1 May 2019




PATRICIA KARVELAS: Today Penny Wong gave a very significant speech at the Lowy Institute about foreign affairs and the kind of Foreign Affairs Minister she would be. I spoke to the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong a short time ago, before that news broke that Peter Killin had stepped down.

Penny Wong, welcome.


KARVELAS: Before we turn to foreign policy, the Liberal candidate for Isaacs has resigned this morning over anti-Muslim comments he made. We’ve just seen reports that the Liberal candidate in Wills objected to the preselection of Liberal MP Tim Wilson because he’s gay. What do you make of this story?

WONG: Well, what’s going on in the Liberal Party? I’m reminded of what Kelly O’Dwyer said – or was reported to have said, which she’s never denied – that the Liberals are seen as misogynist, homophobic, climate change deniers. I think what we are seeing from a number of Liberal candidates – I would argue from many in the Liberal Party – is a set of values and beliefs which really are not consistent with most of Australia. They’re not mainstream. They’re not where Australia is. They don’t reflect Australian values.

KARVELAS: Your candidate for Melbourne, Luke Creasey, has shared a rape joke on social media in the past. Should your candidate for Melbourne stand down too? The Greens say he should. Should he also stand down because a rape joke is also offensive?

WONG: Well, I’d say first, I think Luke has been very upfront in the statement he’s made. This happened some years ago. He said it was inappropriate. He was young and he’s made a mistake. I would remind the Greens that they had at least one candidate in the state election who was a rapper who used lyrics which were pretty sexist and violent; and had to similarly apologise. It’s right that Luke apologises. I know him and I’ve spoken at events he’s been at and I’ve listened to him talk about his childhood and his values. And what he did – which was a mistake a number of years ago – his actions don’t reflect, previously, the values I know he holds.

KARVELAS: So why are rape jokes like this made by your candidate for Melbourne okay just with an apology but other Liberal candidates who say things that are offensive must be disendorsed immediately? Are there two sets of rules here?

WONG: No, I don’t think so. I think we know people make mistakes and Luke has done the right thing. He should have apologised and he has. He did the wrong thing those years ago as a young person. I think racism – there’s a difference between sharing a joke and making the sorts of comments that you’ve referenced. That is a racist attack which I assume is why some people in the Liberal Party disendorsed the Isaacs candidate.

KARVELAS: Okay, so if they were to say that they also denounced their comments, would that mean an apology is good enough for them?

WONG: Well, Patricia, I’ve answered the question. I think you do look at the context in which things occur, when they occurred and what they demonstrate about a person’s values, what they demonstrate about a person’s integrity. I think the sorts of comments that were made by the Isaacs candidate, and by the Wills candidate, they demonstrate a set of prejudices, not a mistake on Facebook about sharing what was, as I understand it, a completely inappropriate thing to do, to share jokes about this, but this is about what you believe.

KARVELAS: The Northern Territory Senate candidate, Wayne Kurnoth, who you also disendorsed – apparently the how-to-vote cards on pre-poll, according to the Liberal Party, still say to vote for him. So you’ve disendorsed him, but according to the Liberal Party, your how-to-vote cards still say that people should vote for him.

WONG: I’ll check that but I assume that what has occurred, and I suspect if you look at what’s happening in Isaacs on pre-poll today, the Liberal how-to-votes probably still have that candidate on their how-to-vote as well. I assume that many were printed, some may well continue to be handed out after the decision was made by that candidate to stand down.

KARVELAS: Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, has called for a Labor-Greens coalition on climate change policy. He also says he’s prepared to give ground on carbon permits. Is that significant in your view?

WONG: There will be no coalition, Richard, and what I would say to Richard Di Natale and to Greens supporters – don’t make the same mistake you made in 2009. Don’t make the mistake of voting in the Senate against a Labor Government’s climate policy, which has been fundamental in the 10 years of inaction since. Don’t make the mistake of suggesting that you’re going to sit down on the same side of the Senate, as you did last time, with people like Eric Abetz, Cory Bernardi and others who deny the science of climate change. Don’t make that mistake again. The only way to get action on climate change is to elect a Labor Government. We are going to be putting forward to the parliament, if we are elected, the policy that we are taking to this election.

KARVELAS: But you’ll have to negotiate, you always have to negotiate, don’t you?

WONG: Well, it’ll be up to the Greens and I’m saying to them – don’t make the mistake you made in 2009.

KARVELAS: If you become Foreign Minister, you will become the first Asian-Australian to have that job. You acknowledged today that will have a powerful symbolic impact. What would that impact be?

