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Transcript of interview with Sabra Lane: ABC The World Today: 17 September 2013: Labor Party leadership; the Senate; the Budget; the Abbott Ministry



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SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

TRANSCRIPT

Level 4, 19 Gouger Street, Adelaide, South Australia 5000  Tel: (08) 8212 8272

PW 282/13 17 September 2013

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW - ABC THE WORLD TODAY WITH SABRA LANE

SUBJECTS: LABOR PARTY LEADERSHIP, SENATE, BUDGET, ABBOTT MINISTRY

E & O E - PROOF ONLY

PRESENTER: Tony Abbott will become Australia's 28th Prime Minister when he is sworn in, along with his ministerial team, tomorrow morning at Government House in Yarralumla. But the new Leader of the Opposition won't be known until October 13. The Labor Party members and the Caucus will be making up their minds about who to select - Anthony Albanese or Bill Shorten - under new rules to appoint a leader. Labor Senator and caretaker Finance Minister, Penny Wong, told our chief political correspondent, Sabra Lane, that she'll be supporting Mr Albanese.

WONG: First, I'd say that both of them would make outstanding Labor leaders, and both of them would be a great Labor prime minister. I have decided to support Anthony. I think he has the experience; the runs on the board. He's had some tough portfolios which he's handled really well, and he's also our best parliamentary performer. One of the primary reasons I'm also supporting Anthony is, really, there's been no stronger, more passionate supporter of equality, particularly for women. I mean, he's an incredibly strong supporter of women getting into Parliament and progressing their careers in Parliament, and I think he really lives his Labor values.

LANE: Will the leader be a lame duck if the membership of the Party chooses one man and Caucus splits with the other candidate?

WONG: Oh, look, not at all, and I think what we're going through is a really important reform process. And my view is, progressive parties particularly, you have to reform to thrive. We’re parties of change. We're parties of the future. And making sure members of the Labor Party have a vote for the leader, I think, is a great reform. It opens up the Party, makes us more democratic and also engages the public in a different way.

LANE: Can the new leader, though, ever be assured of a united team with Kevin Rudd sitting on the backbench?

WONG: Oh, look, I think that is all behind us.

LANE: Do you regret switching your support to Kevin Rudd, away from Julia Gillard?

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WONG: Look, I'm really not going to engage in a discussion about the past. I'm more interested in the future. I'm more interested in making sure we hold an Abbott Government to account, in rebuilding the Labor Party, reinvigorating it. And this process, this election, this ballot for the Labor leader, I think, is a really important part of reinvigorating our party.

LANE: Don Farrell's missed out on a Senate spot in South Australia. He swapped spots with you to guarantee that you'd be re-elected. Do you feel sorry for him?

WONG: I feel very disappointed at the result in the Senate in South Australia, indeed, the result across the country. We need to learn from it. It's very disappointing that Don is where he is. Obviously counting is still progressing and he's someone we really hope can hang on, and he's someone who we want in the Parliament. But, overall a very disappointing and unexpected result in South Australia. To see Nick Xenophon polling as well as he did in the Senate is really unprecedented.

LANE: You say that Labor needs to learn from it. What does it need to learn?

WONG: I think we do need to have a stronger focus on a Senate campaign in the future. I think in the past, political parties have focused on the House of Representatives, have focused on making sure we elect Labor governments. That's a good thing, that's important. But, particularly with the number of minor parties we see, obviously we do have to take a look at how we focus a Senate campaign even more strongly.

LANE: Are you keen to retain the finance portfolio or do you want a change? And are you happy to continue leading Labor in the Senate?

WONG: Well, on the second question, I certainly will be standing again for Senate Leader and asking my colleagues to support me, and ultimately it will be up to them. But in terms of what shadow ministry; that will be a matter for the new leader and that's something I'd discuss with either Anthony or Bill - whoever is elected Labor Leader next month.

LANE: In hindsight, are you willing to admit that the $10 billion claim of a blowout in the Coalition's policies was a mistake?

WONG: Oh, look, there's a lot of commentary which can be undertaken about the campaign. I'm not going to engage in that. I will say that certainly how the Coalition represented that, I think, was not an accurate representation. But that's not something I want to get into now. I think what is more interesting for the public is what we've learnt in the short time since Tony Abbott was elected. What have we learnt? We've learnt that women don't have a place at the table under an Abbott Government. And we've also learnt that despite all the talk of a ‘budget emergency’, which was bad for confidence, despite all of the ranting about a ‘budget emergency’, suddenly it's not an emergency and we can push back the date of the next budget update, which is due next month or November, into the Christmas holiday period, into the January holiday period. Now, there's only one reason you'd do that, Sabra, and that is to try and have less attention on the promises you're about to break. That's the only reason you'd put a budget update during the summer holidays.

LANE: The Government says it hasn't made a decision yet on when it's going to release that mid-year budget update. Under the parliamentary rules, it has until the end of January

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to do that...

WONG: Well, you tell me. You're an experienced journalist. Why would a government put a document out during the summer holidays? Would you do it because you wanted a lot of scrutiny, or because you wanted to hide from the scrutiny? I suspect what we're going to see is a lot more of this Government changing its tune between what it said before the

election and what it does and says after the election.

I think the number of women in the cabinet and the number of women in the executive as a whole - extraordinarily low - really shows that Tony Abbott, for all his saying that... what he said previously about women not being suited to authority... well, the proof's in the pudding. And we've got one woman out of 19 in the cabinet. I don't think that's reflective of modern Australia.

LANE: Well, the former Liberal minister Amanda Vanstone has come out in support of Mr Abbott and said that she would rather see competent ministers rather than ministerial gender equality.

WONG: Well, Amanda Vanstone speaking on support of the Liberal Party is probably unsurprising. I'd say this: if people say the appointment is on merit, all that says is that the women aren't as good. And I don't think your listeners, I don't think modern Australia, thinks like that, I really don't. And the reality is, we see, really, an incredibly low level of representation of women in the highest policy making decision body of the country. I think we're a nation that says you should be judged on merit. We're a nation that says women and men have equal capacity. There's not something intrinsic that says women are less meritorious, but there's something intrinsic in the Liberal Party which means there's one woman in the cabinet. And you know, six out of 42 in the Ministry? I mean, if it's on merit, how come there are so few? I think Dennis Jensen today probably had it right when he was asked directly - this is a member of the Liberal Party - asked directly, did he think the cabinet was elected on merit? And he said ‘no’.

LANE: Labor doesn't have a flash record on this in recent years in pre-selecting women to safe seats. And Sam Dastyari looks like he's parachuted into the Senate, maybe too, Paul Howes. The seat of Gellibrand went to a man. Batman went to David Feeney, despite pushes there for women.

WONG: Oh, look, Sabra. We had six women in our cabinet when we lost Government. We had the first female Prime Minister. We had women in portfolios such as Jenny Macklin, who had responsibility for so many important reforms - DisabilityCare being one of them. We had Nicola Roxon previously as Minister for Health and Tanya Plibersek subsequently as Minister for Health. Nicola was Attorney General. And of course we had the first female Prime Minister. I mean, I don't think you can say that the Labor Party has not worked to bring women through. And the reason is, if we really want a selection based on merit, and you really believe that between the genders merit is equivalently allocated, equivalently the case, then you would expect in cabinet, in the ministry, as in life, that you would see greater numbers of women in those positions.

ENDS