JOURNALIST: Senator Wong, thank you for your time. Congratulations on the job this is the first time weve spoken to you as Finance Minister.
WONG: Thank you very much.
JOURNALIST: The stimulus package was set originally when you thought that the revenue writedowns would be $210 billion. Now we know that it is much less than that. Why doesnt the Government, why dont you and the Treasurer, rein in the stimulus even more?
WONG: The stimulus is being wound down. The stimulus peaked last year and is now being wound back. In fact it is subtracting growth, so that wind back is subtracting growth from the economy. But what the Final Budget Outcome that we released today reminds us of is just how bad the impact of the GFC was. We have seen confirmed today revenue write down by the order of $50 billion. Thats a very substantial hit on revenue and demonstrates why it was that the Government had to step in, had to spend, had to invest, to ensure that the economy kept ticking over and we supported jobs.
JOURNALIST: Its still a deficit for the current financial year; not a surplus until 2012-13. Is there no scope at all to rein in the spending even further, the stimulus spending?
WONG: We will be reining in spending. Those are the strict fiscal rules that my predecessor Lindsay Tanner and the Treasurer Wayne Swan have made clear we have in place and Ive made clear we will adhere to. Remember that we will be delivering the fastest fiscal consolidation that Australia has seen since at least the 1960s. We will return to surplus in 2012-13. Were very committed to delivering that fiscal discipline. There is a range of aspects to that fiscal strategy. The most important one is that we have said that we will limit real growth in spending and well do it at a level of 2 per cent or less.
Can I say, just so we get some perspective on this, that that is a hard task demonstrated by the fact that Mr Howard and Peter Costello in the previous government over their last five years didnt come close to that. They looked at real growth and spending of nearly four per cent 3.6 per cent.
JOURNALIST: Youre saying that there is no scope to rein in the stimulus spending? Not overall spending the stimulus package. There is still money flowing into the economy from it.
WONG: What Im saying is the stimulus is being wound back.
JOURNALIST: But you cant (inaudible).
WONG: The stimulus is being wound back. And Im also saying this: that we have made very clear that we will limit spending growth and we will return money to the Budget and we will deliver the Budget back to surplus in the timeframe we set.
JOURNALIST: Why did the Government not capitalise on the strength of the economy more in the election campaign? You got back in barely. Why do you think the Government wasnt able to capitalise more effectively on the numbers because comparatively, it is doing better than other advanced economies. But in the election, you almost lost.
WONG: I think the fact that we have delivered a strong economy in difficult circumstances certainly when you look at whats happening in the rest of the world, it was a plus for us in the election. We are focused now on the task ahead. Weve been returned to government, we are a minority government. That does place some challenges on us. We are going to have to work with the Parliament to deliver our agenda.
JOURNALIST: Ok, you were formerly the climate change spokesperson.
WONG: I was.
JOURNALIST: You heard the comments of Marius Kloppers the other day. Were you asking where were you a few months ago?
WONG: (laughs) Im pleased that we are having a more sensible discussion again in this country around how we respond to climate change. This is an important economic reform and Greg Combet as the new Minister will do an outstanding job in this portfolio, working with all parties to find a way through. Obviously, thats part of the challenge for the Government.
JOURNALIST: It must have been a bit frustrating: where were you when I was Minister?
WONG: (laughs) There are many things in politics that are good and many things which are bad. Youve got to just try and roll with the punches.
JOURNALIST: What about recruiting a Liberal (inaudible) to be Speaker or Deputy Speaker, is there any chance you can?
WONG: Im a Senator and weve had to deal with being in minority for all the period Ive been in Parliament. So this isnt a new situation for us. Obviously the disappointing thing about Mr Abbotts approach is that hes made clear to the Australian people hes not willing to stand by his word.
JOURNALIST: Senator Wong, thanks for your time.
WONG: Good to speak with you.