12 April 2019




FRAN KELLY: Penny Wong is Labor’s Leader in the Senate. She joins us from Adelaide this morning. Senator Wong, thank you for joining us.


KELLY: It’s a pretty big scare campaign the Government is going with. You heard the Prime Minister there: three hundreds and eighty seven thousand million dollars. That’s a big number. How do you counter that?

WONG: Second day in and he’s given up talking about his plans for the nation and all he’s got is a fear campaign.

KELLY: Is he right?

WONG: Australians know this bloke can’t run on his record because his record is cuts and chaos. He can’t run on stability because they hate each other. So all he’s got left is fear and smear.

KELLY: OK, so let’s look at this figure. It’s Treasury modelling-

WONG: -The first point I would make is that Treasury does not cost Opposition policies. They told us that last week. That has been their consistent position. So unless someone in Treasury told us something wrong last week. the Prime Minister is clearly using figures which have not been costed by Treasury.

But Fran. it is no surprise that we choose, Labor chooses, better schools, better hospitals, not bigger tax loopholes, and we have been consistent with that for years now.

KELLY: No surprises?

WONG: Better schools and hospitals not bigger tax loopholes.

KELLY: So you’re not walking away from the $387 billion figure?

WONG: I’m not walking away from the principle that we choose better schools, better hospitals; not bigger tax loopholes. We don’t think we should be spending more on dividend imputation payments to people who aren’t paying tax than we spend on childcare. This election is a choice between what sort of country do we want? Do we want bigger, better tax loopholes, or do we want better schools and hospitals?

I would also make the point that part of the Prime Minister’s tax plan, as he calls it, do you know what he wants people to do? He wants Australians to bank tax cuts that he says he’ll deliver in two elections. Re-elect me twice – this is Scott Morrison’s pitch – and down the track we’ll give you bigger tax cuts. They can’t even hold onto a prime minister for one term, so how reliable is that?

KELLY: This figure – $387 billion Labor’s tax take, that’s what the Government is saying – is predicated on those tax concessions that you are scrapping that you just talked about there: dividend imputation, negative gearing and tax increases you announced, plus Labor not matching Coalition tax cuts for higher income earners in the out years. You can’t deny that is your plan?

WONG: I’ve just confirmed that again. We don’t think investment bankers should get an $11,000 tax cut per year when ordinary Australians get so much less, I think $5 a week in some of the scenarios. Now, we just don’t think that’s right.

We also think that people do want better schools, better hospitals, with an announcement today of more of our contribution, our investment to the biggest investment in Medicare since it was established by a Labor Government, which is the investment in our cancer package to help Australians battling cancer.

These are the sorts of policies that we are putting forward, a positive plan from a stable and united team. What have you got from the Government, from the Coalition? More fear and smear, which is getting increasingly nasty and desperate. You see Peter Dutton today having a go at a Labor candidate who is a person living with disability. It just shows again this Government is out of touch.

KELLY: Just on that Peter Dutton story, most people won’t know it. This is Peter Dutton. The Labor candidate in Dickson is Ali France. Ali France is not living in the electorate of Dickson. She’s an amputee. She says the reason she’s not living there is because she has been unable to find a wheelchair-accessible home in the electorate in time. Peter Dutton says that’s an excuse. He points out there are many people with disability living in Dickson.

WONG: Ali France has been out doorknocking, meeting people. Like all Australians with disability she isn’t asking for an excuse, she just wants a fair go. That’s what Australians with disability want: they want a fair go. They’re not making excuses, and what they get from Peter Dutton is a bit more of Peter Dutton’s nastiness and what they get from this Government is a budget, a surplus, which is built on less support for people with disability.

Let’s remember the NDIS and the failure to make sure that people get the support they need is a primary contributor to the job the Government’s so-called surplus and the Government’s fiscal position.

KELLY: Last election Labor’s so-called Mediscare campaign almost worked for you, almost got you over the line. Is Labor, from the answers you’ve given me about taxes, opening itself up to a similar high-impact scare campaign?

