18 March 2014



KELLY: Senator Wong good morning, welcome to Breakfast.

WONG: Good morning Fran, good to be with you.

KELLY: The Liberal Party won almost 53% of the vote after preferences. Tony Abbott says South Australian voters would feel cheated if Labor slips back into power. You can’t argue with that can you?

WONG: I don’t think South Australians or the Independents will take too kindly to Tony Abbott trying to bully people around who should form government. The reality is we have seen a result where the Independents will have to make a decision.

But we’ve also seen a result where Labor has done far better than many people predicted and I think that’s a testament to the campaigning capacity of the branch and of Premier Jay Weatherill. I also think it reflects a wariness about Tony Abbott amongst South Australians, concerns about the failure of the Abbott Government to stand up for South Australian jobs and concerns about cuts to come.

KELLY: We’ve also seen a result where, as I’ve said, the Liberal Party won 52.5% of the two party preferred vote – that figure may increase – and the Labor Party won 36.7% of the primary vote. That means 62% of the state did not vote Labor. Should Jay Weatherill give any weight to that?

WONG: Well you’re giving, there’s the two party preferred figure is different to that. But look can I just make this point: the electoral system we have in South Australia is one which was introduced after the urgings of the Liberal Party. It’s an electoral system which does require a re-drawing of boundaries after each election.

On occasion in a representative democracy you’re going to get a difference between the popular vote and the number of seats because people vote differently in different seats. For example, the seat of Ashford, held by a good friend of mine and an outstanding local member Steph Key, has had a much better result than many other seats because obviously people in that electorate chose to keep Steph as their local member.

KELLY: Yes, but you say on occasion. That’s the point, on occasion. This is the fourth occasion, the fourth election since 1989, that’s three out of the last four in your state where the Liberal Party has won the popular vote with 52% or more but failed to win enough seats to form government. That suggests something is wrong with the system in your state doesn’t it?

WONG: No, I don’t agree and I didn’t hear this proposition when for example Kim Beazley won the popular vote against John Howard, I didn’t hear Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne demanding a change to the federal laws. But I think, I went back last night to have a look at the report of the boundaries of the Electoral Commission in South Australia after they looked at the boundaries post the last election and they made the point their job is to deliver a level playing field, it’s then up to the campaigns, of the parties in each of the seats whether or not government can be delivered. And their judgment at that time was that it was an issue of campaigns, that they had delivered a level playing field. They’ll make a decision after this election about boundaries. But I think –

KELLY: Is that what you think too? Is that your judgment that the system is working?

WONG: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think what we see is people making a decision about who they want to represent them in the Parliament. Voters have thought about it, they’ve made a considered decision and a number of them in key marginal seats have chosen to retain sitting members who they obviously regard as being a good representative.

KELLY: What’s a vote worth though if all those people in South Australia who have consistently voted for a change of government, the majority that has consistently voted, can be denied time after time?

WONG: Look, what do you mean denied? Are you suggesting that we should deny people the capacity to put Labor people into Parliament or Liberal people into Parliament?

KELLY: No, I’m suggesting that when you get a clear majority, not just one election, two elections, three of the past four elections and Labor’s primary vote is very low. I mean, 36.5%, that’s very low. 36.7%, I beg your pardon.

WONG: It’s actually a primary vote certainly higher than we received in South Australia at the last federal election and we’ve done better in South Australia on the primary vote than we have nationally –

KELLY: But you’re not in government federally.

WONG: No, no we aren’t. But I again make this point: this is a system that was put in place at the urging of the Liberal Party in the early 1990’s. This is also a system which enables boundaries to be redrawn after every election. I think if you look carefully at the results what clearly has happened is people in certain seats have said ‘we want to keep this person. We want to keep this Labor member because we think they’re a good member.’ Now that is representative democracy.

KELLY: The PM is applying plenty of pressure on the independents, Bob Such and Geoff Brock. Bob Such is a Liberal Party MP turned independent, Geoff Brock has been an independent Member of Parliament since 2009. How should they make their decision in your view?

WONG: They should decide who they think would make the better Premier and the better Government, and obviously my view is clearly the better Premier is Jay Weatherill. I think Tony Abbott’s approach is the same old Abbott really – he comes along and tells people what they should do, and that’s what he’s doing again in these circumstances. I would have thought after this election result which in part reflects a wariness about him, he might do better to allow the people of South Australia and the Independents to make their own mind up.

KELLY: Bill Shorten said yesterday he can’t ‘see any circumstances where federal Labor under his leadership would ever form another alliance with the Greens’ and he would discourage state Labor governments from doing the same – this is in the wake of the Tasmanian result. But why apply one rule to the Greens and another to Independents, isn’t the principle the same?

WONG: I think it’s well documented some of the concerns in Tasmania if that’s what you’re referencing. You’ve got to make your judgment. I agree with Bill’s judgment – I think federally that is the right call. I think in South Australia you’ve got two respected Independents. They can make their judgment reflecting on the capacities of the candidates, of the Premier and the Opposition Leader.

I mean, what’s happened here Fran – and you said in your introduction it’s an unexpected result – I think what’s happened here is you’ve had some federal factors in play and concern about Tony Abbott, but fundamentally you’ve also had a better campaign from Labor, and people didn’t regard Steven Marshall as the person that should be Premier. That’s why the Liberal Party didn’t pick up the seats, at this stage, that they needed to form majority government. They ran a textbook small target strategy and South Australians didn’t buy it.

KELLY: It’s quarter to eight on Breakfast. Our guest this morning is South Australian Labor Senator in the Federal Parliament Penny Wong. Penny Wong just on another issue and finally – have you been contacted by the Royal Commission into pink batts which kicks off today and if so what are they asking of you?

WONG: Look, a number of us have been contacted and I’ll assist with inquiries just as I’m sure other people will. I think the key issue here is to ensure that the Commission focuses on what’s important which is workplace safety. It’s regrettable the decision that was made by the Government in relation to Cabinet confidentiality, I think that was a poor decision by the first law officer of the nation, Senator Brandis, to overturn over a century of tradition, and I think you’ve seen commentary from both sides of politics including former Liberal Prime Ministers about concern around that.

KELLY: Have you been asked to appear as a witness?

WONG: I’ve been asked to assist and I’m happy to do so.

KELLY: Does that mean being a witness?

WONG: I haven’t been asked to appear before the inquiry. If I were, I would assist just as I’m sure other people will. The key issue here is that we saw some dreadful incidences of a lack of workplace safety and we saw some very tragic results as a consequence.

KELLY: Penny Wong thank you very much for joining us.

WONG: Good to speak with you.