1 July 2019




FRAN KELLY: Well Penny Wong is the Shadow Foreign Minister and Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. Penny Wong welcome back to Breakfast.


KELLY: Before we turn to international affairs and your shadow portfolio, Labor’s position on the tax cuts, it’s still not exactly clear. Will the final landing point be decided when the Shadow Cabinet and the Caucus meet later today?

WONG: Well our position is clear: we want to deliver a tax cut to all Australians by the end of the week and the only party that’s putting forward a position that delivers that is the Labor Party.

What is occurring is that the Government isn’t just content with breaking its promise to deliver tax cuts by the first of July – something that Scott Morrison failed to do despite promising it – but they want to hold tax cuts for this term hostage to tax cuts after the next election. So we are absolutely up for, by Thursday night, delivering a tax cut to all Australians. It’s the Government that is holding those hostage to a political agenda about what they want to do in the next term.

KELLY: Alright, you’ve heard the arguments about why the Government won’t split the Bill. Is it still your position to try to split the Bill to try to remove Stage Three tax cut for higher income earners and what would you do if your amendments fail because that’s the question now?

WONG: The first point I think is that the Government should be held to account for their belligerent arrogance in holding tax cuts for all Australians hostage to the tax cuts they want to deliver if they win the next election.

KELLY: In the Parliament you don’t have the numbers to hold the Government to account. That’s the point isn’t it?

WONG: We have a position and we will be prosecuting our amendments. That’s the position Labor will be prosecuting.

KELLY: At the end of the day if your amendments are voted down, if your amendments don’t get up in the Senate, what will you do?

WONG: That is planning for failure. Our position is to prosecute the amendments that were announced by the Leader and Jim Chalmers last week and as yet I have not heard a sound proposition, and Australians haven’t heard a sound reason, from Mathias Cormann or Scott Morrison as to why they’re prepared to hold these tax cuts hostage to what they want to do if they win the next election.

KELLY: Views on what Labor should do are split in your party room. We’ve heard them on display – Graham Perrett, for instance, says the Opposition should be closely examining the economic cost of Stage Three. He says if we are going to abrogate that right we need to hand in our resignation letter. Joel Fitzgibbon, for instance, on this program, says you can’t deny the punters a tax cut from opposition.

WONG: I’m not denying the punters a tax cut from opposition, in fact quite the opposite. We are the ones who are actually saying let’s bring forward some tax cuts to make sure that every Australian gets a tax cut this week.

KELLY: In the end what’s your view though? You’re in the leadership group.

WONG: And I would say it is a reasonable proposition to say, first, we will deliver tax cuts for this term now. But it is reasonable to say the tax cuts down in 2025 should be assessed on their affordability and fiscal responsibility and on the basis of where the economy is then.

We already know this Government presided over an economy where wages are stagnant, where growth is low and where interest rates are less than half what they were during the worst period of the Global Financial Crisis. Now they want to say to you it will all be fine because we’ve got these tax cuts which we don’t know how to pay for but we want to deliver in 2025.

KELLY: Okay so can we assume that if it comes to it, when it comes to a vote, you will vote no.

WONG: You shouldn’t make any assumptions from anything I’m saying other than that we will be prosecuting the position that we have announced in the amendments which we think are the right thing for the economy.

The economy needs a shot now. I think everybody knows that. Australians look at what the Reserve Bank is having to do. They look at what is happening to wages, to consumption, to growth and they know the economy needs a shot in the arm now. That is what Labor is proposing – a tax cut for everyone. Scott Morrison is standing in the way.

KELLY: Can I go to your portfolio now? The world has just witnessed the spectacle of Donald Trump inside North Korea shaking hands with Kim Jong-un. The two leaders have agreed to restart the stalled nuclear talks. Do you think this will become more than handshake diplomacy, where there will be progress on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula?

WONG: Certainly President Trump does like historic moments. We’ve had a few – obviously the Summit in Singapore, the meeting in Hanoi and now this footage from the DMZ. But the significance of all these meetings – and it was historically significant to see a US President step over the border – the significance of these meetings will be judged by whether or not they lead to denuclearisation.

Let’s remember the reason there have been sanctions across the board, multilateral sanctions against North Korea, has been because they are a risk to global security and they are a risk to peace and security in the region. So what we need is North Korea to follow through – which they have not yet done since the commitments they made in Singapore – with steps toward complete denuclearisation.

