Penny Wong has reacted furiously after Finance Minister Mathias Cormann suggested she was channeling Pauline Hanson, saying the comparison was “personally offensive” to people of Asian background.
The heated exchange came during a Senate estimates hearing as the pair clashed over the government’s company tax plan, which Senator Hanson dramatically revealed she no longer supported on Tuesday morning.
As Senator Wong read a list of the One Nation leader’s demands to government, Senator Cormann quipped: “I know you like channelling Senator Hanson.”
Senator Wong replied: “Actually that’s a little offensive. She thinks people like me were swamping Australia, actually.”
The Finance Minister appeared unconvinced by Senator Wong’s furious reaction, explaining that “you’re speaking her words”.
Senator Wong said it was the government that “cosy up” to the One Nation leader and “let her write tax policy and government policy in order to get her vote”.
Senator Cormann rejected that claim, but a furious Wong continued her rebuke.
“Don’t tell me I channel Pauline Hanson, I find that personally offensive,” she said.
Senator Wong, who was born in Malaysia, was referring to Senator Hanson’s maiden speech in Parliament in 1996, when she said Australia was being “swamped by Asians”.
“To say to someone Asian, that I’m channeling Pauline Hanson,” she said.
Senator Cormann, who was born in Belgium, said he “did not mean to cause offence”, but suggested Senator Wong was guilty of “confected outrage”.
Senator Wong shouted back: “How dare you. It is not confected.”
The Finance Minister said she was “by your own admission channeling Senator Hanson, you were reading her comments”.
“I am asking you your response to her position on policy. You’re the ones in bed with her,” Senator Wong said, before withdrawing the latter comment.
Senator Hanson weighed into the saga on Tuesday, telling 2GB the Labor politician was “playing the Asian card”.
“I’ve seen her performance on the floor of parliament, she’s a great actress,” she said.
Senator Wong replied to the One Nation leader in tweet on Tuesday afternoon while acknowledging Senator Cormann “did not mean to cause offence”.
I will never do anything other than stand up to Pauline Hanson and her views, but I know Mathias is one of the decent people in this Government and accept his assurance he did not mean to cause offence. https://t.co/NEKluUce20
— Senator Penny Wong (@SenatorWong) May 22, 2018
The clash followed news Senator Hanson had pushed the Turnbull government’s company tax cuts bill onto life support by dramatically withdrawing her support for the $36 billion package.
Senator Hanson’s revelation, her fourth position on the plan since February, forced Senator Cormann to concede the government might never pass one of the key planks of its economic platform.
“I hope that this is not the last word spoken on this and that we will be able to persuade Pauline Hanson and her team to go back to the position that they adopted earlier this year,” he told reporters in Canberra.
Labor, which staunchly opposes the company tax cuts, remained sceptical that Senator Hanson’s new position would hold.
In February, Senator Hanson penned an opinion piece revealing she would not back the company tax cuts because she was not convinced they would lead to economic growth and higher wages.
By late March, she had reversed that position, backing the policy in return for a $60 million apprenticeships package.
Last month, the One Nation leader indicated a new position amid damaging revelations emerging from the royal commission about the banks, who would benefit from the tax cuts.
She said then that the banks should be forced to pay compensation to victims, and that this would inform her vote on the bill.
On Tuesday, Senator Hanson laid out a list of demands in order for her to once again support the package.
She also argued the government had reneged on their deal by not including the apprenticeships plan in the budget.
Senator Cormann said the deal had been to create the program after the tax cuts passed Parliament.
Senator Hanson’s demands included changes to the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax, a new coal fired power station and a cut to immigration and greater assistance for pensioners.
The demands are not initiatives the government would be likely to even consider.
“I regret pulling out of this, [but] considering the budget papers that were handed down, I cannot continue to pass these corporate tax cuts,” she told reporters in Hobart.
Senator’s Hanson about-face comes as One Nation campaigns in a byelection in the Labor-held seat of Longman, on the Sunshine Coast, where the minor party expects to poll well.