29 April 2019




FRAN KELLY: Penny Wong is the Shadow Foreign Minister and Labor’s leader in the Senate. Penny Wong, welcome back to Breakfast.


KELLY: So Labor’s lead has shrunk to just two points in the Newspoll, down from eight points in early March. With three weeks to go, is this election slipping away from you?

WONG: I always anticipated, we always anticipated this election would be tight. We always anticipated we’d see a dirty campaign from the Liberals, and we have. We always anticipated it was going to be tough. Labor’s won from opposition three times since World War II. So as people go to pre-poll today, they do have a choice – do they want more of the same from the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government? Do they want a Coalition Government who will govern with Clive Palmer and Pauline Hanson and continue the chaos and the cuts we have seen? Or do they all want the alternative vision that Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek have painted?

KELLY: But all this vision – and it’s coming at a high cost and it’s been out there for a while some of it – more than $2 billion for cancer care, billions of dollars for early childhood education, money now we see for child care and for dental care. It’s all out there; the money you’re promising doesn’t seem to be impressing the voters. Why isn’t your message resonating with voters?

WONG: Look, there is a choice there. We are making -

KELLY: They’re not loving your choice by the looks of it?

WONG: We are making a very clear choice here between tax loopholes for those at the top end, and child care, dental care, investment in hospitals, because we think that health and education are much more important for the future of the country.

The government has got $77 billion worth of tax cuts for high income earners down the track. That hits the budget and what we’re saying is there’s an alternative. The alternative is not to have these tax loopholes, not to increase the tax breaks for millionaires and to invest in the things that matter to Australians and their families.

KELLY: Do you accept though that it doesn’t look as though a lot of voters, necessarily, are buying your alternative? I mean your primary vote’s fallen to 37 per cent and now Newspoll. Doesn’t this underscore the importance of a preference swap with Clive Palmer who’s polling 5 per cent?

WONG: And the preference swap with Clive Palmer is very telling, it is very telling. Because anybody who worked with Mr Palmer knows that you couldn’t govern with him. The man -

KELLY: Well then why did some of your side try to get some deals with him on preferences?

WONG: I don’t accept that. We have no deals – well there’s only one party Fran that has actually done a deal with Clive Palmer and that engaged in preference negotiations which has resulted in him preferencing them, but more importantly, in a party of government preferencing him second, and that is the Liberal National parties. Anyone who has worked with Mr Palmer knows you cannot govern with him. And what this tells the Australian people is Scott Morrison is so desperate to cling onto power that he will cut a deal with anyone, even if he knows he couldn’t govern with them. It leaves a very clear message to the Australian people – I’m so desperate, says Mr Morrison, to cling onto power, I’m prepared to cop the chaos that comes from doing a deal with Palmer; and I’m prepared to cop a deal with Pauline Hanson, someone who should’ve been put last on every ticket. Someone who should’ve been put last by the Liberals and the National Party and who is not being put last by the National Party because the Coalition want to cling onto power.

KELLY: No one is pure in the preference deal as Simon Birmingham said this morning – “sometimes it’s the case of the least worst option” -

WONG: Oh, come on. Twenty years we have – no, come on -

KELLY: And Labor in the last election has also benefited from One Nation preferences in some seats.

WONG: Fran, come on. You should be much more reasonable for your listeners. We have never done a deal with One Nation. In 20 years, Labor has been consistent and previously the Liberal Party has too. We have never put her above the Liberal National Party. That is not the case in this election under Scott Morrison.

KELLY: Okay, but you’re claiming the moral high ground now with Clive Palmer, and Anthony Chisholm; Clive Palmer tells us sent him some texts saying you want to talk about preferences.

WONG: Well, Clive says a lot of things -

KELLY: It’s not true?

WONG: I think the proof is in the pudding. There is only one party of government that is putting him second. And what I’d say to you, there are always lots of conversations in the lead up to polling day, but there’s only one party that’s got a deal and that’s Scott Morrison, who’s cut a deal with Clive Palmer. And the question that should be asked of Scott Morrison – what have you given for it?

KELLY: Let’s talk about Labor’s policy announcements yesterday because they were major – $6.9 billion in total for child care and dental care. Bill Shorten calls them the cost of living investments. The Prime Minister says this is proof that Labor’s just a big taxing, big spending; would be a reckless Labor government.

WONG: Well, Mr Morrison should explain to Australian families why he doesn’t want to support more families with the cost of living, the cost of child care. Every family in Australia -

KELLY: Well he says he’s doing that by giving them tax cuts back in their pockets.

