7 January 2016




SENATOR PENNY WONG, ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much. The first point I wanted to discuss was the asserted nuclear testing by the North Koreans, which we know about. I want to make very clear the Opposition’s view on this. We, too, like the Government, are extremely concerned by this news. We share with the Secretary-General an unequivocal condemnation of North Korea’s actions in this regard. It is in contravention of successive UN Security Council resolutions. Their nuclear program is a threat to global security and it is a threat to regional stability, and so we are deeply concerned by this and join with the Government and the rest of the international community in our condemnation of the actions of North Korea.

On another matter, we see today out in the papers Barnaby Joyce on his campaign to become Leader of the National Party. I want to make a couple of comments about that. Even Barnaby Joyce’s own colleagues are expressing concern about him becoming Leader of the National Party. Let’s remember, if he does become leader, he becomes the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. Now, Barnaby is pretty entertaining, but he is also erratic, and he simply doesn’t have the sober and sensible approach to public policy that the Australians expect from the holders of high office. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: So, with that in mind, Senator, do you think he would make a good Acting Prime Minister, if that were to happen?

WONG: Well, as I say, I think Barnaby is very entertaining, but he is erratic and that’s the last thing you want in someone who is one step away from being the Prime Minister and who is called upon to act as Prime Minister regularly. And if you look through recent history, or even longer, we’ve had people who have served in the position of Deputy Prime Minister who have served well, and I think the concern is even Barnaby’s own colleagues are worried about him taking on this role.

JOURNALIST: Considering where things are at with the Nationals at the moment, do you think the time has come for Warren Truss to make his intentions clear?

WONG: Well, the National Party is the National Party, and it’s up to them how they manage their internal affairs. I’m simply making this point: as a South Australian, we are always worried about Barnaby Joyce when it comes to policy matters. We know what he thinks about us here in Adelaide, we know what he thinks about the water issue when it comes to Adelaide’s priorities. But more importantly, if he becomes Leader of the National Party, he is the Deputy Prime Minister of the country, and this is a bloke who we all know is pretty erratic.

JOURNALIST: So are you saying it would be dangerous for the country?

WONG: Look, I just think Australians expect a more sober and responsible approach from people in high office. We all remember Barnaby being Shadow Finance Minister. That was certainly entertaining, but if he can’t hold down that job, I don’t know how you hold down the Deputy Prime Ministership.

JOURNALIST: But if Warren Truss goes for whatever reason, whether it be for health reasons or just wants to get out of politics, there’s not really much alternative, is there?

WONG: Well, that’s a matter for the National Party and for the Coalition, but as I say, I think Barnaby has demonstrated what he is like – very entertaining, but do you really want him being the Deputy Prime Minister of the country?

JOURNALIST: Do you think that voters deserve to have some kind of clarity over what’s happening (inaudible) Nationals?

WONG: Well, there certainly seems to be a lot of public speculation, doesn’t there? And this isn’t just an internal position; this is a position that comes with it the second most senior political position in the country. So, it is pretty destabilising I would have thought to have Barnaby out campaigning in the way he has, and clearly it is his campaign to become National Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: How stable do you think the Coalition is (inaudible)

WONG: Perhaps about as stable as this shade that Channel 7 has provided for me, but thank you very much for holding it. I was here a few days ago, I think, speaking with all of you and we were talking about the fact that a few days into the New Year we’ve got a couple of ministers gone, another under a cloud and now we have the National Party in their own little leadership dance. So it’s not the sort of stable government I think Australians want. We’ve had a lot of division on display over this Christmas-New Year break, and now Barnaby has simply added to it.

JOURNALIST:  Onto the CFMEU (inaudible)

WONG: Look, unions have been amalgamating for a long period of time – that’s the consolidation of the trade union movement – is a longstanding position. What I would say is any allegation of bad behaviour or criminal behaviour should be dealt with appropriately, regardless of who engages in it.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that they may increase their political power (inaudible)

WONG: Well my view about the trade union movement is – I say two things – first, there are a great many things we have achieved in this country, including penalty rates, which I know the Coalition wants to take away, which would not have been achieved without the support of the trade union movement, without the work of the trade union movement. But ultimately how the Labor Party deals with them, they are affiliates, we listen to what they have to say, but we have to make judgments in terms of what we think is in the best interests of the country.

JOURNALIST: Senator, there are reports Jamie Briggs is almost skulking around-

WONG: -Skulking?

JOURNALIST: Almost skulking around.

WONG: How does one skulk?

JOURNALIST: Incognito, baseball cap, sunnies.

WONG: That probably doesn’t work.

JOURNALIST: Around his electorate at the moment, would that be symptomatic of he doesn’t want to be seen, do you think?

WONG: Well, you would probably have to ask him that, but if you are in your electorate and as an MP, or as a senator, I think you just assume you are going to be known.

JOURNALIST: So you think a baseball cap-

WONG: -So, I don’t think-

JOURNALIST: -So sunnies and skulking isn’t a good look?

WONG: Occasionally when I’ve been wearing a very daggy bucket hat and sunglasses trying to stay out of the sun people have said to me “Penny, are you trying to be incognito?” And I just say, “No, I’m actually just trying to stay out of the sun.”

JOURNALIST: Do you think he should perhaps be loud and proud and have a high profile in the electorate at the moment?

WONG: I think the issue for Jamie is not whether or not he’s got a profile, I think the issue is whether people think he is the right person to represent them and whether the standards of behaviour that he has demonstrated are what they expect of an MP and I think the concern about that is even inside the Liberal Party, where we’ve already seen local speculation about whether he is the right candidate to run in that seat.

JOURNALIST: You touched on stability, how safe and stable do you think his tenure in Mayo is at the moment?

WONG: That’s ultimately a question for the Liberal Party and the voters of Mayo. On the former, the Liberal Party, we’ve already seen Liberal Party gossip here in South Australia suggesting he’s not the right person for the job. I think the voters in Mayo do deserve a good representative and I think certainly the feedback that I’ve seen through media and through public discussion, some people are very concerned about his behaviour. ‘

JOURNALIST: Just on another issue, Australia is spending $90 million to convert luxury corporate jets into spy planes. Does Labor have any concerns about that?

WONG: I’ve only seen those reports, I understand they’re based on some US information. They’re certainly not reports that the Government, to my knowledge, has added detail to. The Opposition hasn’t been briefed on this matter and we would hope the Government would brief us in the very near future about an acquisition of this sort.