30 October 2017




SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Can I first come to Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash and the recent High Court decision in relation to their eligibility to sit in the Parliament. What Australians have seen in these last days is that this decision has opened up the division and chaos at the heart of the Turnbull Government. It’s as simple as that.

We saw the extraordinary spectacle over the weekend of the Prime Minister unable to leave the country, having to delay by two days his very important overseas trip because the Liberal and National Parties couldn’t agree on who would be the Acting Prime Minister. That is dysfunction at its highest.

Even since he has left what have we seen? More sniping, that’s what we have seen. More sniping from Barnaby Joyce attacking Liberals, reminding them that they’re only in Government because of the National Party. We’ve seen unnamed Liberals backgrounding against the National Party, complaining, with some basis, that the National Party’s sloppiness has led to this crisis. And we’ve also seen Barnaby suggesting a referendum that clearly doesn’t have the support of the Liberal Party.

Australians are entitled to ask “when is this lot going to start governing for us? When are they going to start looking at the issues we care about rather than fighting amongst themselves?”.

JOURNALIST: So as the Opposition do you then have a mission to exploit that weakness?

WONG: Our mission is to stand for what we believe in and we believe in a society that is more equal, the protection of penalty rates, we think there should be a Banking Royal Commission. All of these things are bills or laws that failed by one vote at a time when Barnaby Joyce is sitting in the Parliament. So of course the Opposition will continue to do what we have always done, which is to stand up for Labor values and to contest them very strongly in the Parliament and in the community and in the media.

JOURNALIST: Do you hold that there are any question marks on any previous legislation with Barnaby Joyce’s imprimatur?

WONG: We certainly know that the protection of Australians’ penalty rates and the establishment of a Royal Commission into the banks failed by one vote. We know that happened at a time when Barnaby Joyce was sitting in the Parliament so people can do the maths for themselves.

But when it comes to the legality of decisions let’s remind ourselves of this point: if there is a challenge to the many decisions that Barnaby Joyce made when he was sitting in the Federal Cabinet and sitting as Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister, when he shouldn’t have been, that’s on Malcolm Turnbull’s head because it is a matter of his judgment.

He’s done two things; one is that he has allowed Mr Joyce to stay in his position after the facts associated with Mr Joyce’s citizenship became public. But let’s remember also – and South Australians have a particular interest in this – Mr Joyce, who we know has never acted in the interest of South Australia, has had the water portfolio in this Government because of a secret deal between Malcolm Turnbull and the National Party, a deal which has never been made public.

I notice today that the Premier has suggested that he is going to get advice about some of the decisions Mr Joyce has made as the Minister for Water. Well, what we do know is that Mr Joyce has consistently acted against the interest of South Australians when it comes to the Murray-Darling Basin.

JOURNALIST: Would Labor, Federally, also be seeking advice on the legal standing of these matters?

WONG: I think it is pretty well known that Mr Joyce and Ms Nash should not have sat in the Cabinet. The extraordinarily poor judgment – Malcolm Turnbull’s lack of judgment – is demonstrated by this. The two ministers he fought to keep in the Cabinet have been found to be ineligible, and the one minister who did the right thing, Mr Canavan, who stepped down, is found to be eligible. There’s Malcolm Turnbull for you, making the wrong decision time after time.

JOURNALIST: So there are issues pertaining to water supplies, there is the banking inquiry – are there any other matters you think can be challenged involving Mr Joyce?

WONG: You know what? I suspect there are hundreds of decisions that Mr Joyce made. And the fact that they are potentially able to be challenged is on Malcolm Turnbull’s head

JOURNALIST: Will Labor seek to challenge them?

WONG: You’d have to look at the decision, whether or not they were the right decisions for the community. The point is we will always advocate for the community’s interest as we always have.

JOURNALIST: You’ve had a considerable interest in the Murray-Darling Basin as a minister. Where have Barnaby Joyce’s failings been apparent?

WONG: Most recently anybody who watched the Four Corners report and who has watched what has happened in New South Wales, it is demonstrably clear that under Mr Joyce, the Basin Plan is being eroded. I think that is clear, and as a person who was involved in getting agreement from the states for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and who purchased water for the environment for sound reasons, watching Barnaby Joyce turn a blind eye, at best, to what is occurring upstream is appalling and I think that feeling is shared by all South Australians.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the Prime Minister has got the headspace for the portfolio at the moment?

WONG: I’m not sure the Prime Minister has got the headspace to govern at the moment. He seems to be entirely focussed on the internal divisions of the Government, which have been there for all to see.

I would add this point also though, we’ve got a Queensland election at the moment and we’ve seen some discussions about preferences to One Nation. We saw Julie Bishop, the Acting Prime Minister, today not ruling out preference arrangements to One Nation. Well on this Malcolm Turnbull really does have to show leadership. I know he has found it hard to show leadership on very much at all but on this he actually has to show leadership and he has to ensure that the Liberal National Party does not get into a preference deal with One Nation.

I think everyone in Australia, fair minded people across this country know, that it is in the national interest for the Liberal National Party to walk away from any preference arrangement with One Nation and Malcolm Turnbull should ensure that occurs.

Just finally one point I would make about Mr Joyce, Mr Joyce is out there campaigning a lot in New England. Now obviously this is a by-election where he is favoured to win and I think the Labor Party vote in the last election was below the informal vote and certainly less than ten per cent. But I’d make this point to the voters of New England – Mr Joyce, who styles himself as a local, has been part of a Government which has delivered you second class NBN and second grade schools. That’s what Barnaby Joyce has delivered.

JOURNALIST: Perhaps one question on Senator Joyce…

WONG: Mr Joyce. I always make that mistake. He used to be..

JOURNALIST: Yes indeed. As you make the point he is the hot favourite to get up, Does that then iron out all the confusion that exists with the grey areas on the Government side at the moment?

WONG: The confusion that exists on the Government side at the moment is of the Government’s own making. The Government has not ensured that its candidates were vetted when it comes to the Constitutional requirement around citizenship. The Government has allowed ministers who are under a cloud to continue to serve in the Cabinet – including in the second highest office in the land – and the Government is now divided about, and fighting amongst itself, about the consequences of the High Court decision. So the confusion and the chaos is entirely on Malcolm Turnbull’s head.