3 June 2011




BELLING: Joining us now once again for our regular debate is the minister who was the target of the catty remark, Finance Minister Penny Wong, and shadow immigration minister Scott Morrison. Thanks once again for joining us this morning.

WONG: Good morning.

BELLING: As I started to say, don’t you think it’s a sad reflection of the state of Australian politics if we’re talking about catty remarks, rather than the really big issues: climate change, immigration, and the economy?

WONG: Well it possibly wasn’t politics’ finest hour. So I think it is time that we did start talking about things like climate change, and I’m happy to talk about the economy. On this issue, I’ve said everything I was going to say about it actually in the room. I put my view pretty clearly, and Senator Bushby was decent enough to apologise. And I’ve accepted the apology, and I’m happy to move on now.


MORRISON: Well, I think Penny summarised it well. I think Penny handled the matter appropriately, and Senator Bushby apologised, and there are much bigger issues.

BELLING: And talking about big issues, the key point seems to be today growing concern over the Federal Government’s so-called Malaysian solution. Penny, if I can put this to you first. There’s real growing concern – there’s even documents obtained by ABC television – that the Malaysian Government wants to be free from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees’ rules for human rights, even pushing for unaccompanied children to be sent to Malaysia. That’s a big issue, with trying to get rid of human rights.

WONG: Let’s look at this from this perspective: there’s a lot of noise around this issue, there’s a lot of debate. But fundamentally we know a number of things. We know we need to change the business model; we have to destroy the business model of the people smugglers. We have an announcement between the two Prime Ministers, the Prime Minister of Australia and the Prime Minister of Malaysia which says, amongst other things, that Malaysia will respect the human rights of asylum seekers.

We are working through those discussions, and the detail of the implementation of that, with the Malaysians. So what I’d say to people is, I understand there are things flying around, various allegations, judge us by the agreement that is finalised. That will be public, that will be made clear. And that’s really what we should focus on, rather than people jumping at a whole range of assertions which are made in the lead-up to that.

BELLING: Scott, how much concern is that for you in regards to your Opposition portfolio? Because human rights, this is a really key issue that is now even causing concern with the Greens – they’re aligning with the Coalition over this issue.

MORRISON: Well we’ve had a consistent view on this matter, ever since this agreement was announced over about a month ago. But Penny makes the point that the people smugglers model needs to be broken, now we agree with that. The people smugglers model is based on the Government’s failed policies. The Government has finally acknowledged that it’s their policies that are the problem and they’re seeking to change.

But the way they’re seeking to change it, as last night’s reports show, raises serious questions in terms of human rights, in terms of this arrangement. We can give the sorts of guarantees the Australian people want with respect to Nauru and the Pacific Solution. We know where they’ll be every single hour of every single day, until they’re either returned home or resettled in another country. We know they’ll go to school, and we know they won’t be caned, and the Government cannot give those assurances. And what we saw last night, I think, is evidence of the fact that the Prime Minister is engaging in double-speak on this issue, just like she did on East Timor. ‘It’ll all be fine, it’ll all turn out , we’re still talking’, and we know what happened with East Timor, and it seems the Malaysia deal may well be on the same track.

BELLING: Senator Wong, is that causing you concern? You’re saying we shouldn’t jump to conclusions until the situation – the plan and the agreement – is finalised. But surely if these initial concerns are popping up, this would raise concern with you. Because this is a key issue, even sending unaccompanied children is just unacceptable.

WONG: Can I talk about that actually because I think that demonstrates the real difficulty with this policy area. You talk about unaccompanied children. No one wants to see unaccompanied children in situations of risk. And it is really sad around this world, amongst the 43 million displaced people, we see children. But we also don’t want children getting on the boats. And remember that’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to get an agreement in place that stops people, including kids, getting on the boats. And that’s what we’re working through; we’re very focused on that.

BELLING: Scott, let’s quickly move onto the other big issue of this week which is climate change. Now we saw yesterday Bob Hawke – some may say that’s back to the future and pretty desperate measures to bring an old prime minister back to the fold to defend Julia Gillard.

MORRISON: I agree.

WONG: (laughs) It wouldn’t be surprising.

BELLING: What are you thoughts about that?

MORRISON: It seems they want everybody to argue their case except themselves on this issue. They’re pulling out everybody to give their opinion. But the point Tony has made very clearly is this – everyone should get their say on this issue. Not just former prime ministers, just not those in the artistic community, everyone should get their say on this issue. And that means it should go to an election. It should go to an election, and this position of the Government’s carbon tax they promised would not be in place under the Government that Julia Gillard leads, that should now be put to the people. That seems only fair. And it’s a matter of political integrity for the Government.

BELLING: Senator Wong, on that point, wouldn’t Julia Gillard be better doing that in regards, in saying I’m so passionate about climate change, I’m so passionate about the proposed carbon tax, that I will put it to the Australian people?

WONG: This is the Parliament that people voted for and I don’t think anybody who lived through the last Parliament would suggest that there was any secret about Labor wanting to price carbon. I spent a couple of years of my life working very hard to get that through the Parliament.

But can I just respond to a couple of things Scott said. First, what we’ve seen this week is religious leaders, scientists, economists including even the former leader of the Liberal Party, John Hewson, coming out and saying we want a price on carbon. So I think Tony Abbott is looking increasingly isolated with his negativity on this issue.

The other point I’d make is this. We see Barnaby Joyce making clear in the press that their policy is just a gesture. It’s just a gesture. This is the extraordinary thing about Mr Abbott’s position, about Tony Abbott’s position. He says on the one hand, I believe in climate change, I believe it’s real, we’ve got to do something about it. And you’ve got senior Coalition frontbenchers being very clear about what the real policy is. And that is, it’s just a gesture, a gesture that you and every other taxpayer in Australia will pay for.

MORRISON: We can sort all this out Penny. We can go to an election and everyone can have their say, not just the scientists and the church, and others. Everyone can have their say if we go to an election. You can put it forward -

WONG: You can argue it now. You can tell me whether it’s a gesture or not.

MORRISON: No we’re totally committed to –

WONG: Is it a gesture?


WONG: Then why did Barnaby say it was a gesture?

MORRISON: We have a serious plan which will meet the targets that the Government set out.

WONG: That’s not what Barnaby said.

MORRISON: So this is an argument on whether we should have a carbon tax, or whether we should have a direct action plan. Now, we’re confident to take that position to the Australian people and I don’t think Tony’s isolated with the majority of Australians who support our view on this. So we’re happy to side with the majority of Australians. And so let’s go to an election, and off we go and we’ll find out who has the support of the Australian people.

WONG: But Scott, you haven’t answered the question.

MORRISON: I did actually.

WONG: Your senior frontbencher, Barnaby Joyce, whose views on climate change are pretty clear – he doesn’t believe it’s real – says your policy that costs billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money is nothing more than a gesture.

MORRISON: It was costed by Treasury as you know at the last election, it was costed at $10 billion over ten years.

WONG: You still haven’t answered me. If you really believed your policy would work, why would senior members of your shadow cabinet keep saying this is a gesture?

MORRISON: What Barnaby said, because I watched the same interview, he said these measures are worthwhile to meet a whole range of objectives. We’re committed to our policy, are you committed to yours because if you are let’s go to an election and let’s sort it out.

WONG: I don’t think you have answered the question.

BELLING: We’ve run out of time again. Wishing you both a lovely weekend after a very, very busy week in politics.

WONG: Thanks, nice to see you again. It certainly has been.

MORRISON: Absolutely, thanks.