4 January 2016




SENATOR PENNY WONG, ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: We’re only four days into the New Year and already this Government’s in fair bit of chaos. We’ve got two Ministers gone, another Minister behaving in a way which really is boorish and is unbecoming of anyone, let alone a senior Cabinet Minister. We’ve got a senior Cabinet Minister who thinks it’s OK to speak about a female journalist as a “mad expletive witch”.

Well, I don’t think that’s acceptable, I don’t think Australians think it’s acceptable and I think this really is a test for Malcolm Turnbull. This is a test of Malcolm’s leadership.

Malcolm told us he’d be different to Tony Abbott, well he’s got an opportunity to show us that he is and he should front up to the Australian people and explain what he thinks of Peter Dutton’s behaviour. He should front up to the Australian people and explain how Peter Dutton’s behaviour is consistent with the high standards that Ministers are expected to demonstrate. He should front up and explain why this behaviour is acceptable from one of his senior Cabinet ministers, someone he picked to sit in the nation’s Cabinet.

Malcolm Turnbull has spoken a lot about how he’s different to Tony Abbott. He’s spoken appropriately about the importance of respecting women. He’s spoken about the importance of stronger ministerial standards. He’s got an opportunity today to explain to Australians how the behaviour of this Minister, who he picked, is consistent with the values that he’s been articulating. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: What action do you think should be taken?

WONG: I think the first action that needs to be taken is the Prime Minister needs to break his silence. On this issue silence is not an option. Cabinet ministers are picked by the Prime Minister of the day; this is Malcolm Turnbull’s choice to be a member of his Cabinet. He needs to front up to Australians and explain what the thinks of the behaviour, why he says it’s acceptable and most of all, why it is consistent with the standards of ministerial behaviour.

We’ve had Jamie Briggs appropriately resigning because he breached those standards. How is Peter Dutton’s behaviour consistent with those standards? That’s the question Malcolm needs to answer.

JOURNALIST: Malcolm Turnbull’s office have just said he won’t be commenting on this at all. Do you think he’s ducking for cover here?

WONG: The question is Malcolm Turnbull’s office says he won’t be commenting. Well, he doesn’t have that option. He doesn’t have that option. He doesn’t have the option of silence, because these are actions of his Minister. He’s the Prime Minister who said that he believes in stronger ministerial standards, he needs to explain to people why it is that Mr Dutton’s behaviour and this sort of language is consistent with the standards that are expected of ministers.

JOURNALIST: More specifically, is there a culture problem in terms of their attitude towards women?

WONG: We’re starting to get a bit of a picture of what Peter Dutton’s private views are. We’ve had a couple of insights and they’re pretty boorish. I think that most Australians, they don’t want women spoken about in this way by their kids, by their friends. They don’t want women spoken about in this way in their workplaces and I certainly don’t think they want it around the Cabinet table.

JOURNALIST: Should Peter Dutton resign?

WONG: I think first, Australians are entitled to hear from the Prime Minister. It’s really a matter for him to explain why he says Mr Dutton’s behaviour’s consistent with his position.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

WONG: I would say this: I don’t think Australians think it’s acceptable to refer to women in those terms and I think any woman knows what’s meant by those words. Whether people find offence or not, obviously Sam’s put her view about that, which she’s entitled to, but she’s also made the view others might have a different view. I guess I’d ask yourself and everybody, do we think that’s something in a workplace that we would accept from a colleague and I don’t think it is.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) former Prime Minister entitlements today, Senator Nick Xenophon’s (inaudible). Do you think it’s a bit too much (inaudible)

WONG: Look, these are former leaders of the nation. I don’t think we play politics on these issues, obviously John Howard and others, their expenses were made public today. These are former leaders of the nation and we’ve always made sure that former leaders can continue to do the job that the nation expects of them.

I would make a comment also about Jamie Briggs obviously. I do want to raise this concern. Mr Briggs made a lot of protecting the complainant’s privacy. He mentioned that a number of times in his press conference. It’s completely inconsistent with that for a text message with photos of the complainant to be shared among members of the Government and I think Malcolm Turnbull should also be explaining why it is that that was allowed to occur.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that sort of undermines his apology by (inaudible)

WONG: That’s a very good question because you’d have to say if you were really concerned about protecting the complainant, why would you be putting around a photo of her to your colleagues or to whomever. We don’t know who the text message was sent to other than to some colleagues, but clearly that’s not consistent with a concern for her privacy.

JOURNALIST: Senator, just on another issue, the mass executions in Saudi Arabia, do you think that there are implications for Australia if there’s conflict between the two countries and should we take a stand on this?

WONG: Obviously it’s a deeply concerning set of events. Australia has a view about the death penalty wherever and whenever it occurs and we are opposed to the death penalty. This is a deeply concerning set of events in a region which is obviously volatile. What we would urge is all parties to engage diplomatically, we would like to see the tensions deescalated.

JOURNALIST: Would you like to see the Government come out strongly against this?

WONG: I’m certainly not going to play politics on this. I think all of us want to see the tensions in the region deescalated. This is a deeply concerning set of events. And as I said, we all know Australian Governments of both political persuasions have had a consistent position opposed to the death penalty.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

WONG: Look, I hope that there’s not been any deal done with him, with Mr Turnbull, about a return down the track. I think that would be unreasonable in the circumstances and I think some of the behaviour post the press conference that we’ve just been discussing, including the fact that a photo of complainant was sent around, really confirms that it isn’t appropriate for Mr Briggs to continue in the ministry.

JOURNALIST: What exactly would you like to see happen in regards to Peter Dutton, should he be sacked?

WONG: The first thing I think Australians would want to see is the Prime Minister fronting up. Ducking for cover is not an option. This is a test of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership and he should come out and explain Peter Dutton’s position, why the behaviour is acceptable, or if it’s not what is being done about it and most importantly how it is consistent with the ministerial standards that Mr Turnbull professes to endorse.

JOURNALIST: What if your Labor colleagues behaved in that way, would you expect them to resign?

WONG: You’re providing me with a hypothetical. I have taken a position I think all my political life about the way in which we should speak particularly about women and about the use of words such as the ones we’re discussing and I think that’s been a consistent position. I think I’ve taken a consistent position about the way in which we should speak particularly about women.

Anything else? Thank you very much.