2 June 2011




KELLY: Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

WONG: Good morning Fran.

KELLY: Before we get to the economy, can we just go to gender politics in Federal Parliament. You strongly rebuked Senator David Bushby in Estimates yesterday. You’ve accepted his apology. What apology did he offer?

WONG: He did provide an apology and I’ve accepted it and I think our discussion, I think, should remain private. He’s had the decency to speak to me about it and I think the matter’s closed from my perspective.

KELLY: He did say publicly later that you reminded him of a cat at the time. Is that what he said to you?

WONG: Well I think Fran, that’s a different way of asking me the same question. We had a discussion. He’s apologised, I’ve accepted that. I think we can move on. I have to say I just reacted in the moment to what was said and I was somewhat surprised as I was sitting there to observe all the furore it seemed to cause.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek went on to address Parliament, suggesting that Tony Abbott and senior ministers revert to sexist language on a regular basis. Have you experienced that?

WONG: Well Fran, I think what Tanya was saying, and really what I did in the hearing, is sometimes you need to name what’s happening. And I think there’s no doubt on occasion there are things that Mr Abbott has said – Tony Abbott has said – whether it’s making an ‘honest woman’ of the Prime Minister, and we all know what that generally refers to, and that’s making sure the woman’s married.

Or previously he’s also said, when it comes to Julia, no doesn’t really mean no, which I personally found pretty distasteful given that that’s used, as you know, in terms of campaigns against rape and sexual assault. So I think Tanya’s quite right to name what she perceives is happening. But in terms of Senator Bushby, I do regard the incident as closed.

KELLY: Just finally on this, is the sexism in the Federal Parliament worse or better than what you might have experienced when you worked in the law?

WONG: We probably have a rather odd workplace, don’t we? There are things that happen here that probably don’t happen in other workplaces in Australia. But I think there are also times where things do happen here which aren’t really acceptable in other workplaces around Australia, and when that happens, that should be named.

KELLY: Let’s go to the state of the economy now, what percentage of the contraction in the March quarter is due to a drop-off in resource exports?

WONG: A very large proportion, in fact. This result that you’ve referred to, a contraction in the economy, is not a predictor of where we’re going, it’s not an indicator of the strength of the economy in years ahead. It’s really a response to the natural disasters that we saw over the summer, and the accounts bear that out. The hit of the natural disasters on our economy is greater than the negative growth figure. In other words, we would have been in positive growth but for the floods and the cyclones.

KELLY: Doesn’t it make Joe Hockey right though, when he says that these figures show how dependent the economy is on mining? When mining coughs, the rest of the country gets pneumonia, if a large part of this is due to the resource exports drop?

WONG: Well, you know, Joe Hockey also said that the global financial crisis was a hiccup. So I think these sorts of analogies aren’t really helpful. The fact is, these natural disasters were a big hit on our economy, but we anticipate a strong rebound.

We have very strong fundamentals: we have low unemployment, we have strong jobs growth, 700,000 jobs created since we came to Government, and we anticipate another half a million in the years ahead. We have an enormous pipeline of investment. We know there are some $430 billion dollars worth of mining projects, resource projects on the books. Now that is a very large number and that demonstrates the on going medium and long term strength of the economy. But as we said when we were putting the budget together, we have these short term challenges in part due to these natural disasters.

KELLY: For some sectors these challenges are short term, mining is booming, manufacturing has been hit very hard by the soaring value of the Australian dollar. There’s also the housing industry where housing consumption is growing only extremely modestly and householders aren’t spending obviously because people are fearful of what’s going on out there. With all of this, is it a great time to try and be bringing in a new tax? I’m talking about the carbon tax.

WONG: There’s always a reason not to do something and I think the PM put it well when she said in life or in politics, very few things are made easier by waiting. And I can recall when I had this portfolio, the climate change portfolio, people saying it’s not a good time because of the global uncertainties, the global financial crisis.

When is it going to be a good time? And if we keep waiting what we know is it simply gets harder. This is an important economic reform, it’s about making sure we pollute less. That doesn’t mean it’s an easy reform, it’s a hard reform, and it’s bitterly opposed which is regrettable, but I think we have to keep holding the course.

KELLY: It’s bitterly opposed by the mining industry as we discovered yesterday because they face this carbon price they’re also going to face the mining tax, and they’re starting to rail against the carbon tax. Tony Abbott calling on them yesterday to speak out. When you were the Minister for Climate Change, what kind of reaction were you getting from the miners to the notion of a carbon tax?

WONG: I think that’s on the public record Fran. I think there were a lot articles written and a lot of public comments made. The fact is, when you’re asking people to pay for something which is currently free and that is polluting, there’s obviously some people who are going to say we don’t want to pay. I accept that, I just don’t think it’s in the national interest.

KELLY: This week, Industry Minister Kim Carr told estimates that 46 per cent of revenue raised by the carbon tax would go to business and 52 per cent to households, 2 per cent to renewables. Is that right, is the carve up already been decided?

WONG: I think Minister Combet has made clear in his National Press Club address that at least half the revenue will be returned to households in household assistance. That’s important, I have to say it was very interesting last night Senator Barnaby Joyce confirming that the Coalition would remove that household assistance were they to win Government, so they’d actually take back whatever assistance we were providing to Australian households and Australian families.

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

WONG: Good to speak with you Fran.