10 July 2014




SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Thanks very much for coming. Well it’s been an interesting day in the Senate and what you did see is the Labor Party putting forward a serious, responsible policy on climate change, continuing to put our amendments to the Senate, a serious and responsible policy on climate change.

What did you see from the Government? You saw chaos and dysfunction; chaos and dysfunction. We saw deals being literally cobbled together in the corridors, deals that have major consequences for Australian business and for the Australian economy, and deals that the Government couldn’t even explain.

Let’s remember that Tony Abbott promised strong and stable government. What Australians got today was a shambolic and chaotic Government. That’s what Australians got today. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Was your reading of the amendment that there are very, very tough penalties on companies, much harder than the original amendment?

WONG: Well look, which of the three amendments moved by the Palmer United Party is the Government supporting? Which of the three amendments is the deal? I think Australians are entitled to know that. I think Australians are also entitled to know: does the price pass through that’s been spoken of apply to all businesses or only to electricity and gas companies? Does it apply to all or only some businesses? I’ve asked that question of Senator Abetz twice in the Senate today in Question Time and he wouldn’t answer it, and I think Australian businesses including small business are entitled to know whether or not these obligations apply to them.

As you also said there appear to be criminal offence provisions in at least one version of the amendments and I think the Government should be clear is that going to apply to all Australian businesses as well.

JOURNALIST: The latest amendment also drops the term domestic [inaudible]. Does that mean it apples to anything in the world?

WONG: That’s probably a very good question and I suspect you should probably ensure that the Government answers that at some point.

JOURNALIST: Do you think any of the versions of the amendments are workable? Particularly the final version seems to be the one the Government is saying it wants.

WONG: Look, we do have some concerns about the workability of the amendments and that’s why we asked questions in Question Time today. I think the Government does owe the Australian community a very clear explanation of what deal is being done and what that deal means for Australian business.

JOURNALIST: Does it require another legislation comittee inspection of it, given [inaudible] –

WONG: Certainly we need to make sure this is properly scrutinised. But I would make this point: you might recall we had a debate at the beginning of this week about when we should have the vote and the Labor Party said we should bring the carbon bills on in accordance with Senate process next week after the Committee had reported. Well guess what? It’s now going to come on next week.

And maybe if the Government had actually paid attention to proper process rather than just trying to ram these bills through to get a political win, they might not have been in such a chaotic and shambolic mess.

JOURNALIST: How are you reading the politics of this Senator? In terms of the relationship, between the Palmer United Party and the Government?

WONG: What I would say is that the explanation that has been given by the Government and by the Palmer United Party doesn’t appear to add up. We appear to have one version of events from Mr Hunt and Senator Abetz in a rather awkward press conference today and their comments don’t appear to accord with what was said by Senator Lazarus in the Chamber. So we still don’t know what actually happened and why it was that the Government after guillotining debate lost the vote, because they obviously lost the numbers during the time that they guillotined.

JOURNALIST: This week’s Senate sitting was designed especially to pass the Carbon Tax Repeal Bill. Has this been a waste of time to do you think?

WONG: I think what it has been is an example of an arrogant Government seeking to ram through legislation, tripping itself up because it hasn’t managed to get the outcome they want, and I think what we have seen is chaos and dysfunction.

I mean we had this extraordinary situation in the Senate as you might have seen, a Government filibustering and guillotining the same legislation; filibustering to try and cut a deal as people were meeting in the corridors to talk about amendments that have significant consequences for the Australian economy. That is not strong and stable government; that is chaotic government.

JOURNALIST: Based on your contact with the Palmer Senators and having been in the Senate this morning, what sense do you have about whether they were genuinely seeking to achieve an amended version of the legislation today or just throwing grenades in order to cause problems for the Government?

WONG: I think it’s probably best if I allow the Palmer United Senators to speak for themselves. Whilst we have different views on a number of things, carbon being one of them, I’m going to respect the privacy of private conversations that I have with them. So I’ll let them speak for themselves. But what I would simply say is the version of events… the explanation that Eric Abetz has given for this all falling apart is not the same as the explanation that Senator Lazarus gave in the Chamber.

JOURNALIST: Also on this, Senator Leyonhjelm says it’s unreasonable; the latest round of amendment will have on business. Is there a chance that this won’t get repealed, do you think?

WONG: I can’t speak for other Senators, I can only speak for the Labor Party and we’ve made our position clear: we’re happy to end the fixed price period and want to move to a floating price for an emissions trading scheme. It is the same policy that John Howard took to the 2007 election.

JOURNALIST: Have you had any discussion with the crossbenchers about the ETS? And what has been their response? They’re essentially saying [inaudible] Palmer Party, and your aim is to get the ETS up.

WONG: We’ve had a number of discussions with the crossbench. I’d simply say this: our position is very clear and we think that the policy of an emissions trading scheme is a sound policy, a serious policy and a responsible policy which is why Liberals such as John Howard and John Hewson have supported it.

JOURNALIST: Just on another issue, was the FOFA regulations, were they just tabled and will that allow you to disallow them?

WONG: I have been out of the Chamber, which is unusual today, but I have been out of the Chamber for the last twenty minutes so if they have been tabled I’m not aware of it. But what I would say is this: it’s quite clear from Senator Cormann’s answers in Question Time that the Government has deliberately delayed tabling these regulations. Why have they deliberately delayed it? Senator Cormann made clear: because he wanted time to work the crossbench.

Is this really how we want our democracy to work, that when laws come into effect the Government withholds their tabling in the Senate which of course would trigger the debate, which would trigger the disallowance debate, the Government wants to hold that back because they want to work the crossbench? It’s not a very responsible way to run government and really I think it simply adds to the chaos that I described earlier. Thank you.