10 November 2017




HOST: We have Penny Wong, the Labor Senator for South Australia on the line now. Penny, good morning, and thank you so much for your time

WONG: Good morning, good to be with your both.

HOST: Firstly, just to what Barnaby Joyce said. Are you 100 per cent confident that there is no issue with your citizenship, and if so, have you got documentation that you would release proving that fact?

WONG: Absolutely I am satisfied. And can I just say, I know that Barnaby has been under a lot of pressure but the lashing out last night was a reasonably unhinged performance if anybody wants to watch it. The reality is he didn’t come forward. The media uncovered his citizenship and he was forced into an embarrassing act in the House of Representatives and concede he was a New Zealand citizen. So, there was no kind of “good” disclosure from Barnaby.

In relation to disclosure, Labor is actually saying, given where this has got to, it is appropriate that Parliamentarians disclose and Bill Shorten sought universal disclosure, came out and said we need universal disclosure to the Parliament. We are in the process of negotiating with the Government about what that would look like, and we are seeking a greater requirement to disclose.

I’m very happy, once Malcolm Turnbull has finished threatening people, and gets down to the business of behaving like a Prime Minister, if we can get an agreed position, for me, and others, to disclose the steps we have taken too renounce citizenship, which as I have said I did in 2001.

HOST: But Malcolm Turnbull, he insists that Labor is being evasive, and that Justine Keay, Madeleine King, Susan Lamb, Josh Wilson and other people, alleging, as Barnaby Joyce said last night that you too, you’re sitting on stuff that may or may not clear you.

WONG: There’s a way for Malcolm to deal with this – agree to Labor’s proposition that everyone disclose by the first of December. That’s what we put to him and people need to see the threats that he is making for what they are – they are a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that he has a number of people who have been referred to the High Court, and have not taken any steps to renounce their citizenship.

We see in the papers today John Alexander, the Member for Bennelong, is reported to have confirmed he is a dual citizen but has been talked out of dealing with this. We also see Malcolm, as you mentioned, ringing Rebecca Sharkie to pressure her in order to try to gain some political cover. This is really a very desperate and diminished Prime Minister we are seeing and it is about time he started behaving like a leader.

HOST: How do you see this being resolved? Because Mr Turnbull’s account of that meeting the other day with Bill Shorten was that for two hours Bill Shorten had no real interest in coming up with a solution. It looks like Labor has got a vested interest in this dragging on?

WONG: That is not right David and really, don’t just tell Malcolm’s talking points. I was in that meeting and it is extremely disappointing that Mr Turnbull agreed that he would describe the meeting accurately as constructive and if you look at his first press conference afterwards he did that. He then obviously slept on it overnight and got angrier and angrier and came out swinging, making all sorts of inaccurate assertions. As I said, a pretty petulant performance frankly.

We have said we would like an agreement for disclosure that applies across the Parliament. We have put to him how we want that strengthened. Most importantly he wants to push disclosure off until after Parliament rises. Now, I think Australians, who are rightly sick of this, want this resolved. Having disclosure pushed off, so Parliament doesn’t deal with it this year, is a pretty blatant attempt to skate through to Christmas. His response then was “we’ll bring the Parliament back”. So, Australians will then be asked to pick up the tab for an enormous expense to bring the Parliament back just because Mr Turnbull wants to delay disclosure. These are the sorts of things we are seeking to resolve.

Now, we are happy to try to get a reasonable agreement, but in the meantime what we have seen, frankly, is Mr Turnbull behaving a bit like a tin pot dictator. Threatening to use his numbers to attack Members of the House, Members of the Labor Party, because he is desperate to avoid people looking at what actually is happening in his Government which is in crisis.

HOST: Penny, just to change tack for a moment, do you have concerns about the intensity or tone of public political discourse in Australia at the moment in light of what Sam Dastyari experienced at a pub recently?

WONG: I have concerns, not so much about – we all are concerned about political discourse but it’s pretty horrible to see that sort of racism and lots of Australians have experienced it. I have been in pubs where I have been abused when I was young, and I am sure many other people have. I actually couldn’t watch all of it because I thought this is not good to watch.

But I think the point you make is an important one. If you have politicians out there, and regrettably we have got Pauline Hanson out there really ramping this up and telling people it is fine for you to behave in ways that are frankly, abusive and disrespectful of people, then that is not a good thing for the country. We are, for all of our faults – and every country has them – we are a great country and we are also the most successful multicultural nation on Earth and that is a great strength.

HOST: And also another issue knocking about at the moment is what appears to be the anticipation of the same sex marriage postal vote passing with a resounding Yes and conservative forces marshalling to prepare a raft of amendments to any legislation that incorporates a whole has of things broadly under the umbrella of religious freedom. Do you have any concerns about where the legislative component of this is set to go after Wednesday next week?

WONG: You’ve got to hand it to them don’t you? The No vote campaign and the politicians associated with that have fought this every step of the way. I don’t know what the survey will say, but what they are clearly saying is even if it is Yes, we are going to try to fight this again in the Parliament and prevent this happening even though the Australian people have voted. That is what they are setting up to do.

I reckon this, if the survey comes back with Yes, I don’t think Australians are going to cop Parliamentarians playing political games to prevent this happening.

HOST: Is there any inconsistency for Labor though Penny because on the one hand you’ve got Labor MPs saying there’s a cloud over this Parliament. We passed legislation with tainted votes, the tainted vote of Barnaby Joyce. There are suggestions today that Labor wants to stall the Parliamentary deliberations on increasing the powers of the anti-union provisions in the Registered Organisations bill. You can’t on the one hand say this Parliament shouldn’t be acting on these issues because so many MPs are under a citizenship cloud, and then in the same breath making that point about same sex marriage, as Cory Bernardi said.

WONG: People need to understand why Cory says anything on marriage equality, or as you described it same sex marriage. He will use any argument he can to prevent a vote.

The reality is if there are citizenship issues they don’t go to the overwhelming majority of Parliament and I think this is just another excuse by those who have really fought to preserve discrimination for as long as possible. I’m not quite sure why they want to hold on to it so much but they do. It’s just another angle.

HOST: South Australian Labor Senator Penny Wong. Thanks very much for joining us this morning.

WONG: Thanks guys, good to be with you.