WONG: Every single family earning up to $174,000 will get cheaper child care under Labor. And I can tell you from personal experience, talking to people broadly, the work that we’ve done, families are struggling with the cost of child care. And investment in that is good for the country. Let’s remember, 90 per cent of a child’s brain development occurs in the first five years. We know that investing in child care is good economically, it is good socially and it also helps families in terms of their cost of living.

And on dental care, Mr Morrison can dismiss that. Well, we’ve got people waiting years, pensioners waiting years for dental care. Does he really think that’s a good idea? That’s what we’re fixing. It’s not just an investment so we can make an announcement, it’s an investment in people’s lives because around this country we have pensioners, and obviously we’re also supporting Commonwealth Seniors Health Card holders, who are waiting years for dental care.

KELLY: Okay. Of course everyone wants to put more money into child care and everybody wants to put more money into Medicare and dental care. But the government reminds us that back in 2008 when the Rudd Government lifted the child care rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent, what happened was that providers bumped up their fees and you ended up having to reduce the rebate cap from $8,000 to $7,500 and freeze the rebate. Why won’t history be repeated here; that providers will simply take this money and run?

WONG: That is a very good question and we have an answer to it. We will, if necessary, impose part-price control to stop price gouging.

KELLY: What does that mean?

WONG: Bill said yesterday we’d immediately ensure that the ACCC had a remit to look at this, but he put the providers on notice. He said if you engage in price gouging, if you engage in profiteering out of this public subsidy – which is meant to go to families – we are prepared to use the Parliament to impose a form of price control just as we have with the private health insurance. So we’re very clear about that, this is taxpayers’ money, it is used as an investment in our children and to reduce the cost of living for many Australian families. It’s not there to increase the profits for private sector child care operators.

KELLY: There’s also the 20 per cent pay rise for child care workers – that’s worth about $11,300 over eight years – over and above the annual wage reviews – funded by government. Why are taxpayers and not the sector stepping in to give these early educators a decent wage. I think everyone agrees they need a decent wage, but why shouldn’t the sector be paying it?

WONG: The reality is the sector hasn’t been paying it, and they may well argue they can’t afford it, you have to ask them. But there’s a broader public policy issue here which is pay equity and the reality is we have a gender wage gap in this country. The vast majority of early childhood educators, I think 96 per cent, are women. I think the average wage is around $45,000. They are doing a very important job. They are also being asked, as is appropriate, to increase their qualifications and to increase their skills levels, and that was the quality framework that was initiated under the Rudd and Gillard Governments. We do think it is a good thing to ensure that they can be be paid a bit more – it will be phased in over a number of years – to reflect the increased skills that they’re being asked to perform. And also to reflect the fact that they are structurally one of the groups who is relatively underpaid in this country.

KELLY: No one disputes that, but they’re not the only group. I mean aged care work is also dominated by female workforce, also underpaid, also being asked to do more. Would a Labor government be offering those workers the same sort of thing?

WONG: And as you know, aged care is the subject of a Royal Commission and I have no doubt that’s one of the issues that has to be addressed. You can’t change things overnight. In government we did help fund a social and community services sector to try and improve their wages and conditions. This is a similar approach. If we are serious about pay equity in this country, if we are serious about making sure we pay the people who look after our children and educate our children at a critical time, then we have to do something about wages. Now to do it responsibly, as Labor will, we have to do it in a way that ensures that prices don’t increase. But this is the right thing to do for our children and also for the broader economy.

KELLY: And Penny Wong we come to this point in every election campaign, Labor is offering big spending promises but so far uncosted. Voters start going to the polls today, five or six million Australians will pre-poll. When will voters see your costings? Doesn’t that put some pressure on you to show your costings earlier?

WONG: I saw the Prime Minister trying to drum this up which was pretty interesting -

KELLY: Isn’t it fair enough?

WONG: Of course we’ll release our costings and I’d make the point that in terms of the tax changes that we’ve proposed, we’ve had them out for years. So I don’t know how the Prime Minister can say we’re hiding things when negative gearing changes, the changes to tax loopholes have been out for years. And I’d also make this point, we know from independent research that Scott Morrison’s tax cuts – the billions of dollars to high-income earners, an $11,000 tax cut for a millionaire – will cost the budget around $40 billion a year, will require cuts of around $40 billion a year over the decade, the medium term. He’s never indicated that.

I remember the 2013 election, I think Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey announced their policies the Thursday before the election. I tell you what, we’ll do better than that.

KELLY: Well, let’s hope you do much better than that. Penny Wong, thank you very much for joining us.

WONG: Good to speak with you.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.