WONG: The point I’ve made is – I’ve been asked the question a few times, “What will it mean to have a person born in Asia as Australia’s Foreign Minister?” – the point I make is that it says something about us. It’s ultimately not about me. It says something about Australia and who we are. It says something about the diverse, multicultural, confident nation that we are. That is important in the region because it goes to our perception in the region, it goes to the narrative about what it means to be Australian, Australian identity and Australia’s place in the world. I think that is an important aspect of diversity; that we present to the world a much more accurate depiction of who Australia is today.

KARVELAS: In your speech today, you talked about how a Labor Government would look first to the Asia-Pacific region. Our Asia-Pacific relationships are usually defined by aid and trade. How would you seek to deepen those relationships?

WONG: I made the point, we should be focusing very clearly at this time on what sort of region we want. We do live in a time where there are a lot of things changing. We’ve got economic changes, we’ve got changes in terms of the different and relative economic and strategic weight of the United States and China. The post-World War II order is being disrupted. So how do we navigate through that? That’s the key question for Australia. I think we start first with what sort of region we want. A region where disputes, behaviour, are grounded in international rules and norms. To do that, one of the things we have to do is engage more deeply and one of the things Australian Labor has announced is a FutureAsia policy which is around a whole-of-nation and a whole-of-government step-up around our Asia capability and deepening engagement with the region.

KARVELAS: You also talked about Australia wanting a region which retains the system of institutions, rules and norms, which you just mentioned there again, but the major power in our region, China, is actively disrupting those rules. Is that old international system becoming irrelevant or strained?

WONG: There is no doubt that the post-World War II international order and its place in our region is being disrupted by a range of economic and strategic changes. One of those includes China’s assertion of its interests and its perception of who it is. There are others, as I said, the relative economic weight of the US and China. It is important we work with other partners in our region. Obviously the US is the critical nation in our region but also I mentioned today Indonesia, India, Korea and Japan. We need to focus on the sort of region we want. We have a shared interest in a region where there is stability and peace but a region which is based in international norms and international rules.

KARVELAS: Would a regional rather than a bilateral response to China be more effective? Is that a realistic prospect?

WONG: That’s actually a very good question. There are really two things I would say in response to that. First, I do think we should deal with China in the context of the sort of region we want. But the second point I did make today is that we’ve had a tendency in the past to think of our relationship with China in two silos – strategic and economic. The point I was making today is we need to deal with the relationship as a whole and bring our national interests and our values to the whole of the relationship.

KARVELAS: You say Labor would protect Australia’s interests and values, which will sometimes conflict with China’s goals?

WONG: Sure.

KARVELAS: Does Australia need to be better prepared for the economic consequences of China’s retaliation?

WONG: We need to be able to navigate differences better. The point I made today is there are areas where our interests coincide and we should deeply engage with China in those areas, but there are inevitably areas where there are differences. China is not a democracy. That fact alone will give rise to differences. We have to navigate those differences sensibly.

KARVELAS: You’ve also talked about the need to promote and advocate for human rights. A number of countries in our region are becoming more authoritarian. Should Australia be taking a greater leadership role here, given it will obviously have some consequences on our trade relationships; but is it important to take a stand?

WONG: I think it’s important to project Australian values and project Australian interests; and our values include democratic freedoms, principles such as the rule of law, principles such as individual rights. We should project those. What I would also say is that means we have to make sure our democracy at home is robust and resilient. How you go about that? There are tactical and strategic questions about that. Whether you do it through the megaphone or not. I think there is more scope to work with like-minded countries around key principles, key democratic freedoms including freedom of the press.

KARVELAS: That’s really interesting – through the megaphone or not. So Penny Wong as Foreign Minister, would you be using that megaphone or are you going to be much more diplomatic in your own personal approach?

WONG: I think it depends on the issue. There are times when one approach is merited and there are times when another approach is merited. I hope I would always try and be strategic in Australia’s interests if I had the opportunity to be Foreign Minister.

KARVELAS: You’ve talked about how Australia under a Labor Government would be an active campaigner for a more ambitious global target to reduce greenhouse emissions. Would Australia ever support binding targets or penalties for countries that miss their targets?

WONG: That’s interesting because that was a debate when I was Climate Minister…

KARVELAS: I remember.

WONG: And my point – and I think the Greens and some others were demanding it – I made the point the most important thing to do is to get countries acting and to get as much of the world community acting as we can, rather than focusing on getting a perfect legal document with perfect legal remedies, which of course, may or may not be effective in actually generating action. What we want is real action on climate change. We’ll only get that if we elect a Labor Government. That’s a reality. I would make this point – the division inside the Liberal Party and the National Parties, which has paralysed them, has had two consequences. One is they are incapable of meeting the challenge of climate change; a key challenge for Australia now and into the future. They are utterly incapable of meeting it. The second point is their position has diminished our standing internationally and in the region, particularly with Pacific island nations. That means we are less able to do what is in Australia’s national interests.

KARVELAS: Penny Wong, many thanks for your time.

WONG: Good to speak with you.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.