SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

OPPOSITION LEADER IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

TRANSCRIPT

22 December 2016

DOORSTOP – ADELAIDE

TOPICS: ACL FIRE, LESSONS OF 2016, LIBERAL CHAOS AND DIVISION

E&OE - PROOF ONLY

SENATOR PENNY WONG, ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much for coming. A beautiful day here in Adelaide and another headline from Cory Bernardi threatening to defect or split from the Liberal Party. We all know Cory loves a bit of attention so it’s hard to know if this just a little more attention seeking from Cory.

But what this does underline is Malcolm Turnbull’s weakness. This underlines Malcolm Turnbull’s weakness because if he were a leader of authority, if he were a leader with control of his own party, you wouldn’t see Cory out there, or George Christensen out there talking about splitting. And the fact that they are demonstrates Malcolm Turnbull’s weakness and it demonstrates he doesn’t have control of his party.

And what that weakness means is a divided Government. At a time when we have challenging issues facing us what we have is a Government that is divided and fighting amongst itself. That’s what we know from today’s headlines and that’s what we know from what George Christensen is telling us on Facebook.

JOURNALIST: How damaging do you think this is for the Government?

WONG: I think this is extraordinarily damaging for the Government because, you know, you can’t govern yourselves you can’t govern the country. That is one of the truisms of Australian politics. And, as I said ultimately this isn’t actually about Cory, it actually isn’t about George, it’s about Malcolm. It’s about Malcolm’s weakness.

JOURNALIST: Cory’s so-called Donald Trump style politics, do you think that has a place in our country?

WONG: I don’t think that some of the slogans that Cory trumpets are answers to the problems Australia faces and I think that’s what we have got to be talking about. What are the things people ae concerned about? What are the problem we need to fix?

We know for example that we are going to see Budget pension cuts from the first of January courtesy of Malcolm Turnbull and Nick Xenophon. I don’t think that’s the answer to the inequality Australia faces.

JOURNALIST: What do you think the outcome could be if Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t rein in people like Cory Bernardi?

WONG: I think Malcolm has got to ask himself is he Prime Minister in more than name? Because he has got the title but he hasn’t got the authority. He has to lead and he has to stand up. He seems to have thought, over this last year, that if just does what some of the people of the hard right of his party want that they will leave him alone. They are not going to leave him alone. We know what weakness breeds, weakness breeds division. And Malcolm Turnbull by continuing to try to compromise what he believes, compromise who he is, is simply losing respect inside his party, and amongst the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: Do you want to comment on what happened outside the Australian Christian Lobby in Canberra?

WONG: Yes, thank you. Labor condemns outright this act of violence, this act against, apparently, the ACL. There is no place for violence. Whatever people’s differences of views are we do not respond to those differences by acting with violence.

I would say in response to some of the comments that have been made this far, I always think it is wise in these circumstances not to rush to judgment, not to rush to attribute blame or motive.

JOURNALIST: Senator, what have you learned in 2016?

WONG: (laughs) Goodness me, that isn’t the question I expected. Well, I have learnt the extent to which the Liberal Party can fight amongst itself. And I have learnt a lot about parenting. And I have learnt how much I value sleep. As a parent of two kids now under six, because Alexandra just turned five, I join with the other parents of other young kids in wishing for a bit more sleep in our lives.