9 July 2013




GILBERT: First though, to the Government’s Senate Leader, Penny Wong. I spoke to her a bit earlier this morning and I began by asking her: is this just a honeymoon effect or will the poll bounce last?

WONG: You’ve asked me about polls many times and invariably my answer is the same: I’m not going to comment on it. Our job is, as the Government, to do the right thing by the country. To govern and, importantly, to contest this election because we want to return a Labor government and we don’t want to see Tony Abbott as Prime Minister.

GILBERT: It must be encouraging though, surely, with Kevin Rudd now 22 points ahead of Tony Abbott as preferred Prime Minister.

WONG: I think a lot of people in Australia have concerns about Tony Abbott – his negatively, his lack of a plan for the future. And that’s obviously something that’s reflected but ultimately our job is to contest this election and return a Labor Government.

GILBERT: The Labor reforms yesterday announced by Kevin Rudd – was this about showing the revolving door of Labor leadership was shut once and for all?

WONG: I think a couple of issues were very important in thinking through that reform, which I’m very strongly supportive of. One was, let’s be upfront, this has been a pretty difficult period in Labor history. And we do need to deal with it but the much more important proposition is the longer term one.

This is about modernising the Labor Party. It’s about saying we are a modern, vibrant party and we recognise what people want is participation and involvement. And, what we’re saying to people, supporters and members, is: you joined the Labor Party, you’re a member of the Labor Party, you get a vote on one of the most important decisions any political party can make and that’s who leads it.

GILBERT: The full Ministry was consulted. Was there unanimous support for this change?

WONG: I think there is broad support. Obviously there are people with different views but I think people do understand this is something we’ve been talking about for a long time. It’s time that we reformed the Party. We need to open it up and that’s what we’re doing.

GILBERT: The caucus will meet on the 22 July to vote on this. Will it look into some other policy changes as well at that time – potentially moving to an emissions trading scheme, sooner rather than later?

WONG: I think that’s a nice way of asking me whether or not the Government is going to make any announcements about that, and obviously that’s something that’s been floated with us by business and by others. What we’ve said is that’s something that we will work though, through the proper Cabinet process.

GILBERT: Anthony Albanese said that the prices had been done on this – is it affordable to move to an ETS sooner?

WONG: Whatever we do in any policy area will be consistent with our fiscal strategy, and that is to make sure we offset new spending and that we continue to return the budget to surplus over the medium term, just as the Budget does.

GILBERT: So the special caucus meeting on 22 July, would it have the capacity to look at any policy changes, whether it be on climate change or whatever else?

WONG: What is on the caucus agenda is the rule change and that’s what two weeks’ notice has been given for and that is the primary focus. Whether or not other matters get added is obviously the prerogative of the leader.

GILBERT: Did the Government recognise it must do something on asylum seeker arrivals, particularly the situation where groups are making threats on board merchant ships and diverting them to Australia? It’s not acceptable, is it?

WONG: This demonstrates just how difficult, complex and tough this area of policy is. What it shows is that a three word slogan, which is what Mr Abbott chants, is not a policy to deal with the reality of what occurs and the reality of what people smuggling operations involve.

We recognise this is a policy issue that has to be dealt with and Tony Burke is doing a very good job in considering how we go forward and he’s made a couple of changes already. But I think the key point is that this is a very difficult area and a slogan just doesn’t cut it.

GILBERT: On the job ads, ANZ job advertisements were down 1.8 per cent in June. That’s after 2.5 per cent decline in May. A softening labour market looks like the RBA will probably cut rates again over the coming months?

WONG: We’re going through a change in our economy where we’ve had the largest investment boom in the nation’s history. A lot of construction, and obviously that soaks up a lot of employment. The reality is that will plateau off and we’ll have a production and export phase of the mining boom, but that will generate less jobs than the construction phase. So the key thing here, whether it’s for the Government or certainly if you look at what the RBA says and what the RBA is looking at, is how do we ensure other sectors of the economy are growing and creating jobs? And that is… as a Labor Government, our first priority is making sure we continue to enable job creation.

GILBERT: We’re almost out of time, but just quickly on deregulation. Tony Abbott says he can save $1 billion through cutting green and red tape. Is that possible?

WONG: I think this is the fourth time Mr Abbott has announced this policy –

GILBERT: Well, he obviously believes it.

WONG: It’s the fourth time he’s announced the policy. I can tell you as the Minister who is responsible for deregulation that it’s not about big announcements, it’s about doing the hard yards and changing how things work.

We’ve got standard business reporting; that’s good for businesses. And we’ve improved the arrangements for the not-for-profit sector. So we’ve got a much more standardised, low regulation approach to dealing with the not-for-profit sector. Those are the sorts of changes that might not get headlines but actually get results. This is just another re-announcement of an old policy that really doesn’t have a lot of content.

GILBERT: Penny Wong, we’re out of time, thanks.

WONG: Good to speak with you.