22 May 2019




SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Thank you very much for coming. Obviously Labor just suffered a disappointing loss on Saturday night. I want to open by saying thank you to Bill Shorten. We thank him for unifying the party. We acknowledge the extraordinary effort he and his staff showed in running this campaign. Bill led a united and stable team for six years, rebuilt our party after the 2013 loss; and for that he deserves our thanks and respect.

I also want to thank the Labor team across the country – all of our staff, all of our candidates, all of our volunteers. You put in a mighty effort and we thank you for your commitment to the labour movement.

Here in South Australia, we had a great campaign. We ran a very strong campaign. We were able to explain our policies. We saw a result in South Australia which was the best result in the nation on a two-party preferred basis with a four per cent swing to Labor. That will mean we’ve got five out of 10 seats, elected two senators; so yet again we will have a strong Labor team from South Australia to represent South Australia’s interests in the Federal Parliament and in the caucus.

I also want to thank Nadia Clancy. Nadia was a fantastic candidate. She ran an amazing campaign. Building on her position as a person from that community she took up the fight to Nicolle Flint. The Liberals threw everything at her and she managed to halve the Liberal margin in the seat. She’s a talent for the future and someone I hope we will see again representing Labor as a candidate and hopefully in Parliament.

As I opened with, this was a disappointing result for the Labor Party. And I’d say this – we need to take time. We need to take time to soberly reflect. We need to take time to understand the reasons for this loss. We need to listen to what the Australian people have said. We need to consider our policies, what we can do better and, as importantly, how we can communicate them better. As I said, most of all, we need to listen.

I would encourage everyone – and I see there’s a lot of people out with their particular pet theories – to take our time before we rush to judgment and to not engage in easy scapegoating of any policy or any individual. We need to objectively and carefully consider this result and what has occurred and we need to ensure we unify together to take on a government, a Coalition Government that is without purpose. Because this is a Coalition Government without purpose.

I’m also here today to announce that I will be supporting Anthony Albanese for the Labor leadership and I do so simply because I think he’s the best person for the job.

Albo is the outstanding parliamentarian of our generation. He’s shown that in his previous capacity as Leader in the House and he’s shown that he can work with people across the Parliament to achieve the outcomes that benefit working people. I think he is the best person to lead us and he is the best person to take up the fight to Scott Morrison and the Coalition. He’s also the best person to unify our party, which is so important after this loss.

Anthony Albanese knows who he is and he knows what he stands for. He’s a man of authenticity and integrity. He’s got a capacity to speak to people across this great country, to speak to people in the regions and in the outer suburbs as well as in our cities.

I also announce today that I will be putting myself forward again as Labor’s Leader in the Senate. The Australian people may have elected the Coalition, but they don’t expect them to get a free pass in the Senate and it is our role to hold them to account and to scrutinise what they are doing and I intend to continue to do that, if elected by my colleagues, as Labor Senate Leader.

JOURNALIST: Why would you not go for the position yourself?

WONG: I’ve never wanted that job and I’m supporting Anthony Albanese.

JOURNALIST: Would you be deputy?

WONG: I want to be Labor Senate Leader again. It’s a position I’ve held for many years now and I think I’ve demonstrated my willingness to take up the fight on issues that matter to the Australian people as well as to hold the government of the day to account.

JOURNALIST: Is there a question that Anthony Albanese is too closely linked to this loss, though, in terms of what the Australian people will think?

WONG: Look, I think we are all linked to this loss. We bear collective responsibility as a party. It was a very disappointing result and we do need, as I said, to carefully and objectively consider what this means and the way forward. But for the reasons I’ve outlined, I think Albo is the best person to lead our party.

JOURNALIST: You were one of the leading advocates for Labor during the course of the election. How much responsibility do you then bear for what’s happened?

WONG: As I said, we all take collective responsibility for it. As members, senior members of the party, and the whole team, we take collective responsibility and we don’t shy away from that. We have to face up to that and we need to consider very carefully the message the Australian people have sent, both in terms of our policy framework and also how we communicate.

JOURNALIST: This leadership process is going to take – what? A month or longer perhaps? That’s going to keep the focus on Labor instead of the new government. Is something that Labor needs to look at is a faster process to resolve these sorts of issues?

WONG: I think that this is an important exercise in democracy in our party and it has ensured stability in the leadership, which was obviously something that previously in government we needed to address. And we’ve seen the three prime ministers under this government as well over the last period. So, it’s a process we go through, a democratic process, where Labor Party members and then caucus members have their say.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of reports this morning that Mr Shorten may be involving himself in the process to select a successor?

WONG: Well, I would be surprised if that were occurring. I’d be surprised because it’s not consistent with the role he now has and I’d be surprised because it would potentially undermine the very unity he has been part of developing and building in Opposition.