KELLY: Australian student Alek Sigley is missing in North Korea at the moment. What are the optics of the US President, one of our chief allies, shaking hands with Kim Jong-un, stepping into North Korea, when Australia can’t get any clarity about what is happening to this young man?

WONG: As I said, the significance of that historic moment and that footage will be in what happens in terms of North Korea’s actions. But in relation to the Australian I understand there is no further information. We have followed up with the Foreign Minister’s office. I understand, as yet, there is no further specific information.

My view about these matters is we will work with the Government to do whatever we can to ensure the safety of this Australian man Mr Sigley, and make sure that he is to be found safe and secure.

KELLY: There is another temporary truce in the US-China trade war. Donald Trump told reporters, following talks with Xi Jinping, that China had agreed to “buy a tremendous amount of food and agricultural products from American farmers”. Are you worried about where that might leave Australian exporters?

WONG: Of course. And I suspect that our exporters are also worried about it and the Government, Mr Morrison, should move to make clear how they are pressing for Australia’s interest to be observed in whatever arrangements are subsequently made.

This demonstrates a broader issue doesn’t it? I’ve said repeatedly nobody wins from a trade war. Similarly, Australia and other nations don’t win from bilateral agreements between the two great powers. What we want to continue to assert is open, fair and transparent multilateral trading arrangements. That is what is in Australia’s interests. Mr Morrison said before he went to the G20 he would be advocating for those interests. We urge him to do so and we urge the Government to provide some clarity as to how Australian interests will be either benefited or protected as a consequence of the next stage of the discussions between the US and China.

KELLY: On another major international flashpoint Scott Morrison said Australia had not been asked to take part in military action against Iran but if a request does come it will be considered “seriously and on its merits”. Meanwhile the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already spoken of how he wants Australia to take part in the global coalition against the regime. Has Labor had a briefing yet about what that means, about what the Government may have been asked to do or was intending to do?

WONG: We have sought a briefing and I assume one will be provided this week. But more broadly we have said very clearly that we don’t believe military conflict, and escalation to military conflict, is in anybody’s interest and we would urge de-escalation and we would urge Iran to cooperate, to comply with its obligations under the nuclear agreement and to not walk away from that. As Mr Albanese said, we want to encourage an outcome which does not involve conflict.

KELLY: So Labor wouldn’t support military action?

WONG: There’s no such request been made, as I understand it, from what Mr Morrison has said.

KELLY: Just finally, on another issue back home, when Parliament resumes tomorrow someone who won’t be there is the now retired Defence Minister Christopher Pyne. The Centre Alliance Party is calling for a Senate inquiry into Christopher Pyne’s new job with the global consultancy firm EY. He’s going to be helping EY expand its defence business and many claim that’s a breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct. But Mathias Cormann, when we spoke to him earlier, said the Code is clear and everyone understands what the rules are under that Code. Is Labor going to support an inquiry into this?

WONG: We are certainly considering Senator Patrick’s proposition. But a few points I’d like to make. First, if Mr Pyne is being employed by EY to expand its defence business it certainly does not suggest that he is only using knowledge that the general public has. I would suggest it looks like he’s been appointed because of his knowledge and there are clear provisions in the Code against that.

Secondly, Senator Cormann, on your program just a few minutes ago, said that he was advised that there was no breach. Well where is that advice? Because ultimately the buck stops with the Prime Minister. Mr Morrison has to enforce his standards. The ministerial standards are his standards.

Now we know from Nikki Savva that Scott Morrison is a pretty crafty politician. Well, craftiness in the Liberal Party room, that’s a matter for the Liberal Party to consider. Craftiness when it comes to ministerial standards is a matter for the Parliament and the Australian people and he needs to demonstrate to the Australian people that Mr Pyne is complying with Scott Morrison’s standards. They are his standards and when you’ve got Senator Abetz and even Peter Dutton raising concerns about whether or not Christopher Pyne’s conduct is consistent with the standards then really Scott Morrison does need to act.

KELLY: So will Labor support a call for an inquiry?

WONG: We are considering that – and we are certainly open to those discussions. But I think the first issue is to not allow Mr Morrison to get away with ducking on this. I mean this is his responsibility. They are the Prime Minister’s standards.

KELLY: Senator Penny Wong, thank you very much for joining us.

WONG: Good to speak with you.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.