7 July 2017




DAVE LIPSON: Penny Wong, welcome to Lateline.


LIPSON: The Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has said that he has sympathy for the US sanctioning organisations that deal with North Korea. Do you have sympathy with that view?

WONG: I think he went further than that, in terms of his somewhat irresponsible comments. He seemed to suggest, and certainly wouldn’t rule out, trade sanctions against China.

LIPSON: He did clarify that afterwards.

WONG: Yes, he did clarify that afterwards, but really a little more thinking before speaking would have been useful.

North Korea has escalated the threat to all nations. They are a risk to global security and the global community must act together to counter that threat. I think that Barnaby’s approach is not the right way of approaching this. I think we should be urging China to do more, we should be urging all the nations of the world to work together to deal with what is a global threat.

I agree with Secretary Rex Tillerson. He said this is a global threat and it needs a global response.

LIPSON: When you say we should be pressuring China to do more…

WONG: We should be urging China to do more.

LIPSON: How do we urge them?

WONG: There are two ways I would be articulating this, and certainly not the way Barnaby did. The first point is, China has an interest in a stable region. It has an interest in a stable and peaceful region, for its own ends but also as a platform for economic growth.

I also think we should be encouraging China to exercise the sort of global leadership that President Xi articulated at the Davos meeting earlier this year.

LIPSON: Specifically, if we accept that it is really up to China to place any meaningful pressure on North Korea…

WONG: I am not sure that it is reasonable to make this a unilateral issue.

LIPSON: They have the most leverage though?

WONG: It is true to say that China has more capacity than other nations to put pressure on North Korea, but I think we ought to remember that this is a global threat, and we have to work together as a multilateral community in order to counter it.

LIPSON: The point is though, that up to now, what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked. How much further do we need to go? The US is talking about not ruling out military options, which obviously isn’t desirable, but what do we do?

WONG: You raise military options and I don’t think it is helpful for us to engage in hypotheticals and I don’t intend to do so.

However, I would make this point, I do think we need to be very clear-eyed about military action and the consequences and risks associated with that. We know where Seoul is, we know how close it is to the border.

Australia’s interests are in our own security, but they also are with the security of South Korea and Japan.

LIPSON: The US has said it will use military force if it must. Under what circumstances, if any, should Australia join or support pre-emptive military action?

WONG: That is a hypothetical, and I’ve consistently said that someone in my position should not be engaging in that kind of speculation.

LIPSON: It seems to be getting closer, that sought of option?

WONG: I think what we should be encouraging all parties to do is to do what Secretary Rex Tillerson described, which are the peaceful – these are his words, not mine – the peaceful denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. I think that the US Secretary of State, his statements in the last 24 hours were very clear about that.

The global community needs to act to respond to this threat. As you said, action has been taken that hasn’t been effective to date. We have seen a flagrant disregard for UN Security Council resolutions from the North Korean regime. We need to do more, and we need to do it together.

LIPSON: Just taking you back to the comments from the Acting Prime Minister, are you suggesting, in your criticism of Barnaby Joyce, that those comments alone could damage our relations with China or the rest of the region?

WONG: No, I suspect other nations know to take Barnaby Joyce with a grain of salt, just as do the Australian people. But I think someone who is Acting Prime Minister, he is the acting leader of the country, ought be more careful about how he talks about these things.

Everybody loses from a trade war, let’s remember that. Here he is talking about the possibility of trade sanctions against China. Well that would hit Australian jobs, Australian businesses and Australian farmers. We have a trade surplus with China. That would be a pretty big own goal. So Australia loses and the world loses if we go down that path.

LIPSON: In your Lowy speech today, you said that global security depends on how the US and China recalibrate and re-engineer their relationship. What needs to change in that relationship?

WONG: That is ultimately something that they are working through. I think that was a statement of fact, that sentence you read out. We all know the most important bilateral relationship in the world at this time is US-China. Ensuring that it is a stable and constructive relationship is in the interest, not only of the US and China, I would suggest, but in everybody’s interest.

