E&OE - PROOF ONLY
DAVID PENBERTHY: South Australian Labor Senator Penny Wong is now the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. She is in the US at the moment and has had what you would call a front row seat for the most spectacular flare up in the relationship between Australia and the US since the Whitlam and Nixon era.
Senator Wong is on the line now, Penny, good morning, thanks so much for your time.
SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good morning, good to be worth you.
PENBERTHY: What impact do you think this stink between Malcolm Turnbull and Donald Trump has had on the relationship between the US and Australia?
WONG: I think there are two issues and it’s important we keep them separate. One issue is the politics of the day and the personal relationship between two politicians. But the second is our relationship with the United States, our alliance with the United States and that aspect is obviously bigger than any individual and bigger than any occupant of either of the leadership positions of both countries. It’s an Alliance that is key to our security, it’s been key to Australia’s foreign policy for decades and that will continue.
We’ve obviously got a pretty difficult situation currently in terms of some of the media reporting and it is disappointing if the reports are true, but ultimately I think we do have to remember that we have very strong relationships with the United States that go back over many years and encompass many institutions.
I’ve just been at the CIA, we’ve met with the FBI, we’ve met with people at the Pentagon and I can say to you at all of those institutional levels our relationships are deep and trusted.
PENBERTHY: Do you think in hindsight Malcolm Turnbull might have made a mistake strategically in placing so much store on an agreement he had struck with Barrack Obama right at the very tail end of Barack Obama’s Presidency, particularly when the content of that arrangement was probably always something you would see was going to offend someone with the political views of Donald Trump?
WONG: You’d certainly think that the change of Administration did require the Government to think carefully about how to handle it. I want to make clear Labor obviously wants the resettlement arrangement with the United States to succeed, it’s very important. I think there are questions about the Prime Minister’s judgement about how he’s handled this, whether his actions have made this agreement a more difficult agreement to keep in place.
It seems very odd that the Prime Minister made the comments he made on Monday suggesting that the deal was secure in light of what has subsequently become, if it’s true, what has subsequently been reported.
PENBERTHY: What does Labor think though of this idea of extreme vetting? We get a lot of calls to this show saying if you can’t guarantee that absolutely every single one of the people who is going to be transferred from Manus Island to the US is not going to pose some sort of security risk down the track maybe Donald Trump’s hard line approach is actually a better one on community safety grounds.
WONG: I don’t think there’s anybody from any side of politics who doesn’t suggest we should properly and thoroughly assess the security risks associated with all of those individuals and in fact any individual coming into our country. I don’t think that’s the issue. I think the issue is whether or not an arrangement that was put in place will be honoured and whether or not Malcolm Turnbull has handled this appropriately. If the reports are correct what he said on Monday would seem to be at odds certainly with what the reports are today and that does go to questions of judgement.
WILL GOODINGS: So none of the events since Donald Trump’s Inauguration change your position on the Australian US Alliance? The withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership, the frayed or terse conversation with Malcolm Turnbull, the reneging on the Barrack Obama deal – none of this gives you pause to think more broadly about the nature of that relationship?
WONG: I wrote a piece in the week after Mr Trump was elected and I made two points. The first was that the Alliance is bigger than any particular individual, but the second was that given what Mr Trump had said about a range of foreign policy positions we were going to have to ensure we stood up for Australian values and Australian interests as an Alliance partner and I think we’ve seen the need to do that. We’ve seen the need to say we are a friend and ally but on these issues we may not agree.
So, I don’t have a view that because we may not agree with something an individual says that that has an impact upon the Alliance, I think the Alliance is bigger than all of the individuals who are in the positions that people hold currently. But I think what it does mean is we have to think very carefully about how we stand up for Australia’s interests in this relationship.
We’ve been a very good ally and partner of America for many years and that will continue and that does mean we can say what we believe to be correct even if at times it may not the be same as the position of a particular President or Administration.
PENBERTHY: Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, South Australian Senator Penny Wong in Washington DC, thank you very much for joining us on 5AA Breakfast.
WONG: Great to be with you both.