13 September 2016




SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Last night we had news that Malcolm Turnbull has rolled over again. Malcolm Turnbull who rolled over by denying the Coalition a free vote on Marriage Equality. Malcolm Turnbull rolled over by agreeing to a plebiscite that he doesn’t support. And now he’s rolled over again, by agreeing to shovel public money to those who oppose Marriage Equality.


Can I just say this; Malcolm, just for once, just for once stand up for what you believe in, because it would be a refreshing change. It’s very disappointing that the Government has gone down this path and we already see Mr Shelton from the ACL making clear precisely what he’d use the money for. What he will use the money for is to attack people for who they are. He will use the money to attack programs like the Safe Schools programs. We’ve seen what he and his supporters have already said about that program.


So, it is very disappointing that we see Mr Turnbull, yet again, demonstrating such weakness, such weakness on an issue that he actually supports, very disappointing indeed.


Can I just turn briefly, just to recap yesterday in the Senate, a pretty extraordinary day in the Senate. A Government, many, many weeks after the election, a Government with only five weeks left to legislate its program, had nothing to talk about. We saw a pretty extraordinary display of a discussion about flagpoles and The Proms and forgetting candidates’ names, but very little at all about a political agenda. It really goes to the fact that this Government has no agenda. The only thing they’re focussed on is their own internal division. Internal division on policy, internal division on the Marriage Equality issue, which is always resolved inside the Liberal Party by the moderates rolling over to the hard right.

JOURNALIST: Is it inevitable that the Labor Caucus will reject the plebiscite?


WONG: That’s ultimately a matter for Caucus. We will go through our proper processes internally. We haven’t seen a Bill, let’s be clear no one has actually seen a Bill unless George has released it in the last little while.


But we have had concerns all along about the plebiscite, and I say this as a supporter of Marriage Equality. But we’ve had concerns about the plebiscite all along and nothing that has come out in these last weeks about the plebiscite has allayed those concerns, in fact they’ve been exacerbated.


JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that by not having the plebiscite it means Marriage equality just gets pushed into the background?


WONG: We could pass the Bill this year. The numbers are there. The only thing stopping it is the Liberal Party not having a conscience vote.


JOURNALIST: Isn’t it a heroic assumption though to make that the Liberal Party will roll over and decide to have a free vote?


WONG: What I would say to Malcolm and the moderates in the Liberal Party is you can’t keep negotiating and compromising with people who will never agree. They seem to think “if we are really nice to Eric Abetz and Cory Bernardi they’re going to leave us alone”. Well they won’t. They won’t, because they have made clear even if a plebiscite succeeds through the Parliament and even if it succeeds out there in the community they won’t vote for it anyway. So I don’t know why the moderates seem to think that if they keep negotiating with these people who hold very hard views, who will never compromise these views, who will have no truck with equality, why they think that it is a viable strategy.


JOURNALIST: Isn’t Malcolm Turnbull keeping his promise by going to a plebiscite? He went to an election on that.


WONG: He didn’t go to an election saying “but I’m not going to require my MPs to support it”. He didn’t go to an election saying “I’m going to shovel a whole heap of money at people who have said some pretty horrible things”.


Let’s remember the ACL have described children of same sex couples as The Stolen Generation. These are not people who engage in respectful and civil debate. They attack us for who we are and they attack our children. That is what this taxpayers’ money is going to be used for.


JOURNALIST: On the Omnibus Bill, what do you see as the path for that in coming days?


WONG: The Bill obviously has to go to the Labor Caucus. There’s obviously been discussions that have been made public.


Our view is this, we said before the election we do need to repair the Budget but we need to do it in a way that is fair. The Government, regrettably, hasn’t learnt from Tony Abbott’s mistakes, where too much of the repair of the Budget falls on those who can least afford it. Labor will always take a different approach.


JOURNALIST: Does that mean you won’t be supporting the Bill?


WONG: The Bill will go through our processes and I’m sure that Chris Bowen will be making an announcement about whatever decision is made.


JOURNALIST: There’s reports today that the Energy Supplement will be saved, and there could be scaled back cuts to ARENA and that the Child Dental Scheme will also be excluded from the Bill. Can you confirm that that is forming part of Labor’s compromise?


WONG: I can confirm that Labor will always look to Budget repair that is fair and I urge you to await the decision of the Caucus.