SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

TRANSCRIPT

25 March 2020

ABC NEWS BREAKFAST

TOPICS: AUSTRALIANS STRANDED OVERSEAS, CORONAVIRUS

E&OE - PROOF ONLY

MICHAEL ROWLAND: We can bring in now the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong from Canberra. Penny, good morning to you. Firstly, what do you make of these restrictions? Is the Labor Party in lock step with the Government here?

PENNY WONG: Good morning Michael. Good to be with you and good to be with you all. We are being constructive and supported the Government’s actions all of the way through this crisis and we do support the increased restrictions but I would say this to the Prime Minister and the National Cabinet – something we all know: the trajectory we’re on in terms of how many days – three days for the doubling of cases – is a trajectory we have to get off. And we do need to act and we need to act now and I suppose the one thing I’d say is if in doubt, do more and if we have to do more, let’s do it now.

ROWLAND: Should the Government have done more last night and gone for a full lockdown?

WONG: Well, look, ultimately they have to act and they should act on the basis of medical advice, but we do know that we do have to get off this trajectory and we do urge the Government to make sure they do now what they need to do, rather than delaying. I did note the Prime Minister last night, Mr Morrison, was unfortunately as clear as mud. We got a catalogue of things that Australians shouldn’t do, and I think it would be much better if we had clear and consistent information to Australians across the country so people are clear about what we have to do to protect ourselves, our families and each other in this unprecedented crisis.

ROWLAND: Ok, just so I can be clear about what you’re saying – from what I’m gathering, the Labor Party would like tougher actions? Are we talking about a full-scale lockdown sooner rather than later on that front?

WONG: What we consistently said is people should act on the basis of medical advice. That’s what Governments should do. We also said that governments, if they believe that more will have to be done, that we would urge them to do that now rather than delay. We do have to get off the trajectory we’re on. Anthony Albanese has made that clear so as Chris Bowen. The one thing the Prime Minister did say – which I do want to emphasise on this program – the one thing he did say which I think we should continue to communicate is stay home and only go out when it is necessary. We know that from overseas evidence that that is key to ensuring that we reduce the spread of this virus and we all have a responsibility to do the right thing, to work together to keep everybody safe including ourselves and the people we love.

ROWLAND: Ok. Going to your shadow portfolio, as we know sadly, there are many, many Australians stuck overseas. We spoke on the show earlier this week to Amanda Marshall. Her parents were stuck on a cruise ship, one of many cruise ships, in their case off the coast of South America. What more do you believe the Government should be doing to help bring these people back to Australia?

WONG: Look, I do call on the Government to do more and whilst I understand this is a very challenging situation, we believe that Mr Morrison should follow the lead of other countries which is to provide assistance to Australians who are stranded around the world, to provide if necessary assisted departures to Australians who have no other commercial alternative. And the second thing is to the government need it is do I think is to be clearer in its communication. In the inconsistent messages and vacuum of communication that we have seen, people’s anxiety is obviously climbing.

ROWLAND: And on that front, what more should the Government practically be doing in terms of what getting Qantas overseas while they can, enlisting the support of other airlines?

WONG: That’s right. The issue we have here is Australians overseas were told get home if you want to come home because commercial options will dry up. Unfortunately many of them sought to follow that advice but because commercial options dried up so quickly, they are stranded and with we really need the government to come forward a clear plan to deal with those Australians who are stranded elsewhere.

ROWLAND: Ok. We’ll leave it there, Penny Wong. Just wanted to ask you – you had the test early this week. You’re feeling unwell at the start of the week. How are you feeling now?

WONG: I’m glad I just started coughing on national television, but I’m much better than I was. I appreciate all the good wishes that many people sent me.

ROWLAND: Just wanted to clear that up. Appreciate your time, Penny Wong, thank you.

WONG: Thank you.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.