LIPSON: The inference there is that they are not close enough at this point? They are not cooperating enough?

WONG: I don’t think there was that inference. I was making a point that over the medium term we know that this is the key bilateral relationship in the world. It will condition all nations’ capacities to affect their own security and economic prosperity and obviously we need to continue to encourage them to work well together.

LIPSON: You also said that if we focus on economic prosperity and distribute it equitably, then security becomes more manageable around the globe. What did you mean by that?

WONG: I was trying to express the importance of economic engagement between nations. To my way of thinking, one of the benefits of more open trading arrangements, more open investment arrangements, more open engagement between countries is that is a way to build a convergence of interests.

We all have a stake in stability and peace. So my point was that I think there is merit in making sure we are pretty deeply engaged economically in our region. Open trade and that kind of integration economically is a good thing for global security.

LIPSON: So that is the economic part of the sentence, there was also the distribution part of the sentence…

WONG: This speech is about seeking to frame Labor’s foreign policy. It’s talking about, in a time of disruption, how do we navigate our way through what is obviously a world that has a lot of challenges in it. I said we need to be clear about what we want, what are our interests and how we arrive at them.

The inequality you raised is also self-evident. We know that inequality, economic inequality, drives political instability. We know that is one of the reasons why support for trade, support for globalisation, support for economic engagement between nations has been declining. So those of us who do believe there is a collective good to a more integrated global economy, we have to deal with issues of equality.

LIPSON: Just to be clear, is that talking about taxing, shifting wealth from wealthy companies, wealthy countries to the less wealthy?

WONG: What it means is that we have to recognise there are people who have benefited from globalisation and open trade and there are people who have not.

And the Labor Party has been very clear about this, what our approach would be. Governments have to deal with that inequality. We have to address it, we have to give people more opportunities through investment in education and we have to continue to provide a good social welfare net.

LIPSON: What should Malcolm Turnbull’s focus be at the G20?

WONG: As always it should be the national interest, but I suspect Mr Turnbull’s problem is that he is far more concerned about the division at home and the continued attacks upon him by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and a number of his troops.

Obviously the first and most important thing for the G20 to deal with is North Korea. They are a threat to global peace and global stability. But I agree with Chancellor Merkel when she talks about the other priorities being trade and climate change. I would be encouraging Mr Turnbull to engage with Mr Trump and encourage him not to go down the path of increasing tariffs, of increasing protectionism, and also to encourage him to act on climate change, because we know that is what Mr Turnbull says he believes is important.

LIPSON: I just want to ask you about the motion before the NSW Labor Conference which urges the next Labor Government to recognise Palestine. What is your view on that motion?

WONG: On Israel and Palestine I would make a couple of points. The first is Labor’s position is, and should always be, support for a two-state solution. Whatever changes people contemplate to resolutions or motions at state conferences, what I will be saying is, the judgement should be, is this something that will further or make less likely the two-state solution?

LIPSON: And what’s your judgment?

WONG: My view about it is that the National Conference position has already been articulated. That is what is binding on me as the Shadow Foreign Minister and on members of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party.

LIPSON: So you don’t see any need to change it?

WONG: I understand that there are many people who have deep concerns about what is occurring between Israel and Palestine and the failure to move forward in terms of any peace process.

LIPSON: One of those people is Bob Carr. Kevin Rudd this evening has said that Bob Carr’s extravagant language about Israel’s “foul” occupation was not helpful. What is your view on Bob Carr’s comments?

WONG: It is not language I would use. And what I’d say about this issue is I understand people feel strongly about it, but I think I will certainly take the view that I will approach this in a sensible and considered manner.

LIPSON: So has Bob Carr been helpful in this debate?

WONG: You would need to talk to him about his language. But it is not language I would use and I think members of the Labor Party do expect us to approach this sensibly and carefully and that is how I will be doing it.

LIPSON: Senator Penny Wong, thanks for joining us on Lateline.

WONG: Good to be with you.