2 March 2014




Williams: Last night was as biggest they get for Sydney’s gay and lesbian community with the annual Mardi Gras and many people marching for the first time, including our first openly gay Cabinet Member, Senator Penny Wong and I’m pleased to say the Senator joins us now. It’s not just for the gay community, Sydney loves that party.

Wong: It’s a big party, isn’t it?

Williams: How was your experience?

Wong: It was wonderful, I had a great time. I was really thrilled to march, very proud to march too.

Williams: What did you wear and were you on a float? How did you participate?

Wong: This is where you want me to tell you I wore sequins and did a dance, but actually I wore jeans and a T- shirt.

Williams: That’s very subdued, Penny.

Wong: It’s the Rainbow Labor t-shirt. I’m not really a sequins girl.

Williams: Why has it taken you this long to march?

Wong: I suppose you advocate in different ways for equality and it felt right to do it now. My partner came and she was watching from the viewing platform. I think it was a lovely night out.

Williams: How is motherhood going for you and Sophie?

Wong: Well, I’m a little bit late here because little one was a little bit grouchy, when I got up this morning.

Williams: Good hair.

Wong: She was born with a lot of hair. She was a bit grouchy that I was coming here to talk to you.

Williams: Is that right?

Wong: Sunday mornings, I think, are supposed to be for her.

Williams: That’s the way we feel too, Penny. What was the experience from the crowd point of view because the new laws came in last night, or the night before. The first real test of them.

Wong: It sounded like that went pretty well. I mean, where I was, we line for a long time, so you’re having a little bit of a party in the street, no alcohol obviously but it was really, really festive feel to it. Lots of photos, lots of dancing, lots of music. When you walk up Oxford Street, it’s a really wonderful experience, very affirming, very celebratory.

Williams: It seems not so long ago that the Mardi Gras almost died away, that interest in it had declined the flame was going out. But there’s cruise ships in town, it’s become a very big festival. How was your experience as an openly gay person changed over the course of your life?

Wong: Enormously. I always look back to when I first came into parliament over 10 years ago now, a fairly long period I suppose. If you think about where we’ve come since then and how laws have changed, attitudes have changed.

A lot more people are prepared to be open about who they are, I think that’s great because it’s not just good for diversity, not just good for our community. The people I always think of are like the young kid in western New South Wales or regional Victoria who’s still struggling with who they are. When we march and say we’re proud of who we are, we’re actually saying to them you should be proud of who you are too and I think that’s the most important thing about these celebrations.

Williams: So is that the next step, how do you achieve that?

Wong: I think we keep doing what we’re doing. You asking me here today, to talk about this on a Sunday morning, it’s reminding everyone we’re just like you are and that it’s okay to be different, and in fact we’re all different.

Williams: Did you see any other political faces?

Wong: Tanya Plibersek and Anthony Albanese, a whole range of Labor people marched with the Rainbow Labor float that was really a great show of force.

Williams: There’s Albo there now. How could I miss him?

Wong: There’s Albo, that’s right, and it was a good turnout from the Labor crowd.

Williams: How was the Labor crowd, as you put it, going to react to the Qantas proposals to keep them competitive? Do you think you’ll fall in line with that idea or do you want to resist that?

Wong: The first thing I’d say here is, I think the Government has to provide some certainty and clarity. We’ve had a lot of briefing to the media, back grounding and different signals. What businesses always need is certainty. What we’ve said to them is, we’re not prepared to see Qantas leave majority Australian hands but leaving that aside we’re prepared to discuss any other option in good faith because the important thing here is the tens of thousands of Australians and their families who rely on Qantas for a job as well as the many Australians who fly Qantas.

Williams: What’s your take on the position that Alan Joyce is taking that he says he’s too shackled at the moment to save those jobs. There’s no way to stay competitive the way the law is structured at the moment. Do you agree with him?

Wong: There are a number of restrictions in the Act. We’ve said we’re not prepared to move on the restriction that is around foreign ownership but we are prepared to move on other than matters. We’re prepared to sit down with the Government and have that discussion. I think the reality is we’re seeing a Government that keeps changing its position on this. I think it’s got to provide some certainty and really this is not something we should be playing politics with. Unfortunately we’ve got a Government that seems to behave like it’s in Opposition still. This is about thousands of jobs and we ought to take a sensible bipartisan approach to this and not play political games.

Williams: You’ve worn quite a few hats this weekend, the most important one being a mother. I’ll let you get back to it.

Wong: Looking forward to it and it’s been great to be with you.