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Transcript of interview with Lyndal Curtis: ABC Capital Hill: 18 June 2014: The Abbott Government's unfair Budget; Mark Bishop valedictory



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SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INVESTMENT SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

E&OE TRANSCRIPT TELEVISION INTERVIEW ABC 24 CAPITAL HILL WITH LYNDAL CURTIS WEDNESDAY, 18 JUNE 2014

SUBJECT/S: The Abbott Government’s Unfair Budget; Mark Bishop valedictory.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Penny Wong, welcome to Capital Hill.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good to be with you.

CURTIS: Has the Opposition finalised the things in the budget you will be voting for and the things you will be voting against?

WONG: We've made very clear what this is our priorities are. We think this is an unfair Budget. Mr Abbott described it as fundamentally fair. I think Australians know he’s not telling the truth.

We made clear some of our priorities. We can't support the weakening of Medicare through the imposition of a co-payment which will hit many people in this country hard - but particularly low and middle income Australians and people who live in regional areas. We won't be supporting the cuts to the pension. We won't be supporting things that are deeply unfair, like the 6 month limit on Newstart for everyone under 30. These are not fair and they're not right.

CURTIS: But there are some things that are still outstanding, like the lowering

of the threshold for family tax benefits from $150 to $100 thousand. Do you know yet if you will be supporting or opposing that?

WONG: We will make our decision on individual pieces of legislation as they come forward, as we did on the levy on higher income earners which, of course, did pass the Senate with the support of the Opposition this week. Interestingly, the first budget bill of the first budget of the Abbott Government, and there's a backbench breakout with Senator Macdonald and Senator Bernardi, both Coalition Senators, saying they didn't support it.

For all this talk the Government likes to put about the Opposition being obstructive, the obstructiveness was from their own backbench. And of course there's more to come because what was flagged by both of those Senators is their lack of support for the Paid Parental Leave scheme.

CURTIS: We did see the sight yesterday of Ian Macdonald, as you mentioned -

WONG: Questioning the Finance Minister.

CURTIS: Asking real questions of a Finance Minister. Should that actually be encouraged, that members of one party ask real questions of their front bench colleagues?

WONG: And what he actually said was that he wasn't convinced by the answers. That's the most important point. Look, when I was a Minister I had many colleagues questioning me in the caucus room, or in discussions, as they should.

CURTIS: But not in the public, and not in the Senate.

WONG: This is extraordinary. The first budget bill of the first budget and we’ve got a Coalition Senator saying that the Finance Minister hasn't convinced him. It says something about what some of Mr Abbott's colleagues think about his judgment.

And if the Australian people, you know, look at this, they would say to themselves well, if the Coalition can't even convince their own backbench why should we believe what the Prime Minister says?

CURTIS: It brings me to one of the points that one of your retiring Senators, Western Australian Mark Bishop raised yesterday in his valedictory speech. He says the views in Labor are homogeneous, that Labor needs to accommodate different perspectives, particularly those coming from WA. Now, your party structure, the way you operate in Parliament, doesn't really accommodate people speaking out or people crossing the floor, does it?

WONG: We don't agree with people voting against a position that the caucus has determined. We do believe very strongly in robust debate and accountability to the caucus. And I think that is consistent with not only Labor tradition but the principles of democracy.

CURTIS: What's wrong though with the public seeing some of that robust debate? And if somebody really has a problem with what your party is doing, raising that publicly and taking a different decision?

WONG: We have robust debate internally. And Mark, I thought, gave a very good speech. He's a valued colleague and we'll certainly miss his input and his insight, particularly in both foreign affairs and economics.

But I'd also make this point; he's been a very staunch advocate for his State, as he should be. And he made some points last night which I thought were well made. We do have to do better in Western Australia.

CURTIS: Because he said basically you can't win with your current position, having 3 out of 15 Lower House seats.

WONG: There’s the politics but there's also the principle. We're a national political party and we have to represent all parts of Australia. I mean I'm not from the eastern seaboard, I'm from Adelaide, and I understand the point he's making - that there are regional differences and policies do impact differently and we need to make sure we always understand that.

CURTIS: He also said that oppositions can't just be mere noise and total opposition. He says that will ultimately be self-defeating. Does the Opposition, does Labor, need to start advocating alternatives even this early in the political cycle?

WONG: I think what Mark said was entirely consistent with the way Bill's approached his leadership. And Bill said right at the start, I'm not just going to be a Mr No. I'm going to be constructive, not uncritical but constructive, and that's the approach the Opposition will take. The challenges facing the nation require more than negativity - something Tony Abbott hasn’t learned yet.

CURTIS: Penny Wong, thanks for your time.

WONG: Good to speak with you.

ENDS

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