10 March 2015




HOST, PETE DAVIES: Fantastic to have you here, now the most important thing, update on bub. Now this is really embarrassing because the last time you and I spoke I actually congratulated you on the birth of your first child, and she is three.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: She is three and she rules the world. Apparently she can do everything by herself.

DAVIES: We have a three year old grandson and you are right about the ruling the world thing.

WONG: It’s the most rewarding job you ever have isn’t it, but it is certainly one of the hardest.

DAVIES: There was a wonderful piece on Facebook that was doing the rounds a while ago with this little toddler about three years old. The caption ‘Saw it, wanted it, spoke to Nanna, got it.’

WONG: It ends with got it doesn’t it. I haven’t seen it but I am sure it ends with got it.

DAVIES: On a more serious note, one of the reasons for your trip to the Northern Territory and I touched on this with our Acting Police Commissioner Kershaw – domestic violence in society and of course we have a hearing here in Darwin and you are here to attend that.

WONG: I am, as well as to meet with a whole range of people that Luke Gosling has asked me to meet with from industry on other matters. On this issue, can I say it is really great that you had the Acting Commissioner on talking about this because I think one of the main challenges we have got is to really break the silence around domestic violence. For many years and in many communities it is still not something that people talk about and it is not something that people confront, and we are never going to deal with the problem unless we confront it. We have got to work out how to confront with it, but we are never going to deal with it if we stay silent. So it is really great that we have got people out and on your show talking about it and I think having people today before the Senate inquiry is also a very positive step.

DAVIES: Penny a lot of women are criticised after successive episodes of domestic violence and people go more the fool you for staying in that relationship. But it is not as easy as that. Quite often there are children involved and the desire to hold the family unit together. And many women in a lot of respects are sacrificial lambs for the sake of their kids.

WONG: There are a whole range of economic and social and personal reasons why people make those choices. I think rather than being critical of them we need to work out how we better support them and how we have the interventions which end the violence.

DAVIES: That’s why I have been very critical of the Abbott Government’s attempts to apply the Medicare co-payment because I’m of the opinion that one of the key issues in addressing domestic violence is women being able to, and men in some cases too, being able to go to their GP because the GP has got the fingers spread that can point people in the right direction. Now any system we put in place that discourages people to go to their doctor is quite fundamentally wrong.

WONG: I agree with you and I think Australians have really passed judgement on that policy already haven’t they. People want Medicare to be universal. They get it doesn’t really make sense to say to people we are going to make it harder for you to go to the doctor, particularly if you are from a disadvantaged family, why would you make it harder for someone to go to the doctor? And as you say we have got to do better at community services in terms of community policing and we have got to do better at enabling and supporting women through reporting it. But you are right, people go to their doctor to talk about a whole range of things and to point them in the right direction. We don’t want to put barriers in their way.

DAVIES: I was talking about mental health before we came on air. There is a distinct parallel with domestic violence and mental health, particularly in Indigenous communities. I was talking about,you go from western Arnhem Land to eastern Arnhem Land and you have got a number of different dialects so that the process of communication is extremely difficult. But where domestic violence is in situ and then there is that difficulty in people being able to reach out and get help simply because there is a communication barrier.

WONG: Well first on mental health, thank you for the work you do for Beyond Blue. I think itis a really important organisation. And like domestic violence, mental health is something we are all working hard to stop being quiet about isn’t it? We need to talk about these issues more. What you have identified is an issue really across all areas of policy where you have got challenges in communities, individual health challenges, individual addiction challenges, social problems. Dealing with them is much more difficult where you have got an environment where you have got (a) disadvantage and (b) enormous language barriers and challenges. So in the Northern Territory and the Top End in particular it is very different to, say, delivering services in the western suburbs of Adelaide. You have got a very different set of challenges. We understand that in government. That is why you have to fund Aboriginal and Indigenous services in the way they are funded. It’s a real pity I think that this Federal Government is removing money from a whole range of Indigenous services because the reality is to deal with those challenges you have to resource them.

