16 December 2018




SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: I’m pleased to be here with my Shadow Ministerial colleagues Doug Cameron and Jenny McAllister, both of whom have done a lot of good work on housing and also on women’s economic position. I’m also here with Louise and Naomi – Louise is the CEO of Catherine House and Naomi is a graduate, as it were of Catherine House.

I’m here to talk about the local South Australian charity that Conference has adopted and which I hope will benefit, not only from the Conference, but from the continued support of South Australians.

Catherine House is a great service here in Adelaide. It’s the only service available to women without kids, not only for emergency accommodation, but it provides services to help women walk their path, to help women walk their path to greater dignity, and greater self-sufficiency.

A sad fact, which Doug can speak further about, is the fact that the group which is growing fastest in terms of their representation in the homelessness statistics are older women. And what Catherine House does is not only help people in their time of need, but try to set them on the path, support them on the path that they want to walk.

I’m really honoured to have, particularly, Naomi with us, who found her way back to university, has been supported to do that by Catherine House, and is an example of what we know in Labor, that if you help people, support people, walk with people to be the best they can be, they can be the best they can be and that’s a good thing for our community.

LOUISE MILLER FROST, CEO CATHERINE HOUSE: Catherine House focuses very much on recovery for women experiencing homelessness. So we have wrap around services which enable women to recover from the experience of homelessness and whatever brought them into homelessness. Naomi is an amazing example of somebody who has really found her feet in life and is moving on.

We’re really excited about the announcement from Senator Cameron this morning because obviously the resolution for homelessness is a home, services absolutely, but a home.

SENATOR DOUG CAMERON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING: It’s great to be here with Catherine House – Louise and Naomi. This is an issue that is raised every time I do any meetings on homelessness, the emerging issue of older women in homelessness situations. Older women who have not had access to superannuation, older women who find themselves in marriage break-ups, and that just leaves them with absolutely nowhere to go.

Previously Labor had a $44 million a year fund for emergency short term accommodation. That was removed by the Coalition in the 14/15 Budget. We have indicated we will reinstate $88 million on short-term accommodation. And in the longer term we are very confident that our NRAS scheme, that has been announced today, will help women like Naomi, into the future, to get access to housing and to ensure that they can live a life we all expect people to live – one of security and one that can build a career for the future.

SENATOR JENNY McALLISTER, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR FAMILIES AND COMMUNITIES: I just wanted to make a few additional remarks about the significance of providing for women’s economic security and retirement.

We undertook a major inquiry into this some years ago, and the stories that were presented, in terms of women being very, very vulnerable in their retirement years, were quite heartbreaking. Women living in real poverty, making choices between using electricity and having food. It is absolutely essential that we continue to retain focus on what women need as they age. The announcements today will make a very real difference to a particular cohort of women who face some very real difficulties into retirement at the moment.

WONG: For those members of the Press Gallery who might feel like donating look at this. $50 provides new PJs, $122 provides outreach services, so if you can contribute all of you, I’d be really appreciative.

JOURNALIST: Senator Wong, can I ask you about the decision on Jerusalem, the Government’s decision on Jerusalem? We’ve already heard a hot response from Malaysia, what’s your response?

WONG: I don’t think this is a decision which is in Australia’s national interest. We’ve made clear that we don’t believe that this sort of unilateral, risky decision is a good thing for the country.

We all know why this decision was initially made. We know it was made because Scott Morrison thought he could gain a few votes in Wentworth. That went horribly wrong. We know that the original decision was made without the advice of the Department, that our military was advised late, that it didn’t go to Cabinet. This is an example of how not to run foreign policy.

Now, ultimately the decision that has been announced is a backdown, but as I said yesterday it is all risk and no gain. It really speaks to somebody in Mr Morrison who is prepared to play partisan politics with foreign policy and that is a bad thing for a Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: About the appointment of David Hurley – is that also about playing politics?

WONG: General Hurley is an Australian who has served his country. He’s been a good Governor, he’s been a great soldier for Australia and we have no issue with him being appointed.

There are two things which are obviously disappointing. I hope this is the last time we have to phone Buckingham Palace to get permission to appoint somebody. It would be much better if we had an Australian Head of State and an Australian Republic and I think that would speak about modern Australia.

The other point I would make is that, as always, Mr Morrison has been ungracious about this. Given the closeness of the election, the importance of the appointment, it would have been a better thing if he had been prepared to consult with the Leader of the Opposition. Unfortunately, his graciousness has never really been on display.

JOURNALIST: If you had been consulted, would you have chosen, selected, or pushed for someone else?

WONG: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. He’s an Australian who has contributed a lot. I’m sure he will do a very good job.

JOURNALIST: Senator, you’ve got superannuation, you’ve got housing, you’re helping people. Should Labor pledge to increase Newstart?

WONG: I don’t think there is anyone in the Labor Party who doesn’t think Newstart is too low. The question is how do we go about rebuilding it? How do we go about lifting it? There is political will but it is a big task. There has been a lot of goodwill and a lot of discussion about how we approach that. Certainly it does need a review, and Bill, in his speech, made clear what his view is about the current level.

JOURNALIST: Many people say it doesn’t need a review at all. You’ve got ACOSS, you’ve got BCA, you’ve got economists like Chris Richardson saying $75, they were saying that in May. What is the purpose of a review when you have already got the answer?

WONG: I know what you are trying to do. This is a big issue. It’s a difficult issue fiscally, and Labor obviously wants to address it and we’re working through that, both at this conference, and through the Shadow Ministry process.

JOURNALIST: Is it concerning that those protesters were able to get so close to Bill Shorten today?

WONG: There is one political party in this country that is prepared to open up our conference to the community, that is prepared to show people what we do, prepared to argue our ideas in public, and have our debates in public.

I remember being at National Conferences where protesters were on the stage next to me and what I said to them is ‘we are the only ones prepared to have this debate in public’. The Greens are not. For all of their discussion about democracy you will never see the Australian Greens opening up to the cameras and to journalists and to the public, their conferences. And certainly, Liberal councils, as Bill said, whatever they may be, some form of Conservative High Tea, they are obviously not this sort of event.

JOURNALIST: In this day and age though, is it a security risk?

WONG: I’ll leave that for the experts. What I would say to you is we have an open and democratic forum. It is one of the great traditions of the Labor Party and it demonstrates that we are prepared to put ourselves to scrutiny.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.