16 September 2011




WILSON: Finance Minister Penny Wong is in Adelaide, and shadow immigration minister Scott Morrison who is talking with us from Canberra this morning. Good morning to both of you.

WONG: Good morning.

MORRISON: G’day Ron, g’day Penny.

WILSON: First to you Mr Morrison, the Government says without legislation overriding the High Court decision, all offshore processing is now finished. Given that the Opposition is also in support of offshore processing, why can’t you vote for this proposition?

MORRISON: Well there are two issues there, firstly Ron, we can go ahead with our policies without changing this legislation, I mean, other imminent QCs and the former Solicitor-General himself wrote that in the Sydney Morning Herald this week. So that’s just another one of the Government’s lies to try and basically push its own barrow. But the second point is this, in the Migration Act in 2001 there were two things that were put in place. One was the issue of the ability of the minister to declare a place to go to, which the Government likes to talk about, but the other one was protections, and this is something the Government doesn’t want to talk about. We’ll have a look at the bill this afternoon when we see it; we’ve reserved our position on this. But I tell you what, it’s not the responsibility of an opposition to help a bad government put in place bad policy with their proposals when there are better alternatives and better ways forward available in our view.

WILSON: But with you now sitting alongside the Greens there, and all you’ve had to say about the Greens over the last month, this is surely not the image you want to see in Parliament.

MORRISON: What we want to see is good policy that’s proven policy. This Government abandoned good policy back in 2008. They got rid of the Howard Government solution, then they introduced the asylum freeze, they had the debacle over the Oceanic Viking, they had the debacle over East Timor, they’ve had the debacle over Malaysia, now they have the front to come to the Australian people and the Parliament and say no, but now we’ve got it right, you can trust us this time. They have had more plans, I think we’re down to about plan F now, and I think there’s a pretty good reason why it’s called plan F.

WILSON: Senator Wong, the Government must be getting pretty desperate if it’s now pleading with the Coalition to bail it out, is there any plan B if they say no?

WONG: I think what’s interesting about the answer Scott just gave was two things. One is he didn’t demur from the fact that he and the Greens are effectively taking the same position – which is pretty interesting, and says something about the extent to which the Coalition are prepared to play politics on this issue.

Fundamentally the question is this: does the Coalition – does Tony Abbott – support offshore processing or not? If he does, then the only reason why he wouldn’t join with the Government to ensure that the government of the day can implement offshore processing is politics. That’s the only reason.

Scott’s wrong when he says there’s no amendment needed. All the advice to the Government is really clear that the amendment is needed. And let’s be very clear about what the Government is going to do. We’ll put amendments forward that would enable the government of the day – not just us, but should the Coalition be elected, them – to implement its offshore processing plan. And if the Coalition are seriously saying no to that, what they’re saying is, we are not going to support the right of any government to implement offshore processing. That is simply putting politics before national interest.

WILSON: But how do you go to a vote on an issue this large without an alternative plan?

WONG: We are saying very clearly to the Australian people and to Tony Abbott this: the High Court has made clear its position. The position under the law is not as Mr Howard thought it was, is not as Tony Abbott thought it was prior to the High Court decision. So we are going to put amendments in that enable the government of the day, Coalition or Labor, to implement the offshore processing regime it sees fit. And–

WILSON: But you only get that if the Coalition votes with you. If they don’t, what’s the alternative?

WONG: That is what we are putting forward. And what I’d say to Tony Abbott, and what I’d say to Scott is this: are you really going to sit on the same side as the Greens on this issue? Because if you are really suggesting that, I think what you’re telling the Australian people is with this Opposition Leader, it’s politics and negativity before any national interest.

WILSON: Now, Senator –

MORRISON: Ron, can I just respond to that. What the Government is failing to acknowledge here is that we can go forward with our policies. We can go forward with our–

WONG: That’s not true Scott.

MORRISON: And they’re verballing the Solicitor-General’s advice, and I’ve read it carefully. But this afternoon we will have a look at the bill. And the question for the Government is, should they have a blank cheque, an absolute blank cheque? And I’d be interested to know if Penny believes there should be any protections that should be in place that would safeguard a minister from sending people to a place that doesn’t provide those protections. I mean, the Labor Left all said this week, when they rolled in like zombies to the party room we can’t do this, we can’t do this, and then they simply rolled over. So the question for Penny is, is she prepared to support legislation that gives any minister in the future, including her own Government, an absolute blank cheque. Now, this Government doesn’t deserve blank cheques. It’s been failure after failure after–

WILSON: You’ve asked a question, let’s see if we can get an answer.

WONG: I’ll answer that, and then I think there’s a question for Scott. Of course there should be protections, and that’s why we negotiated the agreement with Malaysia. But Scott is trying to avoid the answer to this question: does he support offshore processing or not? Yes or no?

MORRISON: Of course I do, Penny. We invented it.

WONG: If yes–

MORRISON: We have the patent on it–

WONG: If yes–

MORRISON: And we can implement it.

WONG: That’s not the advice, Scott. And if yes–

MORRISON: Well no, it is, actually.

WONG: Surely then – well, it isn’t, and I encourage you again to listen to what the advice to the Government is.

MORRISON: I’m pretty across these details, Penny–

WONG: The same people–

MORRISON: I’m sure you’d know that.

WONG: Then you’d know what you’re saying is wrong. The same people who would be advising you were you in government have said the Act would need to be amended in light of–

MORRISON: What did they tell you in February ’08, did they tell you to abolish the Howard Government policies? Did they tell you to abolish the Howard Government’s policies in ’08?

WILSON: Another topic while I can get a quick question in here, I’m starting to feel superfluous. Senator Wong, the Prime Minister is today giving a major speech on rebuilding the party. Perhaps she’s left it a little late to start that? Or what does she see so wrong that the party needs rebuilding?

WONG: I think every political party needs to look to the future, and the Prime Minister is doing that. But I’m going to leave her speech for her to give, and I’m sure she’ll have plenty to say about that later today.

WILSON: Alrighty, lovely, thank you very much for–


WILSON: Yeah, go on, Scott.

MORRISON: I was going to say, this Prime Minister wants to blame everybody. Now it’s her party. The problem with Labor is their policies. They won’t change their policies.

WONG: Oh come on.

MORRISON: And when they do that, they actually might find they would be going a lot better than they are at the moment. The policy is the problem. They could have any leader they like, any set of organisational arrangements. It’s the policies, Penny.

WONG: OK, Ron, if we’re just going to have that sort of attack, instead of a sensible discussion and question and answer here, I’ll respond to that. You know what we’re seeing from Tony Abbott day after day in the Parliament? Absolute, relentless negativity. He is an Opposition Leader who is a very good Opposition leader. He is addicted to negativity, he is addicted to saying no. And frankly, the national Parliament is far poorer for the attitude that he’s taking, and the attitude that Scott just demonstrated. I would have thought Australians want a bit more from the alternative government than just nothing but negativity and attack.

MORRISON: When you come up with a good policy, Penny, we’ll support it.

WILSON: Mind you, an Opposition Leader opposing would seem to be the right job. Look, as always, we are delighted to have both of you on here this morning. Senator Penny Wong and Scott Morrison, thank you very much indeed.

WONG: Good to be with you Ron.

MORRISON: Thanks again.