8 February 2018




SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: I want to start with two issues of critical importance to South Australians.

The first is the GST. Yesterday the Senate voted to support a motion, not only backing South Australia’s allocation of the GST, but calling on the Turnbull Government to come clean with their plans to reduce the GST. Let’s remember the Productivity Commission’s interim report shows the prospect of a reduction in the GST distributions to both South Australia and Tasmania.

Now, this is on the same day as Simon Birmingham and a whole bunch of Liberals try to get a big splash in the local paper saying ‘we’re going to fight for the GST, we’re going to fight for South Australia’s allocation’. What did they do just a few hours later? They walked into the chamber and voted against this motion to protect South Australia’s allocations of the GST and to require the Turnbull Government to come clean. So that’s what they do – they say one thing in Adelaide and they turn up in Canberra and vote against South Australia’s interests.

We had support from every other South Australian Senator except the Liberals and they were happy to sit on the other side of the chamber to myself and all of the Labor Senators, Cory Bernardi, the Nick Xenophon team. I’ll tell you what, Malcolm Turnbull needs to come clean with South Australians about his plans to reduce their GST before the South Australian election. It’s been a cynical move to bury this report, to release the interim report and then on January the third say ‘oh, we’re not going to get this report out before the South Australian election. We’ll conveniently defer it beyond the election’.

Well South Australians are entitled to know if the Liberal Party is going to cut the GST for South Australia. It means fewer nurses, less funding for our public hospitals, it means fewer frontline police officers and fewer teachers. That’s what it means – real services to South Australians.

I also want to mention the River Murray. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan was something Labor delivered and we are completely committed to its full implementation. We need to have a federal government that is prepared to actually back this plan. So, what I would say to David Littleproud and Malcolm Turnbull is this: back the plan you say you support.

Now, we know what Mr Joyce thought, he said there wasn’t a hope in Hades of delivering key aspects of the plan. He told South Australians to move to where the water is. Well, there’s a lot of discussion about the Murray-Darling Plan and I’d simply say this to the Federal Government, let’s back this plan. This had bipartisan support. You need to back it in full and you need to put your money where your mouth is.

JOURNALIST: Do you agree with the Closing The Gap Campaign’s Steering Committee’s assessment that the Government has effectively abandoned that policy?

WONG: I did see that report and it is deeply concerning. Let’s remember that one of the first things that the Government did when coming to government was to cut funding for our First Peoples. To cut funding for services, to cut funding that went to important programs to try to Close the Gap for our First Peoples. That was one of then Prime Minister Abbott’s first acts in his first Budget – half a billion dollars.

So, that is going to have an effect, and if we are serious about Closing the Gap, and making sure that is not just words, Government has to ensure that we invest properly.

JOURNALIST: Beyond funding..

WONG: What do you mean by beyond funding?

JOURNALIST: I guess greater engagement with Indigenous Australians…

WONG: Of course and I think it has been extremely disappointing to see the way in which there has been a loss of bipartisanship in progressing Reconciliation and progressing Recognition. But I would say on that we have a wonderful spokesperson on this, Senator Dodson, and I will leave it to him to talk about these matters.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you about North Korea and the Winter Olympics. That balance between sanctions or engagement, what is your assessment of that?

WONG: You need to do both. We should remain resolute in our implementation of sanctions. The international community needs to remain united and firm in the sanctions it continues to impose on North Korea. They are the greatest threat to peace and stability, not just in our region but in the world. But it is a good for there also to be dialogue and I agree with Foreign Minister Bishop who, I think, earlier said this is a good thing but this doesn’t mean that the international community should move one step back from the sorts of pressure that is being imposed.

JOURNALIST: Just on foreign espionage laws, the Attorney-General has offered a few amendments that might offer journalists some protections. Will Labor now support these?

WONG: I’m a member of the committee that is actually considering those laws, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, so I am not going to get into detail of discussion about it, because there are matters before the committee.

I would say, in terms of what has been publicly stated though, it’s quite clear from the public inquiries, the public submissions from stakeholders that have been made, that there are a range of concerns – including form the media but not only – and it is a good thing that the Government is taking time to consider these before proceeding with the laws.

JOURNALIST: Just finally, on the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, Malcolm Turnbull is going to call on the states to sign up to a national redress scheme. Is that something you would support?

WONG: I will leave comment on that to Jenny Macklin. I think Labor’s position on that has been clear and we need to progress it.