20 September 2017




GREG JENNETT: There is a bit to get through on international affairs and international relations today, so Penny Wong is joining us from Adelaide.


JENNETT: When you hear in a carefully considered speech, the commander of the world’s most powerful military talking about situations where it may be necessary to totally destroy North Korea, do you take Donald Trump at his word?

WONG: We all know North Korea is the greatest threat to global peace and stability. I think that the President was reflecting the deep concern the United States has, and indeed the whole international community has, when it comes to the North Korean situation, the greatest threat to peace and stability that we can see.

We’ve made the point for some time that this is a complex issue which requires considered, careful action. We’ve made the point for some time this is a situation which requires sober heads and de-escalation, and the one point I think it is important to emphasise is this: It is in the interests of all nations, North Korea included, for this situation to be resolved peacefully.

JENNETT: Did you think it qualified, it met your test of sobriety and level headedness, in terms of tone with this speech? Is there a risk of trivialisation when you’re adopting nicknames for the regime leader as ‘Rocket Man’?

WONG: Well, I will leave the President’s language for him. I’m not going to comment on that. As Senator Marise Payne said, I’m not going to get into a commentary on his language. The issue here is what is important. The issue is we have a nation which is violating the UN Security Council position. It is violating international law and it is acting provocatively. And what we do need to do is to act as one, as an international community, to place the greatest economic, diplomatic and political pressure on that regime to desist from this path.

I agree with Julie Bishop when she says the international community must be unified in placing that pressure on North Korea, and obviously the General Assembly, which is meeting this week, is an opportunity for that to occur.

JENNETT: Taking all that into account, not just the speech, by the way, but other utterances made by the Trump Administration on North Korea in recent times, do you detect a growing impatience in their ranks about the effectiveness of the UN as a forum to bring this towards a resolution?

WONG: I notice the President’s speech – I think it was yesterday, so not the main speech, but what was reported the day before – and he talked about the United Nations and I agree with some of the positive comments he made about the role that the UN can have.

My view is this: There is no organisation in the world which is perfect, but the United Nations overwhelmingly is a force for good in the world. Australia has had a strong role for many years in the operations of the UN, and we should continue to do so, because it is in our interests and the world’s interests for the United Nations, as an entity, to work as effectively as it can, and to, as a forum for the international community, to seek to resolve its differences peacefully.

JENNETT: Now you’ve mentioned Marise Payne, the Defence Minister. She is going into talks while in the United States with Defense Secretary Mattis. She appeared to leave open a question this morning about Australian involvement in some possible naval blockade of North Korea. What would your attitude be in such a proposal came forward?

WONG: Greg, I heard that interview and I thought Senator Payne answered precisely as she should. As the nation’s Defence Minister, it is not appropriate for her to get involved in media discussion about hypothetical speculation when it comes to the deployment of the ADF, and she declined to do so, and she was right to do so.

JENNETT: Alright. Let’s change topics. 54 approved refugees will be told in the next few days that they are cleared to travel to the United States. This is the first batch of what we’re told will be a bigger clearance of people involved in the Pacific Solution. Is this now a real prospect of clearing out Manus and Nauru, in your view? In other words, do you think we will get to the 1250?

WONG: I hope that this arrangement with the United States continues to ensure that there is resettlement for people who are found to be genuine refugees.

We have had people on Manus and Nauru for too long. This government has failed to sufficiently explore resettlement options. Labor said, notwithstanding our criticisms of the way in which the Government has handled this, we are supportive of this arrangement with the United States, and I think it is a good thing to see that we have in excess of 50 people who are being resettled under that arrangement.

JENNETT: Now, included among the Manus and Nauru detainees, are Rohingya refugees. We’ve heard Aung San Suu Kyi actively inviting refugees back across the border, closer to home, with guarantees of safety. Do you think that would apply, or should also apply, to any held in the Pacific Solution?

WONG: The situation in Myanmar is deeply concerning, and we’ve seen incidents of widespread violence. We’ve seen the United Nations describe what is occurring as “textbook ethnic cleansing”. I think in those circumstances, it certainly would be unwise, for the time being, for any Rohingya refugees to be returned against their will to Myanmar.

While I’m on that point, can I say one thing which I think is important about Aung San Suu Kyi’s address yesterday. She did say that the Myanmar Government would ensure that human rights were observed, and she also invited the international community to observe what was occurring, and I think it is very important that not only Aung San Suu Kyi but the entire Myanmar Government is held to make good on this by the international community.

JENNETT: Alright. Well, all eyes are watching them at the moment. Just on a final matter, Penny Wong, diplomats can no longer enter private parts of the building I’m in, Parliament House, for meetings on special permanent passes. This would, I imagine, directly affect the operations of your office. Were you consulted about this? Does it pose any problems as far as respect of the diplomatic corps?

WONG: I wasn’t personally aware of this prior to the matter being reported. There have been changes, as you know Greg, to the past regime within Parliament House and a reduction in the number of non-escorted passes. So in terms of the operations of any Senator’s or Member’s office, you just have to make sure that people who attend with passes, are provided with a staff member to escort them.

JENNETT: We are talking about ambassadors in some cases. Are they not at a level of prestige or respect where they could perhaps be excused not having a pass?

WONG: That’s probably a decision that you should be asking the presiding officers about, or the Department of Parliamentary Services. It wasn’t a decision with which I was engaged.

JENNETT: You don’t think they would pose any security or espionage risk? I’ve seen that speculated on?

WONG: And I’m not going to comment on speculation. Those questions should be addressed to those who have made that decision. I assume they’ve made that decision on a sound basis, and it is, as I said, in the context, of quite a change to the past regime for Parliament House.

JENNETT: Fair enough. We don’t want to get too insular in our line of questioning. Penny Wong, thank you for your thoughts on all those matters today

WONG: Good to be with you.