn’t control what people spend but I think you have to govern for what the majority do and the majority, I am sure, do the right thing.

BENSON: But these figures indicate a substantial number of people effectively defeating the purpose of your compensation. They are not putting it aside to deal with the increased charges that flow from the carbon tax, they are blowing it on pokies. Would you like to see some greater control over how that money is spent?

WONG: Obviously you always want families to make sure they use money towards the right things and I think the overwhelming majority of Australian families do that. And in terms of these figures, obviously there might be a range of reasons for that. But I’d again say, if you go and speak to the people out there in the community, the vast majority of Australians do the right thing when they are given additional assistance. They put it towards their kids’ schooling costs, they put it towards their utility bills, they put it towards groceries. And that’s what most Australians would do.

BENSON: Can I ask then about Ken Henry – who was the architect of the Mining Tax, the first version of the Mining Tax – and his criticisms a couple of days ago of the current version of the mining tax which he said is complicated beyond public understanding. And he questions whether it was worth bothering with in its form, saying, “I mean the obvious question it raises is one, that I dare not ask really, which is, whether it is worth bothering at all?”. Is it worth bothering at all?

WONG: Of course it is. I think for the many Australians who will get additional infrastructure spending, for the many Australians who will get the School Kids Bonus, for the many Australians who will get additional superannuation assistance, particularly for low income Australians, people will think it is worth it. But there is no doubt it has been a difficult fight to get these reforms through. It was bitterly contested by the mining industry. And now we have got through this Parliament a tax which is all about spreading the benefits of the mining boom to more Australians. I think that is worth it.

BENSON: But Ken Henry understands tax and he disagrees with you entirely. Is his view to be dismissed?

WONG: No, I don’t agree with your construction of his view. He certainly said a number of things in that speech, or in that contribution, and he certainly was commenting on how politically difficult it has been. But the reality is that the tax will deliver and is delivering important benefits to many Australians. Benefits which are about the every day lives of Australian families and I think that means it is worth it.

BENSON: Labor leadership is back in the news because of Joel Fitzgibbon’s remarks about Julia Gillard’s leadership not being secure, or no leader being secure long term when they’re so unpopular. Julia Gillard’s response: “We resolved the leadership issue in February”. But that is simply unrealistic in political terms, isn’t it? No Leader’s position is resolved while they’re on track to lead their party to an electoral disaster.

WONG: Marius, I’m sure that everyone knows why you are asking me that question, and you and I both know, obviously, because you want me to engage on this issue and I am not going to. We did resolve the leadership issue in February and I think it is far more important for Australians to focus on doing our jobs rather than this sort of chatter.