19 March 2019




THOMAS ORITI: Penny Wong joins me now. Senator Wong, good morning

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good morning, we seem to have some technical difficulties.

ORITI: That’s okay, we have you now. Thank you for joining us. Can I begin by asking about Senator Fraser Anning. A censure motion will be moved when Parliament resumes next month but more than a million people have signed a petition to have him removed. Are you looking into what more can be done beyond a censure motion?

WONG: He should resign. Clearly he should resign and, look, it is heartwarming to see so many people standing against Mr Anning.

What I would say is I hope that what we take from this tragedy is not just standing against Fraser Anning, a man who has never been elected, who is seeking to peddle hatred in a pathetic attempt to get re-elected – and of course he wouldn’t be in the Parliament if Pauline Hanson hadn’t put him on her ticket – but I hope that what we do take out of this is to stand against hate speech in all its forms because that is the lesson, I think, out of this tragedy.

ORITI: Political debate, by its very nature, is robust, so how do you draw the line between robust political debate and what’s acceptable?

WONG: There is a difference between freedom of speech and hate speech. There is a difference between the robust contest of ideas and attacking a particular group of people because of the colour of their skin or the nature of their faith and dehumanising them in the way that we have seen. And I think all leaders – political leaders, community leaders – do have to take this moment, not just to grieve, not just to mouth platitudes, but to commit to stand against hatred and hate speech.

Regrettably, there have been too many occasions in this country and in debate over recent years where that has not been sufficiently done. I hope that we can move from this moment, not just, as I said, to change behaviour and to grieve for a week, but to change the nature in which we discuss race and faith in this country and, more importantly, to recognise there is a difference between hate speech and freedom of speech.

ORITI: On that note, looking beyond Fraser Anning, in a broader sense do you think the political centre has moved further to the right since you’ve been in politics?

WONG: Yes I do, and I don’t think any fair-minded observer watching would think otherwise. I was elected in 2001. It was the Tampa election and I think since that time we have seen a willingness by some politicians to engage in language or actions which have not been, I think, in the national interest, have not been good for this country.

I hope that what we can do is take this moment, a moment of such sorrow and grief, such tragedy, and such horror, and do something with it that is good and what would be good would be if we understood that all of us, even those on the right of centre, must stand against hate speech.

ORITI: Concentrating in the events in Christchurch, social media is the key issue here. The events were streamed live online. In you view is there more social media platforms could be doing to ensure content like this isn’t streamed and shared?

WONG: Absolutely. They have a responsibility and I think it’s been a responsibility that demonstrably has not been met, certainly on this occasion and there have been other occasions. So, if there are things that should be done they should be done and if there are laws that need to be changed they need to be considered.

I don’t think we should allow these platforms to be utilised in ways that even those in charge of them say are not appropriate.

ORITI: The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison appealed yesterday for less tribalism – not to divide less but to divide better. What can the Opposition do to contribute to a more tolerant political debate?

WONG: The first thing is I hope Mr Morrison’s words are backed up by action and those actions would be two things.

The first would be in this coming election to ensure that the debate doesn’t involve language which is around dog-whistling and prejudice. The second would be to ensure that any preference arrangements that he enters into, that he, like Labor, puts right wing extremists like Fraser Anning and Pauline Hanson last.

That is not what has occurred. We know, as recently as the Longman by-election, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation was preferenced by the Coalition ahead of the Labor Party. Now that does need to stop.

ORITI: What about Labor though? What does Labor need to do?

WONG: The second thing I think we can all do is to ensure that, as I said, we stand against hate speech.

We have to say to the Australian people the Australia that we all have faith in, the Australian values in which we believe are values of inclusion and acceptance and respect. We have to choose unity over division. We have to choose respect over prejudice. We have to choose hope over fear and we have to choose love over hate. That is what we have to do as a nation and that is a job for all of us whether it’s the Labor Party, the Coalition, you in the media or the whole community. We have to choose the values which we want this country to have, and we have to stand against those we know tear us apart.

ORITI: Senator Penny Wong thanks for joining us on AM.

WONG: Good to speak with you.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.