10 August 2012




WONG: Thank you. It’s been great to be here today at another CEDA event, talking about women and leadership, and announcing the Government’s intention to establish a Women on Boards Network to try and give more women the opportunity to serve on a government board, gaining valuable experience – working with the private sector to improve the gender balance in Australian boardrooms. Not just good for women, but for all of us, because we ensure that we get the best people for the job.

Can I also talk about briefly the Statement on Monetary Policy released today. What it shows yet again is that our economy is travelling well, in fact, strengthened forecasts for this year than what was previously anticipated. And it reminds us that here in Australia we’ve seen 810,000 jobs created since Labor came to government, at the same time as we’ve seen millions of people lose their jobs overseas. So while there’s no doubt there are sectors of the economy that are struggling with the weight of a high dollar, you have to say the Australian economy is travelling well, and that we are seeing continued growth in the number of people in jobs.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: On the network, how will it work? Will it be that women nominate for the network and you give them… the network gives them a leg-up on how to get onto boards, or extra training?

WONG: The idea of the network – and we want to work very closely with the private sector, who have already done a lot of good work in terms of databases, and getting more women on boards – but the idea of the network is to find ways to better link women candidates with the positions available on government boards. And we have a 40 percent target – we’re on track to meet it. But we do continue to see very many of the same women being nominated for board positions. So the idea of the network is to work out how it is we can link better with a broader range of women candidates, particularly interfacing with the private sector.

JOURNALIST: The Opposition, I guess, would take the view on monetary policy that the glass is half-empty. That’s the analogy bandied around an awful lot lately. How would you respond to their inevitable criticism?

WONG: I think what we see is Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey continuing to talk down the Australian economy. And that’s not a responsible approach by an alternative government. The fact is, we are doing far better than most other advanced economies. It’s true we have a patchwork economy. It’s true that there are sectors which are finding the high dollar difficult. But the fact is there is no other country on earth you’d rather be in when it comes to the economy, as well as our way of life in Australia.

JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott has indicated that the brownout phenomenon with power supplies could be aggravated if there’s an effort to tackle overinvestment in electricity. Now, South Australia is prone to these sorts of events…

WONG: First, I’d say this: Tony Abbott is at odds with his own party. He’s at odds with Malcolm Turnbull, and with other people in the Liberal Party and state Liberal ministers who recognise the problem that the Prime Minister has identified – which is that the vast majority of electricity price increases over these last years has been driven by investment in the network. Now, reliability is important, but Tony Abbott really isn’t facing up to the issue that others in his party are prepared to face up to.

JOURNALIST: If over-investment is inflationary on your quarterly power bills, is there a case then to ease back on the carbon tax?

WONG: We put in place our policy when it comes to carbon pricing. And what I would say is this: that the component of the electricity price increase attributable to the carbon price is far less than what we’ve seen as a result of investment in poles and wires, and is also the subject of assistance through tax cuts, increases to family payments and increases to the pension.

JOURNALIST: How do you feel about David Pisoni’s comments about Grace Portolesi’s leather skirts?

WONG: I reckon if you’re talking about people’s skirts you’re probably losing the argument.

JOURNALIST: The cost overrun with the NBN – is that a reasonable level we’re talking about there, $1.4 billion?

WONG: This is a big project, a project to build the infrastructure of the 21st century. And I think if you look at this new Corporate Plan which is being released, you’ll see we spent a little bit more earlier on but we’ll also get more return for taxpayers, a solid return in excess of 7 per cent. So it’s a good project in terms of the financials and it’s an even better project in terms of the productivity it will yield for the Australian economy.

JOURNALIST: So you never locked into the $43 billion?

WONG: We’ve put out our figures very clearly. There has been a small increase in the capital expenditure as a result of more build and more connections, and certainly greater distance earlier but remember, this is a corporate plan that covers a period after we’ve got an agreement with Telstra and an agreement with Optus and we’ve got more contracts signed. So it’s a very good plan and what it shows is that there’s a return to investment for taxpayers.

JOURNALIST: Just going back to the women on boards, how critical do you think it is to have quotas when it comes to private sector boards? I know it’s difficult to force things onto people.

WONG: That’s not the approach we’ve been taking. The approach I want to take as the Minister for Finance, working with Julie Collins who’s the Minister for the Status of Women, is to try and ensure we not only meet our own targets as a government, but we also expand the number of women candidates. Because I think if we can get more women with experience, that’s a good thing for the Government but it’s also a good thing for the private sector who are looking for candidates with board experience

JOURNALIST: Why do you question the Federal Opposition leader’s policy to repeal part of the Racial Discrimination Act and Mr Abbott’s commitment to tackle online commentary?

WONG: Can I make this point about the Racial Discrimination Act, because I think it’s important for us to remember we as a society have made a decision that it is not appropriate to discriminate or vilify people on the basis of their race.

That’s why we have this legislation. And freedom of speech is important but freedom of speech in this country has not meant the freedom to incite racial hatred. That’s the position that I take and that’s the position the Labor Government’s taken. I think what we see from Tony Abbott with the inconsistent comments this week is a pretty inconsistent approach to this issue.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that Australian Agriculture Company CEO –

WONG: I’m sorry?

JOURNALIST: Do you think David Farley should have apologised to the Prime Minister for his comments?

WONG: Yes I do. I think his comments are inappropriate. I saw his public comments that suggested they’d been taken out of context. I don’t think there’s any context that makes those comments appropriate.

JOURNALIST: Do you think David Pisoni – he offered his resignation and that was turned down – do you think that that’s reasonable?

WONG: That’s a matter for the Liberal Party.