Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Penny Wong joins 7,30 -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

Penny Wong, Minister for Finance and Deregulation, speaks to Chris Uhlmann.

Transcript

CHRIS UHLMANN, PRESENTER: Here is the Finance Minister Penny Wong.

Welcome.

PENNY WONG, FINANCE MINISTER: Good evening.

CHRIS UHLMANN: You said last year that our absolute priority is to return the budget to surplus. Is
that still the case?

PENNY WONG: We understand the importance of a sound fiscal strategy. We knew that when we went into
deficit to put stimulus into the economy which saved jobs, kept Australians off the dole queues.
And we said at that time we will make sure we have a clear plan to return the budget to surplus.
And that's what we're doing. We laid down a Budget earlier this year that has us coming back to
surplus in '12-'13 and we're determined to deliver on that plan.

CHRIS UHLMANN: And it's your absolute priority?

PENNY WONG: Well what we've said is that we understand the importance of a sound fiscal strategy.
Can I say it puts us in a very difficult position to that of Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey, who don't
have any fiscal strategy. They have a $70 billion black hole, just to get to the starting line.
Let's be clear: a $70 billion black hole. They have to find $70 billion worth of savings just to
get to the starting line.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Well let's deal with your surplus if we can. Why did you paint yourself into this
corner? It was always only going to be a $3.5 billion surplus and yet you've made a rod for your
own back.

PENNY WONG: Well, look, I don't accept the premise of the question. When we went through the Global
Financial Crisis, we laid out for Australians how we would deal with this. We'd put stimulus into
the economy, we'd keep people in work. And that's one of the reasons why we've come out of the
Global Financial Crisis in one of the best positions of any advanced economy in the world. But we
also understood how important it was to lay out the plan to come back to surplus. And that's what
we've done and that's what we did.

CHRIS UHLMANN: And by making an iron-clad guarantee, if you failed to meet it, then you fail to
meet your own mark and you're not good financial managers by your own measures.

PENNY WONG: Well, I don't agree with that.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Well why did you set that mark?

PENNY WONG: I think we have demonstrated our financial - our credibility as financial managers by
the virtue of the decisions we've made. And let's remember, we've made some hard decisions. We've
made some hard decisions in the face of some difficult times. For example, in the last Budget, $22
billion worth of savings. It's very different to Mr Abbott. Mr Abbott always takes the easy option.
He says he's gonna do things, he promises people what he thinks they wanna hear, but he doesn't
make the hard decisions to ensure that you deliver sound fiscal policy.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But again, why does this government obsess about the Opposition? Why don't you just
get on with governing? They're a long way from it at the moment. And you keep signing up to the
measures that they want. They say that a good government delivers a surplus. You say, "Yeah, we'll
sign up to that."

PENNY WONG: In the context of the debate on carbon, I'm surprised that you'd even suggest we sign
up to what they want, Chris. I think we're very clear about what's required. I think really that
question ought to be put to Mr Abbott. Remember in the Budget how Mr Abbott said the family tax
benefits save was class warfare, a war on aspiration, you know, beat his chest about all these
things. What did he do when it went to the Parliament? He supported it. He voted for it.

CHRIS UHLMANN: I guess now people are watching what the Government will do and they'll be watching
the surplus very closely. But, look, let's move on.

PENNY WONG: And we've set out our plan. Costed, that the budget, we made $22 billion worth of
savings.

CHRIS UHLMANN: And if you don't hit your mark next year?

PENNY WONG: Oh, well, I've said to you we are working to that plan, we're determined to deliver it.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Are you concerned that there's a slowdown on the way?

PENNY WONG: Look, what I do know is this: we are seeing a lot of uncertainty in terms of the global
economy, we're seeing a lot of volatility on markets, we've got obviously concerns in Europe and
the United States. But I know two things: one is that we do have a track record of responding well
to global uncertainty and I know that our economy is in a stronger position than almost any other
advanced economy to weather this storm.

CHRIS UHLMANN: What about our industrial relations system? It's less flexible than it was when we
went through the last slowdown. The last time we went through a slowdown, it was a test of
WorkChoices. This time it will be a test of Fair Work Australia.

PENNY WONG: Well, what I'd say to you, Chris, is unlike Mr Abbott, unlike Tony Abbott and the
Opposition, we don't think that the way to prosperity is to take away people's penalty rates and to
reduce people's wages and conditions. What do we face the current economic circumstances in the
globe with? Very strong public finances, very strong financial institutions, strength in our
region, the region continuing to go and very good, by global standards, a lot of people in
employment, relatively low levels of unemployment and a very strong pipeline of investment. So
whilst we're not immune, they're pretty good things to have behind you as you face the world.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But if you push up penalties rates for small businesses, they are unable to compete
on weekends in the way that they would like to, unable to open on the hours that they would like to
and that's clearly what's beginning to happen across Australia with some small businesses.

PENNY WONG: And what I'd say to you is: we made clear as a party we don't think the way to secure
Australia's future prosperity is to reduce people's wages and conditions.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Are you concerned that Qantas and OneSteel are shedding jobs at the moment, that you
might be seeing other companies shed jobs as well?

PENNY WONG: Of course we're all concerned about job losses. We're all ...

CHRIS UHLMANN: Do you think it's more likely now?

PENNY WONG: We're all concerned about job losses and we've been saying for some time we've got a
lot of investment coming into this country, but we also have a lot of firms in sectors that are
doing it tough. And in fact if you look at the Budget, we talked about that. We talked about the
patchwork economy, we talked about the fact that if you're in the mining sector, things were very
good; if you're in a sector that was affected by the high dollar, things were pretty tough. And we
are seeing these companies make these decisions for those commercial reasons.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Your catchcry in 2007 was lifting productivity. Productivity is still appalling.
You've had four years. You can give us a time when we'll see an improvement in productivity under
any of the policies that you propose?

PENNY WONG: We're making a lot of investment, putting a lot of investment into
productivity-enhancing measures.

CHRIS UHLMANN: And when will we see an outcome (inaudible)?

PENNY WONG: Well, we have made investments in education and skills over the term of this government
and the previous government, and the reason is we understand that we have to ensure Australians
have better skills, the skills the future economy needs and more flexible skills. And that's why
there's been such an investment under this Prime Minister into education and we're making a very
substantial investment into the NBN, which is the infrastructure of this century. That is about
productivity.

CHRIS UHLMANN: On one last issue, why did the Labor Party pay Craig Thomson's legal bills?

PENNY WONG: Oh, Chris, that's something you'd have to ask the administrative arm of the party. I'm
not involved in those sorts of matters.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Certainly, of course, but he was a private citizen when - or he's a member of the
Health Services Union, not a member of the Labor Party at the time. Doesn't it strike people as
just a touch unusual?

PENNY WONG: You should direct the question to the Labor Party itself.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Penny Wong, we'll leave it there. Thankyou.

PENNY WONG: Thankyou.