9 July 2017




BARRIE CASSIDY: This morning it’s the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong joining us from Adelaide.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good morning Barrie, good to be with you.

CASSIDY:Let’s get your impression now on President Trump’s contribution to the G20 and starting of course with climate change. Nobody, I suppose, expected him to give ground and he certainly did not?

WONG: He didn’t. It is an unusual G20 outcome though, isn’t it. As Angela Merkel said, the division is made clear, the disagreement is made clear. Regrettably for Australia, the US position on climate runs counter to not only our interest but to the weight of global opinion.

CASSIDY: Will it encourage though, some people who are sceptical on climate change here in Australia?

WONG: That really throws into relief Malcolm Turnbull’s challenge doesn’t it? It’s all very well for him to go along to the G20 and sign up to the majority of global opinion. It’s all very well for him to say we are in the Paris agreement, we are going to meet our commitments, but we saw on Friday, emissions here in Australia are rising.

He doesn’t have a policy mechanism to meet the commitments he says he will meet and he has got an internal fight where he, as yet, has been unable to stand up to those in his party who, as you say, take the view that we shouldn’t be doing anything.

So I think Mr Turnbull has to really ensure that he shows the leadership on this which is required and make sure his response to the Finkel Review reflects what he signed up to in Hamburg.

CASSIDY:On trade, you mentioned Angela Merkel and her point was that, in her view, open trade is win/win, but Donald Trump seems to see it as win/lose. Is there a problem there?

WONG: Mr Trump’s position on trade, certainly through his campaign, obviously, his withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership and some of the statements subsequently, I think do run counter to most US Administrations past, when it comes to trade.

It was good to see that the G20 communique does talk about the benefits of open markets, does maintain the commitment to fight against protectionist measures. Whilst we know that globalisation creates winners and losers and you have to make sure as a government you reduce inequality, you create more opportunity, we also know increased protectionism really will drive up costs for many people and will reduce global growth. So, I think it is important that the G20 said that.

Can I just make one comment about Mr Trump though. I think Chris Uhlmann in his package talked about the absence of US leadership. I think it is important to for us recognise that no matter what the US does, they are a leader. It is always a question of what sort of leadership they are providing.

We need as a US ally and friend to be far more energetic than Mr Turnbull has been in engaging with the United States. Not just on trade and climate where there is clearly a difference of views, but on a whole range of matters because what the United States does always matters, it always matters.

CASSIDY: You made this point in a recent speech at the Lowy Institute, you want Australia to have a wider and a deeper engagement with the United States. But given the G20 outcome, is this the right time for that?

WONG: I’d probably argue the opposite. Where you have differences of views it is probably even more important to work harder at the relationship.

It is a relationship that comprises many parts and operates at many levels. You have to look over the horizon and not only be bound by the individual personalities of any one leader, that is the nature of alliances.

But what I would say to you is that Australia’s national interest does require us to engage with the United States assertively, energetically, putting our view to them on issues, because what they do globally, what they do in our region always matters. What they do in relation to North Korea, what they do in relation to ASEAN, these are matters that go to our national interest and we ought be engaging with them very clearly on those points and others.

CASSIDY: But equally, should we call them out as Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel have done here?

WONG: Where there are differences over issues we ought be clear about them and I think this has been Mr Turnbull’s problem, he hasn’t known whether to glide over difference, whether to be up front or whether to just not say anything. He hasn’t really set himself very clearly in terms of how he wants to deal with the Trump Administration. Certainly on climate, we do have a very clear difference of views.

CASSIDY:On North Korea, it seems to be the view in United States and here in Australia that the Chinese have got a big responsibility here. In part it is their responsibility to fix it. And yet Donald Trump finishes up by saying he appreciates the efforts of the Chinese. That implies that they are doing the best they can?

WONG: I think Secretary Tillerson got it right in the statement he put out shortly after the provocative, escalatory action of North Korea in that missile test. He said it was a global threat that needs a global response.

We do want China to do more and we would urge them to do that but we also recognise China has been engaging with North Korea and has been supporting UN Security Council resolutions.

I think it is important to recognise though this is not simply a unilateral issue. This is a multilateral issue. This is a global threat. It requires a response, coordination and partnership amongst all major powers and all regional powers.

