10 May 2016




KIERAN GILBERT: With me now I’ve got the Labor campaign spokesperson, Penny Wong. And your reaction to the criticism from Peter Dutton about what he says is a split in Labor on the issue of boat turnbacks. You had the candidate in Melbourne expressing her concerns about it, not repudiated or condemned by Mr Shorten or Mr Albanese for that matter either.

PENNY WONG: We’ve made our position very clear. And I can understand why the government wants to talk about this issue, they certainly don’t want to talk about why it is they want to take billions of dollars out of our schools. When they can afford a $50 billion tax cut for business, but they can’t afford billions of dollars being invested in our schools, why they’re cutting schools by $29 billion. So they want to talk about this. We’ve made our position clear, Kieran, and this was just another attempt by Peter Dutton, who all of a sudden, after telling you he can’t talk about on water matters, is happy to talk about it all the time.

GILBERT: But he makes the point that with Anthony Albanese and others, high profile members of your party, opposed to boat turnbacks, that when you get into government if you win the election, then around the National Security Committee of Cabinet you would have different forces pulling at this policy and putting a strain on it.

WONG: That’s an attempt to keep this story running and I wouldn’t fall for that trick. We have settled this issue. There is no secret it has been a difficult debate. Our view is that we have an enormous humanitarian crisis on our hands globally and obviously Australia is part of that. Our position is twofold. First, Australia should do more to play its part in that crisis, but second, we should not allow people smugglers to exploit this crisis. And that is why we took the position we took at national conference. That is the Labor Party’s position.

GILBERT: It doesn’t help to have candidates out there talking down this policy which is the Labor plan.

WONG: Let’s remember during the Howard era we also saw Judi Moylan, Petro Georgiou, many other Liberal moderates raising concerns. That didn’t shift the then Prime Minister’s position. These are not easy issues and they ought not be played for base political purposes, which is what Peter Dutton and others are trying to do.

GILBERT: So boat turnbacks one hundred per cent will form part of the Labor plan if you win.

WONG: It remains part of our policy. We don’t agree with the Government in terms of how they are handling offshore processing, it is a punitive indefinite detention is how they’re handling it. We are being very clear, turnbacks will be part of a suite of policies a Labor Government would employ if required, because we do not think people smugglers should be able to exploit this humanitarian crisis. We would also do more, as you know. We’ve announced a whole range of policies around ensuring we increase the humanitarian intake.

GILBERT: I want to look at some other issues. Chris Bowen to address the press club today and talk about protecting the AAA credit rating. Is this fear mongering by the Shadow Treasurer, in the sense that we’ve just had the reaction from the credit ratings agencies after the Budget. There’s been no mention of a downgrade or a negative watch for the Australian economy. We’re not on a negative or a downgrade watch are we?

WONG: A couple of things. First, remember how this Government, the Coalition, went to the last election beating their chest about the debt and deficit disaster, about the budget emergency. Well, since that time they’ve tripled the deficit, tripled it in two years, debt is far higher, about $100 billion higher, than it was when we left office and continuing to rise. Now you’ve seen comments from the ratings agencies, it is reasonable for Chris to set out why it is so important for us to stay on track and as I say, the fundamental problem that Mr Turnbull has is he can’t explain why it is that he can give $50 billion to big business and others, but he can’t fund our schools.

GILBERT: But it’s not imminent though, a downgrade, is it? So why raise this prospect? It’s a long way off, if at all.

WONG: It’s important for us to continue to lay out, as we have been prepared to do, our approach to the economy and our approach to the budget. Now, we’ve been up front, we’ve taken risks, had to come on your program and others to defend our policies, such as negative gearing. And we know the Government will run a scare campaign, which is why the memo released under Freedom of Information from the Reserve Bank, which says, very clearly, anything which discourages negative gearing may be a good thing from a financial stability perspective.

GILBERT: Just on that, because I wanted to ask you about it. The Treasurer’s responded to it this morning, he says its outdated because at the end of 2015, we had new APRA rules that came into place and that this is essentially an internal working note from 2014 and it’s out of date.

WONG: Well he would say that. But what’s very clear is that, whether it’s this memo or many other economists, this scare campaign by the Coalition against negative gearing has no foundation, no foundation, and that is what this memo shows.

GILBERT: Are you worried about the fact that the most well off can still claim the cost of existing properties against investment incomes on shares and so on. Because they’re not going to be affected by this are they?

WONG: If you’re worried about fairness, then you would support our policy, because what our policy says is that taxpayers should stop subsidising – that’s what this is, negative gearing is an effective subsidy from taxpayers. It’s tax forgone. It’s tax that can’t be used for schools and hospitals and infrastructure. So if you’re worried about fairness, why would you continue to have a negative gearing arrangement that the Prime Minister wants where high income earners can offset their losses?

GILBERT: Can I ask you one final question? It relates to advertising that Labor has done with families on $250,000 a year versus a family on just below $80,000 a year. This on the front page of The Australian and they’ve done some numbers that suggests when you factor in superannuation changes, the family that you suggest in this advertising campaign will be $1,700 better off, will actually be to the tune of  $1,800 worse off with the super changes. You’ve got to look at the whole budget, don’t you, if you’re going to say that someone’s worse off.

WONG: Yes, you do have to look at the whole budget. And let’s remember what budget night said about the Liberal priority is. A priority for tax cuts for business up to $1 billion, a priority to cut $29 billion out of Australia’s schools and to continue with cuts to Medicare. That was the priority on Budget Night.

GILBERT: So the ads aren’t false or misleading?

WONG: No they are not. And let me be very clear, we are the party that puts these families, and puts the vast majority of the Australian people first.

GILBERT: Penny Wong, thanks for your time this morning.