WONG: We’ve always known that this Government, this Coalition, would go to a desperate fear campaign because that is all they have. That is all they have.

Ultimately this about your values and about your choices. Do you want bigger tax loopholes? Do you want a bigger tax cut for big companies, which is what we all know the Liberals really want to do. Is that what people want? Or do they want better education for their kids, better universities, better care for the elderly, better care in our hospitals?

We have been upfront about the choices we have made and that we are putting forward a positive plan for a fairer Australia, a fair go for Australians and the Australian people. That stands in stark contrast to what Scott Morrison is doing.

KELLY: Labor is going hard on the Adani issue on claims of bullying or political interference over the approvals granted by the federal Environment Minister, Melissa Price. This issue was due to be canvassed in Senate Estimates yesterday, but then, of course, the election was called and the hearings didn’t happen. What were you planning to try to get out of those hearings?

WONG: Well, what changed? First of all, there is no decision, she is considering it, and then she gets publicly threatened and bullied, and there are no other words for it. A minister, a cabinet minister, threatens to resign if she doesn’t make a decision.

KELLY: Matt Canavan has denied that.

WONG: Well, if you believe that: good luck. It was widely reported and I don’t think people say stuff like that if it is not true, frankly, on something that serious.

But we also had a senator, Senator McGrath, who was instrumental in both leadership contests, as far as I understand, publicly threatening and bullying the minister. He never took a step back from that.

KELLY: Michael McCormack, you heard him earlier, says the decision was based on strong scientific evidence.

WONG: I don’t think anybody listening to his answer would have had any confidence he actually understood what he was talking about or believed that.

Let me just say this, this is the important point: how can Australians have any confidence in this decision given what we have seen in terms of the public bullying and threats to this minister?

Now whatever people think about the mine – and I know this is a controversial issue and the National Party want to beat this up – how can people have any confidence that this project actually stacks up when the Minister’s decision is made so close to an election after these sorts of bullying?

KELLY: OK, so what is Labor getting at here? Because you are calling on the minister, Melissa Price, to release the advice.

WONG: And she should.

KELLY: Does that suggest Labor is open to reversing any Commonwealth approvals for Adani if you win government, depending on what you might find in that advice?

WONG: We are a responsible party of government and I’m certainly not going to be talking hypothetically or casting forward around decisions which are statutory decisions. Unlike the Government, we do take these issues seriously.

What we are calling for – and I noticed Mr McCormack dodged that question – is not only the advice, but as importantly the letters from Senator McGrath and any other Coalition MPs and senators to Melissa Price because I think they go to the sorts of pressure she was put under.

KELLY: Labor has been ahead in the polls for, I think, all of the last term, the last three years. Both side stress now it is tight. Are you telling us the next government is really going to come down to this 5-week campaign? If so, what does that say about Labor’s lack of capacity to convince the electorate when faced with an opponent that has been divided, there has been some sort of chaos within it for most of the last 18 months?

WONG: You never win government easily, Fran. It’s not about what does it say about our capacity. We have spent six years as a unified team working on a plan which is a Fair Go for Australians. It is tough to win government. We know that, and we are facing this election campaign with determination but also with the humility that comes with understanding we have to work very hard to gain the trust of the Australian people.

We have got a stable united team. We have, I think, policies which are out there for all to see, and we have a positive vision for Australia.

KELLY: Penny Wong, can I just ask you briefly and finally, you are Shadow Foreign Minister in the last Parliament. Do you have a comment on Julian Assange? The Australian Government has said it is offering consular support. Some of our listeners think he should be brought home to be dealt with as an Australian citizen. What is your view?

WONG: There are legal proceedings underway in the UK. Obviously there are matters there which will be dealt with by the appropriate legal processes. I understand my counterpart, Senator Payne, has issued a media release that he will be given the appropriate consular support. That is appropriate. As an Australian citizen he is entitled to that consular support.

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

WONG: Good to speak with you.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.