SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE GOVERNMENT IN THE SENATE

MINISTER FOR FINANCE AND DEREGULATION

TRANSCRIPT

3 August 2013

PRESS CONFERENCE – MELBOURNE

TOPICS: ECONOMIC STATEMENT, OPPOSITION COSTINGS, OPPOSITION FISCAL POSITION, TOBACCO EXCISE

E&OE - PROOF ONLY

WONG: Thanks very much for coming. Yesterday the Government released its Economic Statement and it’s a Statement which recognises the reality of the economic challenges facing Australia. We’ve had many years of economic growth, we have debt levels and unemployment levels far lower than most of the developed world. But we do face some challenges ahead and so it’s critical that we make, as a Government, sensible economic decisions to manage these economic transitions, and that’s what the Economic Statement showed. It set out the Government’s responsible decisions in the face of these challenges and made very clear that this Government is not going to cut to the bone, not going to cut the health and education services Australians rely on, but will make responsible savings and return the budget to surplus in 2016-17.

At such a time, it’s very important that political parties are upfront with Australians about the choices that we make, and the Government has been. We have laid out our choices, our costings, our policy decisions for all Australians to see and that’s the right thing to do.

What do we see from the alternative government? Well, we’ve seen a series of excuses as to why they can’t share their plans with Australians. We’ve seen them say over and over again, ‘oh we’ll do it later, we’ll do it later, we’ll do it after this or after that or after the budget or after the Economic Statement or after the Pre-Election and Fiscal Outlook.’ A series of excuses from Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey as to why they won’t share with Australians their secret plans.

Well, we think it’s time they did. So in the absence of Joe Hockey telling Australians what his plans are, in the absence of Tony Abbott showing Australians what his plans are, we’ve outlined them. And we’ve outlined the sorts of cuts that would have to be made if Tony Abbott were to return the budget to as good a position as the Government. And what this shows is that Joe Hockey was pretty much on the money when he said $70 billion worth of cuts. What it shows is that the Coalition, to return the federal budget to as a good a position as the Government’s, at minimum, would have to make $70 billion worth of cuts. And of course they haven’t told Australians what their cuts will be.

So I’d say this to Australians: I think Australians rightly believe politicians should be upfront about their plans. And the Government has laid out our plans and our budget. We’ve laid out our approach to the economic challenges Australia faces. We’ve laid out – upfront and honestly – our decisions. It’s time Tony Abbott did because what this document shows against what Tony Abbott has said is that he would have to make $70 billion worth of cuts, cuts to services that you rely on, if he’s going to bring the budget back to surplus. What this document shows yet again is that the Liberal Party are all about savage cuts to the bone, savage cuts to the health and education services Australians need. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Joe Hockey won’t say whether they’ll adopt the tobacco tax. What do you make of that?

WONG: What I’d say to Joe Hockey is this: why don’t you come clean with Australians? Why don’t you tell Australians what your real plans are? I mean the reality is this: Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott say on the one hand ‘we want a strong budget.’ On the other hand they oppose the Government’s savings measures. Well the only way you can bring those two things together is to make other cuts.

Now if he’s opposed to responsible savings what other cuts is he going to make? We know that Tony Abbott when he was last in Government took $1 billion out of public hospitals. We know what he likes to cut. Well what else is he going to cut? What health services, what education services, what is he going to take off families, what is he going to take off pensioners?

JOURNALIST: He also says that you’ve lost control of the budget. Is it realistic that Labor will deliver a surplus?

WONG: It’s interesting, isn’t it, we get this sort of language from Joe, huffing and puffing but never actually telling Australians what his plans are. I’d just make the point, there’s a lot of commentary and coverage out there today, some of it’s balanced, some of it’s unbalanced, some of it you might say, a reasonable observer would say, is it is bordering on biased.

There’s other coverage too, and I’d refer people to things like what the ratings agencies are saying about the Government’s Economic Statement; Fitch, which indicates that the Economic Statement demonstrates that the Government remains committed to sound fiscal management; Standard and Poor’s which says that the Economic Statement shows that we continue to take a conservative approach to public finances. This is much more balanced coverage than some of the commentary we’ve seen and certainly much more sensible discussion than what we hear from Joe Hockey.

JOURNALIST: Do you think its offensive that Joe Hockey (inaudible) a Vietnamese (inaudible) Chinese?

WONG: Did he do that did he? Well, what I’d say to Joe is we don’t all look the same mate.

JOURNALIST: Will the Prime Minister be visiting the Governor-General tomorrow or Monday to set an election date of September 7?

WONG: I think that’s entirely a decision for the Prime Minister and as you know he, as all previous Prime Ministers, has the right to call an election in due course.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

WONG: (laughs) I think that’s the same question, isn’t it? Anything further? Thank you.

ENDS