5 May 2019




GREG JENNETT: One of the people who has broken outside of her native South Australia is Penny Wong, Labor’s Leader in the Senate. She joined us here just a short time ago before she was taken off to an anteroom for the launch this morning and we began by asking about those former Labor leaders who will be in attendance today.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Well, I think it shows unity and stability and that’s what we offer. I mean, we are offering unity and stability in contrast to the Coalition’s offer of more of the same. Australia can’t afford more of the same. Australians can’t afford more chaos and division and we know that will continue.

ANDREW PROBYN: It must have been quite some negotiation, though, getting Julia Gillard and Kevin to agree to be in the same venue? You didn’t pull it off in your home town.

WONG: What I’d say to you is the Labor Party is very focused on a Shorten Labor Government and all of us, from former leaders – former Prime Ministers – to the young kids who are helping us out and volunteering and doorknocking with us, we want a change of government. I thought it was really interesting, we have seen today in the papers a Coalition minister being quoted as saying the Government’s only hope is a minority government with the crossbenchers. Do you know what that tells us? Do you know what they are offering? More of the same. More of the same chaos and disunity. What you will see today from Labor today is the opposite: stability.

JENNETT: People are observing this campaign that changes of government, in the last decade to two decades, are being accompanied by obvious groundswells, big shifts in sentiment, perhaps in a way that we’re not seeing this time around. Would that be suggestive of a narrow Labor lead if, in fact, you are to achieve that?

WONG: I have always thought this would be a really tough election. I have always thought that the Coalition would do what it’s done: run a fear campaign. If you can’t run on stability, what do you run on? You run on fear and smear. That’s what Mr Morrison has done. We are presenting a set of policies which are bold. They are a set of policies which are about tackling the future, they are about making sure we tackle climate change, better schools, better hospitals. What is the Government proposing? Fear and smear and more division.

PROBYN: Is that what today is about? It’s about building the case for change, or is it more about it will be OK even if we do have Bill Shorten? Because he seems to be a bit of an issue to the Labor vote given the fact that as a tactical decision, you have surrounded him with a team, a team that has remained stable for six years?

WONG: As you say, this is the team that has been stable for six years and I think one of the reasons why we want to put forward our team is that’s how you govern the country. Someone asked me the other day which Labor Prime Minister is Bill most like? He is most like Hawke, and Hawke was a Labor Prime Minister who brought together the team. I think that’s what we’re demonstrating today. You have got Bill, but you have got Tanya, the same Deputy Leader; you have got the same Shadow Treasurer, the same Senate Leader. It’s a very stable team and a very experienced team.

JENNETT: Can I ask you about that bold agenda because you have a particular role and it is as Leader in the Senate. It’s very much the art of the possible what can be delivered there. Do you accept that there may be a trade-off at some point between the promises you’re making and the revenue that you’re banking in expectation of passing certain bills into law?

WONG: I’d make a couple of points about that. First, if we are elected, we will have a very strong mandate. I know a lot of governments say that, but we have-

JENNETT: -They all do that, don’t they?

WONG: Hang on. Unlike Tony Abbott and the Coalition who campaigned on no cuts to schools and hospitals and then cut $80 billion from schools and hospitals, we have been very clear with the Australian people and the electorate; up-front, honest about this. These are our policies and this is how we’ll pay for them. We have been up-front about a whole range of changes to tax loopholes, so no one can accuse us, if we get into government, of not being up-front and honest about that. I think that’s very important in terms of the strength of the democracy. I think we do need to be more up-front. The second point I’d make is there is only one party who is making it clear that they are prepared to govern with Clive Palmer and Pauline Hanson and that is the Liberal Party of Australia. They are prepared to govern with One Nation and Clive Palmer. That is the recipe for chaos.

PROBYN: On the economic mandate that you do seek, it is reliant on some enormous revenue-raising measures – franking credits, for example; $50-57 billion over 10 years. Centre Alliance which will be there – come what may, or whatever happens on May 18 – is already saying that it’s demanding that it be grandfathered. That would be a big hit to your economic claim of mandate.

WONG: I’d make two points about that. The first is, we have been up-front with the Australian people. If we’re elected amidst the sort of scare campaign on that issue and many others, I think that is a very strong mandate.

The second point I’d make to our crossbench senators, obviously if we’re elected-

PROBYN: -Your good friends.

WONG: Our good friends. People want better schools and hospitals. People want action on climate change. People want us to do the right thing for the next generation and defending tax loopholes, which would require cuts to schools and hospitals, and not proceeding with a whole range of other things which matter, like the dental care package or child care, well, people will have to think about that.

JENNETT: You may be messaging that to as few as a couple of senators, mightn’t you? If the Senate mathematics, without getting too wonky, suggests that Labor and the Greens might get you towards 37, looking for 39. So are these the sort of margins that you’re talking about – one or two Senators to really hold the fate of the Shorten Government in its hands?

WONG: We’ve got two jobs. We’ve got to win government. That’s a matter for the Australian people and I hope they look to a better future, a fair go for Australia, and more stability and unity, and not more chaos. The second job is to get as many Labor Senators elected as possible and that’s what I’m focused on between now and election day.

PROBYN: Let’s assume for the sake of the next question-

WONG: -This is called a hypothetical question.

PROBYN: This is a hypothetical, Penny Wong.

WONG: This is, I’m leading up to a hypothetical.

PROBYN: Okay. Labor wins May 18, you become Foreign Minister. You have one Joe Hockey over in America who has got a reasonable relationship with Mr Trump. Do you keep him there?

WONG: We will look at all current decisions and current appointments on their merit. I know Joe has been very keen to tell people in the media that he’s doing an outstanding job.

PROBYN: You don’t you believe him?

WONG: I think that’s up to him, but whether it’s Mr Hockey or others, we will look at all appointments on their merits.

JENNETT: We might book you in on 19th or the 20th or the 21st of May to discuss all of this and more if you should get there.

WONG: I’m always happy to talk to you.

JENNETT: We’ll let you go because you have a launch to attend. Thanks so much for joining us.

WONG: Good to speak to you.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.