DAVIES: The Federal Government has disappointed me greatly in terms of its approach to Indigenous funding and this is not a Liberal bashing exercise. Once again it gets back to like with the GP co-payment. We have got a situation with a very high cost of living in Darwin and it is only getting worse. Now what is happening is again families are being squeezed financially and because of the high cost of living, I’ll tell you now, faced with a decision of going to the doctor or putting fruit and vege on the table for your kids, you put fruit and vege on the table for your kids and sacrifice going to the doctor. Now whether that be domestic violence, mental illness or whatever else, in a modern society like ours, in a wealthy country like ours, it is just almost inconceivable.

WONG: Well this comes back to your values, doesn’t it. We are the party that created Medicare. We believe a universal Medicare system, like a universal superannuation system, they are really important social and economic pillars for Australia. So we have made clear our positon on the co-payment and on making sure Medicare remains universal, accessible and affordable. The broader issue about the Federal Government, I do think it is disappointing that we are seeing the range of cuts to Indigenous programs and what I would say is that is going to affect the whole community because you are going to get direct job losses. You also, on the front page in the paper today, you are seeing drug and alcohol services are not being funded. There is a social cost to that for the whole community. I do think Senator Scullion he should be upfront with you, he should tell people this is what we have cut and this is why and he should defend them. At the moment we are only seeing news of that trickle out, people being told that jobs will go. I reckon he should front people and tell them why he has cut things and what it will mean, how many jobs will go.

DAVIES: I often wonder Penny when we will learn that being paternalistic towards Indigenous communities, we tried the paternal approach for decades and it hasn’t worked. This situation of ‘You just do as you are told and this is how much money we are going to give you for you to do it’ doesn’t work. We really need to adequately fund our approach and then what we need to do is continually walk arm in arm. It doesn’t matter whether we are black, white or brindle in this country, we need to walk arm in arm down the same road with the same common goal.

WONG: That is a great sentiment not only in relation to Indigenous Australia but more generally. Politics has been pretty willing over the last few years, hasn’t it, pretty aggro, and I think as I move around the country more and more people talk to me with that sentiment. That we could bring people together more. And certainly I think the challenge for political leaders and it is something that Bill Shorten has spoken about and will talk about more, people do want political leaders who can bring people together, not just fight each other.

DAVIES: Yeah I think we will close the interview off and have a little bit of a chat about this, because it is something that I have wanted to talk about for a while with someone like you. The way that social media has completely changed the face of Australian politics and also it is quite obvious that the Australian electorate does not want political leaders who live in the past and who are that welded onto their ideology that they have become so stiff that they can’t be bent.

WONG: Or never admit a mistake.

DAVIES: Yeah, and also they get out of bed and have their spin pills every morning, that has got to stop. We want some basic honesty, real transparency, and that is the beauty of social media. Yes I know it has its evils, yes I know it has its downside.

WONG: Social media is no better and no worse than the whole of our society. You are going to get some people out there who are hard-line, you get some people who are really aggressive and nasty but a lot of people – I engage mainly on Facebook and Twitter and most people they just want to engage. Obviously you can’t respond to everybody but they want to have their say. I always reckon when politicians say young people aren’t interested in politics or people aren’t interested in politics, they might not be interested in us, but they actually are interested in issues. So you have got to engage people on the issues which are important to them. That’s what you do and that is what politicians should be doing.

DAVIES: Absolutely, Senator Penny Wong great to have you in here and I hope we won’t wait another three years before we have a little bit of a natter.

WONG: I promise it won’t be three years.

DAVIES: Am I allowed to let the cat out of the bag?

WONG: Go ahead.

DAVIES: We spoke three years ago about the arrival of number one. Number two is on the way.

WONG: Number two is on the way, due very soon.

DAVIES: On behalf of all of us at Mix 104.9 all the best and may three year olds rule the world forever.

WONG: Hear, hear.