It is surprising that this wasn’t addressed more at the G20. That might have been a good step to take, to build that multilateral pressure on North Korea. But certainly, this is a global threat that requires global action. Whilst we would engage with China and urge them to do more, I think we recognise that everybody has a role to play here.

CASSIDY: While it is a global threat, should Australia have its own missile defence system?

WONG: I’ve seen that this has been raised, and it was obviously dealt with and considered in the 2009 White Paper.

My view is we are always open to what is required to keep Australians safe. We have sought a briefing on this but I would note that the Chief of Defence Force Operations who was quoted earlier, I think, in your package, was much more measured and sensible in his response than perhaps Mr Joyce was before he was properly briefed.

I think this is a time we ought be responsible and sober about the language we use. There is an escalation of the global threat. We need to deal with that sensibly.

CASSIDY:Now, away from the G20, is the Labor Party about to change its policy on Israel and Palestine?

WONG: Well, the Labor Party’s position on Israel and Palestine is to support a two-state solution and that has been our position for many years.

I think what you might be referencing is a motion, or motions – there are quite a lot of them – that will be debated at the New South Wales State Conference. Obviously New South Wales is entitled to debate those motions. It is certainly not determinative of the Federal Labor Party’s position. That is a position that has already been articulated at the National Conference.

CASSIDY: But apart from the two-state solution, the federal position is, the policy commits Labor to discussions towards recognising Palestine if there is no progress. Demonstrably there has been no progress so that policy is out of date isn’t it?

WONG: I think the National Conference resolution which Tanya Plibersek and others arrived at is a sensible one. It makes clear that a future Labor government would have to consider this issue, look to things like conditions and timelines in order to ensure that any such move would be conducive to peace in the Middle East, would contribute towards a two-state solution. That motion is referenced in the New South Wales resolution and I think that is an appropriate position.

CASSIDY:But part of the New South Wales resolution, of course, urges the next Labor government to recognise Palestine, pure and simple. What is your problem with that?

WONG: Well, I think, as I said to you, New South Wales members are entitled to debate that motion, but ultimately, it is not binding on the Federal Party. The Federal Party will determine its position at the National Conference. The current position is as you have outlined.

I do think in all of this it is important we remember what the purpose of our foreign policy here is. We don’t determine what happens in the Middle East. Obviously the two parties, the Israeli and Palestinian peoples are the ones who will have to resolve this.

But our position is a two-state solution. So whatever diplomatic means, whatever diplomatic measures we engage in, the threshold we should assess them against is whether or not this policy position furthers the likelihood of a two-state solution. That is certainly how I would be approaching it were we to be elected in the future and it is certainly the way in which the current federal platform and federal resolution is cast.

CASSIDY:But the frustration of those who want a more pro-Palestinian position, with every expansion of settlements, the two-state solution becomes harder to achieve. Do you accept that?

WONG: Absolutely and I have been quite vocal about that. I have said that the continued construction of settlements is a road block to peace, it is a road block to a two-state solution and we were quite explicit, contrary to the government, in our opposition to the legislation which passed the Knesset which retroactively legalised a range of settlements that were regarded as unlawful. I have been clear about that for the reasons you have described.

It comes back to my original position, you must judge your policy and your position in relation to Israel and Palestine, predicated upon what furthers the possibility of a two-state solution. Bearing in mind, we are not the major player in this, obviously Australia is not the key player.

CASSIDY:You have saying that New South Wales can pretty much do what it likes, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be adopted at the national level. And yet the South Australian Parliament has adopted a motion like that, three or four other states, you’ve got names in the Labor Party like Hawke, Evans, Rudd and Carr who all want to move to recognition of Palestine and you don’t think it will happen this time around?

WONG: No, I am saying it is a matter a future Labor government would need to consider in light of the issues I raised with you.

The discussion you are referencing I think reflects the very understandable and correct approach that people have in the party where many people are deeply concerned about the situation in the Middle East, where people are very concerned about the lack of progress on, and terms of a peaceful resolution and moves towards, a two-state solution. People are deeply concerned about it, and their position, I think, reflects that.

CASSIDY:  Penny Wong, thank you for your time.

WONG: Good to speak with you.