19 April 2017




DAVE LIPSON: So what impact could this global stand-off have on Australia? Joining us now from Adelaide is Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Penny Wong. Thanks so much for joining us.


LIPSON: So what do you think is the right course of action? Malcolm Turnbull today was urging strongly China to solve the problem of North Korea. Do you agree with that solution?

WONG: Let’s take this in sequence, shall we. The first point to make is that North Korea, as is demonstrated, is a threat, a risk, to regional security. It’s a threat to global security. So every nation, all nations, have an interest in resolving this. It’s a problem that requires a multilateral solution, a multilateral response. Now, key players in that are obviously the United States given its global leadership role, and also China.

Now, I think China has recognised previously, and I’m sure continues to, that it has an interest in maintaining regional stability. It has an interest in ensuring that North Korea does not escalate into something, into conflict. It has an interest in promoting regional stability. You might recall China did support previous UN resolutions in relation to North Korea.

Now we would urge them to do more. We would urge China’s actions to reflect its regional leadership and the fact that it is a responsible stakeholder. We believe it is in China’s interest to do so. It’s in all of our interests to have this resolved.

LIPSON: If they don’t act to do this, we have heard Donald Trump say that America will solve this. Should Australia join America in any other action if asked to do so – military or otherwise?

WONG: Well, that’s a sort of what if, what if. But what I would say is two points. One – this is not a bilateral issue. This is a regional issue, it’s a multilateral issue. And second – how it needs to be approached is in consultation with partners and allies who have such a significant stake in the region whether it’s South Korea or Japan or obviously Australia.

LIPSON: The ABC has confirmed that a US Navy strike group dispatched towards the Korean Peninsula has actually been conducting joint training exercises with the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean. Is that provocative at all or is that reasonable? It was scheduled.

WONG: Yes, well, as you said there are a lot of scheduled exercises between Australia and the United States. We cooperate at a defence level as well as at an intelligence level regularly on an ongoing basis. So I’m not going to comment any further on that particular event.

LIPSON: I want to get your reaction to the breaking news this evening that the UK is in all likelihood going to an election on June 8. What does this mean for Australia? What does it mean for Europe? And you must have been taken by surprise like all of us?

WONG: Well, yes, the news did break as I was on my way here and I think you led with it. Obviously a surprise announcement by Prime Minister May. She’s articulated the reasons for that.

This is ultimately a decision that will be made by the British people. British elections are always of importance. They’re a significant player on the world stage, they’re very significant to Australia. But given Brexit, I think this election obviously has, in many ways, an even greater focus for the international community.

LIPSON: OK. I want to move to domestic politics and today the government’s announcements that it is abolishing 457 visas, replacing them with a new visa system for foreign workers. Your party has said it wants to look at the detail on this policy from the government, but so far do you see anything that you don’t like?

WONG: Can I say about this announcement, it’s certainly a change of name. Whether it’s a change of policy, I think, remains to be seen.

LIPSON: Sorry to interrupt, it’s more than a rebadging. We have got here a change to the amount of work experience that you need, you need better English, there’s police checks, there’s 200 occupations that have been struck off the list, mandatory labour market testing. It’s more than rebranding.

WONG: Can I remind you also, what I was going on to say next…

LIPSON: Sorry to interrupt.

WONG: No, no, you’re allowed to do that. Malcolm Turnbull, Michaelia Cash, the Coalition lined up to criticise Labor when we raised concerns about the 457 program. When we said that there should be labour market testing, when we said there was exploitation in the system, we were accused by them of dreadful policy, vilifying skilled migrants, all sorts of language that was very critical of the suggestion that we should actually ensure that this program was run properly.

Now, magically, Malcolm Turnbull’s had a change of heart because I suspect the polls are telling him that he’s got a problem when it comes to the lack of local jobs. Well, I for one don’t believe that this is really what Malcolm wants to do. I think this is what Malcolm thinks he has to do. His past words demonstrate what he really thinks – he didn’t think this was a problem.

LIPSON: You say you were accused of vilification of foreign workers when your policy was announced. I just want to show you a clip of some of the messages that we have heard from various leaders over the past hours and days, have a look.

TURNBULL: We’re putting jobs first. We’re putting Australians first.

SHORTEN: We want Australians to have the chance to get first go at these jobs.

TRUMP: From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first.

LIPSON: Did you spot the difference because I didn’t spot too much of a difference between those three messages. How much of this policy, your policy, the government’s policy, is about race and foreigners?

WONG: I completely reject that. I know that when I raised concerns as the Shadow Trade Minister about the lack of labour market testing for tradespeople that was contained in the China Free Trade Agreement, I was accused of that sort of xenophobia, which is kind of ironic.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying you should have a skilled migration program for labour shortages and ensure that it is for labour and skill shortages. I think that is an entirely reasonable proposition.

And in terms of Bill’s and the Labor Party’s position, we have held this position for years. So this is not a new position for Labor. The priority being given to ensuring local jobs is something Labor has been talking about for years and has been criticised by the Coalition who are now desperately trying to pretend they care about it.

You know, this is a government that has delivered a drop of around 130,000 apprentices since they came to power. That says everything you need to know about their priority for Australian jobs.

LIPSON: We don’t have too much longer left. I did want to ask you about the High Court tomorrow, which we all expect is going to confirm a new South Australian Senate colleague for yourself, Lucy Gichuhi, from Family First. Has Labor made a decision in South Australia as to whether it will challenge the election of Lucy Gichuhi?

WONG: Well, look, that’s a matter for the party and that’s obviously a matter that is being considered.

But ultimately, you know, I think what’s important here is to ensure that the law has been applied appropriately. It’s a very unfortunate set of circumstances in which a Senator has been rendered ineligible by effectively a deal he has done, or the Turnbull Government has done with him and I think that says something very serious about the way this government has been prepared to approach its discussions with certain crossbenchers.

LIPSON: But nothing has come across your desk to indicate that there is something improper in a legal sense about the election of Lucy Gichuhi, just very briefly?

WONG: There has been a lot of legal discussion but this is a matter for the organisational party, and I’m sure they’ll consider it appropriately.

LIPSON: Senator Penny Wong, pleasure to have your company. Thanks for joining us.

WONG: Good to be with you.