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Transcript of interview with Lyndal Curtis: ABC News 24Carbon price; Budget; Liberals' cuts to come; High speed rail; Barnaby Joyce's One Nation preference.

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E & O E - PROOF ONLY _____________________________________________________________

Subjects: Carbon price; Budget; Liberals’ cuts to come; High speed rail; Barnaby Joyce’s One Nation preference. _____________________________________________________________

CURTIS: Penny Wong, welcome to ABC News 24.

WONG: Good to be with you.

CURTIS: Kevin Rudd said yesterday Labor didn’t have a mandate to introduce the carbon tax - has he effectively accepted the premise of the argument Tony Abbott’s been running against Labor for three years?

WONG: Well, look, there’s no doubt a price on carbon has been a pretty hotly contested and bitterly divisive policy area for some time. My view is: I’m very pleased that we have finally got back to the position which is the one that Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd went to the election with in 2007, which is a floating price through an emissions trading system.

CURTIS: Did you have a mandate for a carbon tax?

WONG: Look, I think we were clear that we wanted to implement a price on carbon but, you know, obviously there’s different versions of history and I think it’s fair to say how the electorate has understood what occurred, but my view about it is let’s look ahead and let’s do what Tony Abbott also supported, as did John Howard, in 2007, which is to have an emissions trading system.

CURTIS: If I could move on, you say the Opposition’s paid parental leave scheme is a $22 billion scheme. But if the Coalition wins over the next term of government it wouldn’t be that much, is it, because they’re not going to start it until the last two years of the forward estimates period?

WONG: Oh, come on Lyndal. We’re using their numbers and what we’re saying is that’s what four years of a policy that you want to introduce would cost you. In fact, it

would be more than that over time, because of course the cost would rise as wages increased.

When you budget, you have to look at what you’re doing to the budget over the medium and long-term. I don’t think you would accept if I said: ‘Oh look, we’ll only fund something for two years so that’s the only cost that we’re gonna say about it’ when it was an ongoing expenditure to the budget.

CURTIS: But isn’t that the same with two of your big spending policies - the National Disability Insurance Scheme, DisabilityCare, and the education reforms - that the expense in those schemes rose over time, so the second four year forward estimates, have you budgeted for that?

WONG: And you might recall during the Budget, we, for the first time, I think unprecedented amongst governments, put out how we would look at meeting those costs over the 10 years. We talked about which savings contributed over time to what was a major spend in the Budget; very transparent, very upfront with the Australian people.

In stark contrast, if I may say, to the way the Coalition is presenting themselves to the electorate. And very interesting reports today, Lyndal, about the Opposition having as detailed a plan as ‘Fightback’, the Hewson manifesto, as detailed a plan as ‘Fightback’, and Andrew Robb is reported to be boasting to people about how detailed their plan is.

There’s really one question I put to you and to other journalists that ought to be put to Tony Abbott: Why won’t you release it, why?

CURTIS: But would you expect an Opposition wanting to win an election to have a transition plan, have a plan for government - did you have one in 2007?

WONG: Absolutely. But how about he tells people what the plan is. I mean, the reality is, the Coalition have made a decision that they want to try and coast into government without telling people what they’d really do, and I think that they ought to be held to account on that. To set the bar so low, that you can announce billions and billions of dollars of expenditure - ongoing expenditure - and not tell people where you’re getting the money from; it is just not up to the standards I think our democracy demands.

Now, what we found, for example, since the paid parental leave scheme was announced is, bit by bit who’s paying leaks out, bit by bit it drips out. But there was no Tony Abbott being upfront about the fact he was going to hit part-pensioners, mum and dad investors, self-funded retirees to pay for this unaffordable and expensive paid parental leave scheme. It just says if Tony Abbott wins you pay, he just doesn’t want to tell people who will pay.

CURTIS: As you mentioned, in the Budget you outlined savings to pay for the long-term plans you have. In the Economic Statement you outlined some tax rises. If revenue falls again, if you get re-elected to Government and you find in the mid-year

update, as you have found in previous mid-year updates, that revenue has fallen again, will you cut spending or raise taxes to fill that hole?

WONG: Oh look, Lyndal, we have laid out a range of decisions, responsible savings decisions, responsible decisions to make sure we can fund our policies. That question should be put to Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb. Because we put out an Economic Statement, which you’ve referenced; those numbers were confirmed in PEFO, in the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook. Our numbers are on the table for all Australians to judge and to criticise.

Tony Abbott is running a small target, in fact a microscopic target strategy, where all he does is say slogans, ‘here’s some pretty pictures and some pretty words, but I’m actually not going to tell you what my real plans are’. And that’s because he will make Australians pay for his promises, he just doesn’t want to tell them before the election.

CURTIS: But you outlined plans in the Budget to pay for your promises, then you had to find more savings in an economic update in the space of only a couple of months. It is the case, isn’t it, if revenue is written down, as it has been a couple of times already this year, you might have to find more savings to fill that hole?

WONG: Well look, I deal with facts and the facts that I’m presented with are the facts that Treasury and Finance have confirmed in the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook statement. They confirm the Government’s Economic Statement numbers - a slightly larger surplus in the out year, but those are the facts we deal with, and they’re the facts that Tony Abbott should be judged against.

What he should be doing for the Press Gallery and for the Australian people is saying: ‘This is what I’m going to cut in order to fund these things’. He doesn’t want to do that.

CURTIS: But I’m looking at the experience of this Government so far, and your two economic statements this year - revenue has been written down from one to the next, and you cannot say, can you, based on that experience, that revenue won’t be written down again.

WONG: Well, what I can say is I have dealt, as the Finance Minister, as has the Treasurer, with the economic facts as confirmed by Treasury and Finance, and you have our figures. What you don’t have is the figures from Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb. What you do have is the knowledge that Andrew Robb has said that he’s sitting on a whole bunch of policies as detailed as John Hewson’s ‘Fightback’, but they won’t release it to the Australian people.

CURTIS: Now, the Prime Minister and the Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese, made some statements today about high speed rail. Will high speed rail ever actually be built?

WONG: Well look, this is a long-term project, and the plans that the Government announced today, with the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, is about making sure we have a considered and thorough process towards this outcome. The

announcement today, as you know, was about setting up an Authority and making sure we have a proper, detailed business case, and legislating towards protecting the corridor.

We recognise this as a long-term project and you would need to make sure you had a proper, thorough business case, and you’d also have to look at how it is that it could be funded, including through the private sector. And we’re taking the approach that’s been outlined.

CURTIS: Finally, Barnaby Joyce has preferenced One Nation ahead of Labor in the electorate he’s going for, the electorate of New England. Is he within his rights to do that?

WONG: Well, this is the bloke who wants to be the Deputy Prime Minister if Tony Abbott wins, saying that we should overlook the prejudice and racism that One Nation regrettably brought to Australia. I think it shows appalling lack of judgment, an appalling lack of sensitivity and respect to the very many multicultural communities in Australia, to whom One Nation was so disrespectful.

CURTIS: Penny Wong, thank you very much for your time.

WONG: Good to speak with you.