26 February 2014




FRAN KELLY:  Penny Wong, good morning and welcome to Breakfast.

PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INVESTMENT: Good morning, it’s good to be with you.

KELLY:  You say that Fiona Nash has breached the Ministerial Code, Tony Abbott says she hasn’t. He says that the right thing now has been done by all.

WONG: Let’s be very clear about what has happened here, the Minister had a Chief of Staff who at the time he was her Chief of Staff was a director and co-owner of a company which wholly owned a lobbying company which had listed as its clients Mondelez, that’s the parent company of Cadbury and Kraft, as well as the Australian Beverages Council. Now Mondelez via spokespeople here has made its views very clear about the policy of the star rating of food.

The Minister’s Chief of Staff called the department at the Minister’s request demanding that the website implementing this policy be taken down. And then the Minister herself when the department refused to do so, quite properly, demanded and succeeded in having the website taken down.

This is not the neutral exercise of power by a Minister. This is very much a Minister making a decision which from the outside you’d have to question whether it was in the public interest. Now what Labor has said –

KELLY: I don’t understand why you make that claim though because as you’ve just clearly told us, the Minister issued that instruction. You’re not saying that the Minister has links to the junk food industry. That’s the accusation you’ve made against her former Chief of Staff. If this instruction came from the Minister where is the conflict of interest?

WONG: The conflict is that the Minister is required to act in the public interest. The conflict also is, what the facts are, that this Minister was not empowered to take that website down. That was a decision that should have been made and was not made by all of the jurisdictions – all of the States and Territories involved in this.

But let’s understand: the Minister misled the Parliament at least once and we say twice, she had to come in and correct the record because she told the Parliament that her Chief of Staff had no interest.

What Labor has been saying is that the Minister should come into the Parliament and give a full, frank, clear explanation of what has occurred, when she was aware of his interest, why as Minister, because she is responsible – you asked what she has done wrong – she is responsible as Minister for ensuring that her staff, including her Chief of Staff, comply with the Statement of Standards applicable to Ministerial staff and she has not done so.

KELLY: Yes, she has failed to do that but she came into the House and corrected a misleading of the House within hours and that’s within the rules for a politician to do that and she has done that. The staff person who clearly did have this conflict has been sacked. Where is the Ministerial breach of code following that?

WONG: Two points, she took six hours after telling the Senate that had no interest in the company to come in. Now that’s a pretty simple fact to clarify – why did she take six hours? The more important fact is that we still don’t know what the truth is.

You played a grab of the Prime Minister saying that the staff member concerned was required to divest his interest. The Minister never told the Senate that. So when she corrected the record, when she said look I have to add to my answer, which was in fact I got it completely wrong and mislead the Senate, she never said that one of the ways to deal with the conflict interest was to require Mr Furnival to divest.

The Prime Minister has said that in the House of Representative, the Minister has never explained that that was in fact a part of the requirement, that was not part of her explanation and what all of this points to is the same thing and we’ve seen it again in Senate Estimates this week – this is a government that’s determined to be secretive, they’ve refused to answer questions. We had an extraordinary estimates hearing last night with the Special Minister of State who would not even say whether he had received the statement of interests from the Chief of Staff as the Minister is required to do so under the Prime Minister’s own Statement of Standards.

KELLY: Are you calling for Senator Nash to be sacked?

WONG: No, we have never called for that.

KELLY: I’m asking you now, is that what you want?

WONG: No, we want, I think the Australian people are entitled to a clear, full, frank explanation of what the Minister did, how she managed the conflict of interest, how she sought to ensure that the Statement of Standards applicable to both her staff and herself were upheld. She has not done so, despite weeks of having the opportunity to do so and she does have the opportunity today.

Can I just remind you Fran and I’m sure you don’t need to be reminded of this – the principle of Ministerial accountability to the Parliament is a very important part of our democracy that is how Ministers are accountable through the Parliament to the Australian people. That’s why when you’re a Minister you have to make sure you don’t mislead and if you do, you correct at the earliest opportunity – something this Minister did not do – and that you provide a full, frank and clear explanation of what has occurred.

What this Minister has done is to run away from that principle which is consistent with the approach this government has taken when it comes to disclosure of information the public should have.

KELLY: It’s 11 minutes to eight. Our guest this morning is the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Penny Wong. Senator yesterday in Senate Estimates Labor Senator Stephen Conroy launched a pretty extraordinary attack on Lieutenant General Angus Campbell the head of Operation Sovereign Borders, we heard it earlier there when were speaking with Michelle. In your view is that appropriate, to speak to a senior military officer like that accusing him of a political cover up?

WONG: I think it’s entirely appropriate for Labor Senators to probe the cloak of secrecy this government is applying to so many areas of public policy and clearly Operation Sovereign Borders is one of them.

KELLY: A political cover up?

WONG: You and I both know that this government has refused to be fully frank with the Australian people about what has occurred. The Minister in question, Minister Morrison, told the Australian people last week, he gave them facts that were incorrect and then corrected his misstatement late on a Saturday night and still refuses in the Parliament to give details of what occurred. I think anybody watching the press conferences from Minister Morrison, his statements and his behaviour in the Parliament would recognise that this is a government that is determined to be secretive on this matter as in many other matters.

KELLY: Senator Wong, can I just ask you finally, Qantas will announce its half year result tomorrow, it’s anticipated that a big loss will be posted and then thousands of job losses will be announced. Why won’t Labor support a move from the Government to allow greater foreign investment in the airline, if Qantas says that is what it will take to save jobs. Why won’t you do that?

WONG: Our first priority is jobs and that is what we need to be focused on and we’ve made clear-

KELLY: It’s all about jobs.

WONG: We are not supportive of Qantas leaving Australian hands but we are absolutely prepared to work sensibly with the Government on what can be done to ensure that the thousands of Australians and their families who rely on Qantas as employees but also those of us who use it, can have an airline which continues and is viable into the future.

The reality here is – I thought your questioning of Michelle Grattan was right on point – why is the Government doing this? They want to make a political point, this is not a time for political points, they’re in government. This is a matter which goes to thousands of jobs and they should soberly and sensibly approach it and we are willing to discuss that with them.

KELLY: Senator Wong, thank you very much for joining us.

WONG: Good to speak with you.