30 December 2015




SPENCE DENNY: You would have heard that there’s been extensive coverage of the resignation of Jamie Briggs and also the standing down of Mal Brough from their ministerial positions in the Liberal Party. We have contacted Jamie Briggs a number of times this morning and his response is simply he has nothing to add. There’s a question of timing and the details. Senator Penny Wong has been tweeting her concerns. Penny Wong, good morning to you.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good morning, good to speak with you Spence.

DENNY: Senator, what do you make of the timing of this announcement?

WONG: I think everybody knows why this was announced when it was. We had two ministers either resigning or stepping aside yesterday, Mr Brough and Jamie Briggs. We had the Government confirming that it was going to cut funding to schools as Simon Birmingham made clear in an interview. I think it’s what’s called in American terms as take out the trash day, when you do all the bad news in one day and hope that people aren’t watching, because obviously Christmas to New Year is a pretty busy time for families and we’re not very focussed on the news.

DENNY: Has the appropriate action been taken in both circumstances here?

WONG: I think that’s hard to know because we know so little about what occurred in relation to Mr Briggs. I think the question in relation to Jamie is the one you raise, which is a question of timing. It’s been reported that the decision to do this was made a week ago, it’s been reported that the incident in fact occurred in November and I think there is a question as to why both took so long to deal with. But more importantly, why did the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, sit on this for a week just so he could get the news out when it was convenient.

And as for Mal Brough, I mean this is pretty extraordinary, as late as the final sitting week of the Parliament Mr Turnbull, Malcolm Turnbull, was expressing full confidence in Mal Brough. Well, nothing’s changed since that time except the timing, it became politically convenient for Malcolm Turnbull to ask him to step aside. Remember this is a bloke whose answers in the Parliament are completely inconsistent with what he’s said publicly.

DENNY: Speaking with Labor Senator Penny Wong in reference to the resignation from the ministry of Jamie Briggs, specifically in South Australia. How do you see the loss of a South Australian-based minister affecting our state, Penny Wong?

WONG: This is very important time for South Australia when it comes to Federal Government decisions. We saw some very bad signs out of the Federal Government, particularly in relation to the submarines, particularly in relation to the contemptuous way in which Joe Hockey dealt with the auto industry. Joe’s gone, but unfortunately so is the industry over the next couple of years. So we’ve got a few key decisions coming up. There’s also, of course, the Murray Darling, which South Australians always have a special interest in. Very disappointing, concerning that Barnaby Joyce is now the person in charge of the Murray Darling. We all know where his priorities lie and they certainly don’t appear to lie at this end of the river. So the less ministerial representation we have in any government, but particularly at this time in this government, which hasn’t demonstrated itself to be a friend of South Australia, I think that’s always a concern.

DENNY: We’ve seen a very, what can only be described as collaborative relationship between Jamie Briggs and our Transport Minister in Stephen Mulligan here in South Australia, to the extent where there’s been some mutual backslapping particularly over announcements on road works and other infrastructure items. Are any of those projects in doubt now as a result of the loss of Jamie Briggs?

WONG: Look, I would hope not. I would hope that these projects, some of which, or many of which, were actually funded under the previous Labor Government, we’ve seen the roll out of these projects over the last could of years as well as prior to that. But things like infrastructure really should be above politics and if the Federal Government’s doing the right thing on infrastructure in my state I’ll always be happy to acknowledge that. In fact I think, as Anthony Albanese has said, we do better to take the politics out of infrastructure and really focus on what delivers best bang for buck and give Infrastructure Australia greater independence and greater authority to look at that, rather than politics driving some of these decisions.

DENNY: On the decision of Jamie Briggs to step aside as a minister, on the basis of ministerial standards, why would ministerial standards differ from parliamentary standards?

WONG: That’s a longstanding position. You hold office as a minister, you hold high office and there is a code of conduct, a set of standards, that both Labor and Coalition governments have established. I think ours were probably a bit more detailed and tighter than the ones that the Government’s adopted. I think all governments have adopted standards of ministerial behaviour and if you breach those-

DENNY: -So MPs can be a little more flamboyant than ministers, can they?

WONG: I think everybody in life, and certainly in public life, should behave appropriately. But I think it’s always been the case that the standard expected of ministers to hold that office is a high standard and obviously Jamie Briggs has, in his own words, he hasn’t met those standards and so it’s appropriate that he step aside.

DENNY: Now there’s been some speculation this morning, it may be totally scurrilous, but there’s speculation the door is now open for Tony Abbott to return to the ministry.

WONG: Well, goodness me. That would be interesting, wouldn’t it? He’s certainly been very noisy, hasn’t he? He hasn’t exactly faded into the background, he’s very happy to say what he thinks and to have a bit of a chip at a few of his colleagues, but ultimately that will be a decision for the Coalition. I have to say that we’ve seen a lot of division over the last period in the Federal Coalition and certainly between the National Party and the Liberal Party federally. You might recall Ian Macfarlane resigning from the Liberal Party to join the National Party in order to try to get a Cabinet  position and some pretty nasty comments made by a few National Party members in this process as well in relation to Jamie, so there’s obviously a fair bit of tension in the Coalition and I don’t know how it would go with Tony Abbott returning, but that’s a matter for them.

DENNY: Senator Penny Wong, thank you.

WONG: Good to speak with you. Have a happy New Year.

DENNY: And to you too. Labor Senator for South Australia, Senator Penny Wong.