JOURNALIST: Is Chris Bowen too closely identified with Labor’s tax policy during the election to credibly be leader after the election?

WONG: Chris is a friend of mine and I have great regard for him. And I think he said that he wouldn’t have a bad word to say about Anthony Albanese. I think that’s the way we should approach this. This is an exercise in democracy, not division.

JOURNALIST: After the defeat is it better is it better to have no contest? Should Bowen withdraw?

WONG: That’s entirely a matter for him and he’s decided to put his name forward as is his right.

JOURNALIST: What about the situation of the deputy position? Is there anybody you’d particularly support?

WONG: We’re blessed, I think, in having quite a lot of people who would be strong candidates for deputy and in this context I want to acknowledge the extraordinary work of my friend Tanya Plibersek, who has been a unifying force in the party with Bill and who performed extraordinarily well during the campaign.

The deputy’s position will be determined by the Caucus after the leadership is determined.

JOURNALIST: If we look at some of the economic data which has been coming out – the RBA yesterday raised the prospect of a rate cut later this year or early next year. What do you think that says about the state of the Australian economy at the moment?

WONG: We always hope for a stronger economy, but we’ve had very tepid economic growth in recent times and some of the signs aren’t good. My greater fear is that it doesn’t appear that this government has any plan, any economic plan or any plan to deal with an economy that is not as strong as we would want it to be, or a plan to deal with health and education, dental care for pensioners and a range of other things.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that if the economy continues to slow, as it is at the moment, that might have a knock-on effect on government services and revenues coming in?

WONG: There’s a lot of hypotheticals in there. We’d all be concerned if the economy slowed. Working people are the ones most affected, both in terms of disposable income, employment growth and obviously government services if the economy slows. That’s an economic fact.

JOURNALIST: Is the ongoing trade stoush between the US and China another alarm bell for the Australian economy? The RBA seems to think there’s some issues there.

WONG: The trade conflict between the US and China isn’t in Australia’s interests and it’s not in the world’s interests. I’ve said before and I’ll say again no-one wins from a trade war. That’s what history shows us. We would continue to encourage, as I think many nations would, this matter to be resolved.

We’re a trading nation. Australia benefits from open, transparent trading arrangements. That’s important to our economic growth. And we should continue with other nations to encourage those two great powers to come to an arrangement.

JOURNALIST: Is that the sort of message Scott Morrison should take to the G20?

WONG: I hope so. I hope so. I hope he will be someone who will articulate Australia’s interests on the world stage and Australia’s interests are open, transparent, fair arrangements.

JOURNALIST: Is it appropriate for outgoing Leader Bill Shorten to be lobbying on behalf of Chris Bowen?

WONG: As I said to your colleague, I’d be surprised if that’s happening. It wouldn’t be consistent with the role that a former leader has, a current interim leader, and it would undermine the unity that Bill has been such an important part in rebuilding.

JOURNALIST: You said earlier that you weren’t interested in the leadership. Are you able to explain why you think you shouldn’t stand? Because there have been a lot of people immediately after the election who thought you would be the ideal candidate.

WONG: I think there’s a few people on Twitter. You’ve got to watch Twitter. It’s not necessarily…

JOURNALIST: There’s quite a few Labor figures who said you should get down to the Lower House.

WONG: I went into Parliament and I chose to stand for the Senate because I wanted to be a Senator and if you’d said to me years ago “what would you want?” I would say in my ideal world I’d be a Senate Leader and a Cabinet minister. I’ve had the first of those and I’d like to be a Cabinet Minister again but that wasn’t to be on Saturday.

So my view is I’m best suited to the Senate. I love the Senate. I think it’s a very important chamber in our democracy and I’ll continue to work there for the Australian people and for the Labor Party.

JOURNALIST: Should Labor consider applying Rudd leadership rules only to periods of government so that there’s an easier way to move on?

WONG: Our rules have been agreed by the party and we’re not proposing to change them.

JOURNALIST: If Anthony Albanese had been party leader six years ago and leader at this election, would it have been different?

WONG: There’s no point in looking at what ifs. We deal with the reality and the reality of Saturday and the reality of taking the fight up to a government without purpose over the next three years.

JOURNALIST: If the AEC returns the writs quickly, does it bother you that Bill Shorten could still be interim leader?

WONG: There’s a lot of ifs in that. The AEC has indicated their position in terms of the writs and the timetable and I’d anticipate that we will proceed as quickly as possible through this ballot process.

JOURNALIST: There is a process for an interim leader though?

WONG: Yes, Mr Shorten is the interim leader.

JOURNALIST: Oh, he is?

WONG: Yes. OK. Thanks very much, guys.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.