E&OE - PROOF ONLY
LEIGH SALES: Senator Penny Wong is Labor’s Shadow Foreign Minister and joined me earlier. Thank you for joining us.
SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good to be with you.
SALES: Labor Party policy is to consider recognising Palestine as a state, if the peace process towards a Two-State Solution doesn’t make some real progress. How much longer do you think the Two-State Solution should be given?
WONG: Well, I think the thing we need to recognise is that the Two-State Solution is the only outcome which will ensure peace and security for both the Israeli and Palestinian people. We shouldn’t be giving up on it. It is the outcome we want and I think we need to think through how we encourage that, how we can and should add our voices to the many people around the world who are concerned about this issue and the many people in Australia who are concerned about this issue.
SALES: Would you expect that at the next Labor National Conference the recognition of Palestine as a state would likely become party policy, given it now has the backing of party elders, such as Bob Hawke, Gareth Evans, Kevin Rudd, and Bob Carr.
WONG: Bob and Kevin and Gareth and Bob are respected party elders, who are entitled to have their say, and who I think are reflecting the concern I describe that many people around the world have about the lack of substantial progress towards peace.
SALES: Where do you think the balance of opinion is in the Labor Party? Do you think that you are going to move to that recognition of Palestine?
WONG: What I would say is this – first, I think the Labor Party National Conference, it is never good to make assumption about what will happen. The second point I’ve made and I will continue to make is that it seems to me we should be focused on what we can and should do, bearing in mind we have a limited capacity to actually influence the outcome. Ultimately peace is in the hands of the parties concerned, the Israelis and the Palestinians. But we should continue to look to what we can do and I do think the current platform, which states this is a matter for a future Labor Government to consider in light of the circumstances, is a sensible approach.
SALES: The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked today about those remarks by Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd. He said that an independent Palestinian state would be a terrorist state unless Israel maintained full military security of the territories. Do you believe that to be the case?
WONG: Well, I think there are a range of preconditions for a Two-State Solution, and the parties are quite capable – far more capable than any commentators here in articulating what they should be. But the security of the Israeli people, of course, is one of the preconditions for a Two-State Solution, just as the security of the Palestinian people and their legitimate aspiration to statehood is also one of the issues that has to be on the table.
SALES: On another matter, does Labor believe that the Trump Administration can be trusted when it says that refugees on Manus Island and Nauru will be settled in the US after they are vetted?
WONG: Well, you know, I think the issue with this arrangement is that the message coming out of the Government is so inconsistent. I mean, we’ve seen the Immigration Minister and the Foreign Minister within 24 hours contradict each other about the nature of the arrangement. Now, Labor does want a solution to the resettlement of people on Nauru and Manus. We have said we are supportive of that. I think it is very disappointing that the Prime Minister has failed to be up-front with Australians, and that failure has been compounded by the fact you have got two senior ministers saying different things, one saying it is a people swap and one saying it is not.
SALES: Do you believe the people on Manus Island and Nauru will end up in the US?
WONG: You would have to ask Julie Bishop that.
SALES: I am asking you that as the Shadow Foreign Minister. You have heard what the US Administration has had to say.
WONG: I was actually in Washington when the phone call happened and when the story about the phone call occurred. Obviously, we’ve had a lot of different versions of what was said and what was agreed. It really is for the Government to explain what the nature of the arrangement is and what the terms of the arrangements are. It’s very difficult for me to tell you, even as Shadow Foreign Minister, when the versions from the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the Immigration Minister are so different.
SALES: Let me ask you – if you were in Government, how would you negotiate with President Trump and the Trump Administration? How can you trust somebody or have good faith negotiations with somebody who is so unpredictable and also loose with the facts?
WONG: I think it’s really important to remember the Alliance partnership is not a partnership between individuals. So, we have had an ANZUS Alliance in place for a long time, for decades. It’s served governments of different political persuasions well. It has persisted and endured, despite who is in the White House and who is in The Lodge. It has been robust enough to contemplate differences of opinion.
SALES: Sorry, if I can just interrupt. Every time I ask this question, a politician regardless of what side of politics they are on answers in the same way, which is to point to the Alliance. There must be limits to that, because the personalities of the leaders are important, because you have to trust them as a negotiating partner.
WONG: What is important is you do stand up for Australian interests and Australian values, even if that means being clear that something that President Trump has done or said, that is relevant to Australia, is not something you agree with.
I was very clear, as was Bill, and Tanya, and others in the Labor Party, in the context of the immigration ban that that was not an approach we thought was sensible. We didn’t think it was in the US’s interest rate, wasn’t consistent with US interests, nor US values, and nor was it consistent with Australian interests and Australian values.
So, of course, personalities do matter to a point, and you have to be able to say, “We don’t agree on certain issues”, but it is important to separate the person from the institution of the relationship and the Alliance.
SALES: We are out of time. Thank you for joining us.
WONG: Good to be with you.