WONG: It’s great to be here today at the ASX in Sydney to launch BoardLinks; a Government initiative, a network which will enable more women to get on government boards and more women to gain that very important first board appointment. The Government already has a target of 40 per cent on government boards by 2015, and we’re on track to meet that.
But what we also want to do is work with the private sector to equip more women to get appointed to boards in the corporate sector. So I am very happy today to have had the support in this initiative of our Champions – people who are leaders already in the corporate sector, to lend their name to this important initiative.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Is it disappointing that this sort of affirmative action is still needed in 2012?
WONG: My view is that Australia can’t afford to ignore half the talent pool. And whether that’s in the corporate sector, in the government sector or in any aspect of our lives, we can’t afford as a society to simply ignore half the talent pool.
But what I’m focussed on in this, as is Minister Julie Collins, the Minister for the Status of Women, who has been engaged in developing this too, is the practical steps. What are the practical, concrete steps we can take to use the position of government to enable more women to move into these positions. That’s what BoardLinks is about.
WONG: We’ve seen some movement, but I’d agree with you. We need to do much more in the 21st century. I think to tell our daughters that only 14 per cent of them should get on boards is not a good thing. But what I would say is this: This is a practical step. We’ve designed it to interface with what the corporate sector is doing and what we’re trying to encourage is more women being appointed to their first board and getting that valuable first board experience. That’s the role Government can play. The role that other business organisations can play remains equally important because ultimately those sorts of initiatives will enable more women to get on more private sector boards.
JOURNALIST: The idea of quotas on boards overseas (inaudible) ...
WONG: The merit question is one I think that can be answered by logic. Does anybody really think that if you have 100 positions and only 14 per cent of them go to women, that merit has been the only criteria? If it is only on merit, wouldn’t you think that boards, just like the Parliament, would more broadly reflect the diversity of the community. My view is women are as capable as men and that ability should be reflected in all aspects of our society.
JOURNALIST: So women are being discriminated against then?
WONG: No, I’m just making the point that the numbers really suggest that we need to do something to ensure that we get more diversity on boards. And that’s what this initiative does.
JOURNALIST: It appears that the Government sector is actually doing a lot better than the private sector and the private sector is at 14 per cent and the Government sector is getting up to about 40 per cent. Should it be the other way round?
WONG: We’ve got just over 35 per cent now on Government boards and as I said we’re on track to get to 40. That has taken some work and that has taken a lot of attention by different Ministers, a lot of encouragement of different women to nominate for short listing. And I hope this initiative will also enable us to meet that target and maybe even exceed it. Because what we want to try and get is a bigger pool of women of ability to be able to be considered for these positions. And I hope that will translate through to the private sector.
JOURNALIST: There’s been a lot of talk about this for a lot of years and its moving so slowly, is there a way to speed it up a little bit?
WONG: (laughs) My experience in politics and in life is that change is inevitably slower than many people would like. And you have to build change from the ground up, and you have to build support for it. So I’m very grateful that we have so many senior people from the business community here today – women and men – who are prepared to lend support to this initiative.
JOURNALIST: So you think by talking about it and talking about it eventually changes will come?
WONG: I want to do more than talk. I want to get more women onto Government boards and more women to have their first board opportunity. I hope what we will then see is the private sector having more board ready women to appoint to different boards.
JOURNALIST: It’s easy to say that but you talk to women and they cannot get on their first board. It’s so difficult –
WONG: Which is why we’re here to do this today and launch BoardLinks; to encourage more women to get onto government boards providing that first board opportunity.
JOURNALIST: Just one last question, from a concrete perspective, how do you do that?
WONG: We’ll be inviting the Champions and Affiliates, which are some of the organisations I mentioned today, to nominate women to the network so through that we hope we get a larger pool of competent, able women from which Government can select candidates for boards. And I hope that will mean more women get their first board appointment which of course will make them more board ready for the private sector.
JOURNALIST: On the PBO, are you comfortable with the PBO building its own alternative budget that assesses your own budget?
WONG: The Parliamentary Budget Office is a very important independent organisation. We’ve established it. It is going to be important to ensure that all political parties comply with the Charter of Budget Honesty. At this stage, only the Labor Party is going to be complying with Peter Costello’s Charter of Budget Honesty. The role, functioning of the PBO is first, independent, and second, reflects the bipartisan report of a Parliamentary Committee in which all sides of politics were represented.
JOURNALIST: Given Treasury already does this, do you really need them to be building a long-term view of the Budget?
WONG: My view is the Parliamentary Budget Office is independent.
JOURNALIST: Is it OK for the Government to order Treasury to cost Coalition policies?
WONG: I’m very happy to take this question because I think it has been extraordinary to see Mr Hockey – Joe Hockey – blustering about this, when in fact what has happened is he’s being called to account. He’s been called to account on policies which he is refusing to cost, which he is refusing to be transparent on to the Australian people. That’s what’s happening.
JOURNALIST: Could it damage Treasury? I mean, you’ve got people like the Business Council saying that they’ve been used for a political purpose.
WONG: Is there a public interest or not in the alternative Government having its policies costed and transparent to the Australian people? I think there is. And I think the fact that this Coalition has been completely unwilling to be upfront with Australians, including the business community, about the true costs of their policies, really reflects badly on them. It reflects badly on them.
JOURNALIST: Mr Hockey says this has never been done before though, so –
WONG: I’m not sure Mr Hockey is right, and I’d invite him to consider the public record of different times in which policies in the public arena have been considered in great detail by both parties when in government.
But I’d make this point again: Mr Hockey is blustering about this because he’s been caught out. His policies will cost business money and he’s refused until now to be upfront with people about the cost of those.
If he’s serious about being the Treasurer of the country – and that’s what he says he wants to be – isn’t it time he was a little more accountable about what his policies will cost?
JOURNALIST: Just on another issue, the Coalition says it will change the way that research grants are awarded so that scientists have more certainty. Is that something the Government is (inaudible)?
WONG: I’d refer you to Senator Evans on that issue.