E&OE - PROOF ONLY
JEREMY FERNANDEZ: Now live to Adelaide. We’re joined by the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong. Thank you for joining us. Your reaction to today’s events?
SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: We all awoke this morning to shocking news out of London. It’s a city that has a special place in the hearts of Australians, a city that is familiar to us and often home to friends and family. Our reaction is one of shock, of sorrow, but of course also of solidarity with the British people.
This is the second time in a matter of weeks that we see innocent people in
Britain attacked whilst they enjoy the freedoms that we all cherish. It is a great tragedy. We extend both our sorrow and our solidarity to the British people.
JOANNA NICHOLSON: Penny Wong, do you think the security threat in London should rise again after it did after the attack in Manchester?
WONG: That is a matter for the authorities. Obviously the British authorities are working very hard to respond and I’m sure will deal with the situation as professionally as they always have. It is important I think that we continue to await details and consider what is communicated by them carefully.
FERNANDEZ: Are you surprised that this is the third attack to have taken place in the space of three months? Is it reasonable to expect that authorities should have stopped this?
WONG: I think we all know the heightened security environment we live in. What I would also say is around the world and certainly here in Australia authorities work very hard to keep people safe.
Certainly in Australia, there is a bipartisan commitment to ensuring we work as closely as possible, take the advice of our security agencies, and together, and in a united way, work to keep Australians safe.
NICHOLSON: You say, Penny, we’re living in this age of heightened security, but also the security threat is evolving. We’ve seen more and more of these attacks where common items are being used as weapons – vehicles, large vehicles, running people down, and knives – common items that normal members of the public can get their hands on.
WONG: It is shocking and this is a barbaric attack. I would say we must remain vigilant, but we also should recognise the extent to which we have outstanding men and women working in our intelligence and security agencies. We should recognise the number of attacks that they have thwarted.
We should recognise also that our response to this should be vigilance, but also remaining united. Because what the terrorists want, possibly more than anything, is to ensure we are divided and to drive a wedge into our inclusive community.
FERNANDEZ: You speak of the strong cultural and historic ties between Australia and the UK. How much does it extend to the sorts of threats we face here domestically in Australia?
WONG: As I said, we all know the heightened security environment in which we live and there are those in this world who do not wish for us to continue to assert the values and freedoms we collectively share.
We have to respond as one in the face of that threat. We have to work together. We have to stand against those who would divide us and we have to continue to ensure that our security agencies are resourced in the way that they need to be. And those things are happening and both parties of government, certainly here in Australia, work together to ensure that occurs.
FERNANDEZ: The Labour Leader in the UK has articulated concerns the impact foreign policy has on the domestic terror risk in the UK. What do you think of that link being extended to Australia?
WONG: In matters of foreign policy, always look to your national interest. You should always consider why it is you are engaging in particular theatres and it is because of your national interest.
We have lent bipartisan support to various decisions of this government in terms of foreign policy because it is the right thing to do. Having said that, what we should also ensure is that we resist the temptation, as some have, to divide our community.
NICHOLSON: Penny Wong, what do you make of leaders’ response to these terrorist attacks in London, particularly Donald Trump who brought up the need to keep the travel ban in the United States, and other leaders that have responded to these attacks?
WONG: I don’t always respond to every tweet that President Trump engages in, but I would make this point that the advice of our security agencies has been very clearly that we need to work with the whole community, including the Muslim community, that we need to ensure we remain inclusive and we need to ensure we remain united.
What we cannot have is greater division within our community, because it will make us less safe. And that is the consistent position that security agencies, such as the head of ASIO you saw recently, have given parliamentarians here in Australia and it’s advice we should heed.
NICHOLSON: But the response that we keep seeing after these terrorist attacks is a division within the community so why isn’t that message getting through?
WONG: Well, I think it’s very important that politicians behave responsibly. It’s been very disappointing, for example, to see Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party behaving irresponsibly.
This is not a time to divide the Australian community and this is not a time to frighten people. This is the time to work together to stand both vigilant and united against a common threat, a threat that is about attacking our values and the nature of our community. We should recognise that for what it is and we need to stand firm against both of those things.
NICHOLSON: Do we need to take a more holistic approach involving not just the politicians and authorities but individual communities and societies and schools and families. Do we have to take a more holistic approach to this?
WONG: I think we already do that. And I think that there are many people in the community who work together. There are many people, for example, in the Muslim community, who work very closely with the security agencies to help keep Australians safe.
And politicians, whether it’s Malcolm Turnbull or Bill Shorten today or Julie Bishop or Penny Wong, who talk about the importance of unity, who talk about the importance of values and who talk about the need to ensure that we are not divided. And those are important messages from our politicians and they are messages which are truthful. They are messages which are about what we believe, on the best advice we have, what we believe on the basis of our values, to be the right thing for the Australian community.
FERNANDEZ: This notion of values has been debated in Britain as well. Theresa May as Home Secretary along with her predecessor David Cameron spoke of the need for British values to be articulated by way of countering these sorts of terror threats. What space is there for that debate here in Australia about Australian values and countering these things?
WONG: I think Australians understand. We have a multicultural society, but there are certain principles and truths to which we adhere around democracy – respect for the rule of law, respect for the rights of others and respect for the rights of all citizens to participate.
I think we understand who we are and we also understand those who perpetrate these sorts of violent acts. We understand that they are not just attacking people but also our values and freedoms and we should defend both.
NICHOLSON: Penny Wong, no doubt there might be some people responding in Australia to these attacks in London and think it is only a matter of time before we see something similar in Australia. How prepared are we for that?
WONG: What I would say is, is this, certainly on the basis of what we, the opposition, engage with – we work closely with the government and with our security agencies – I would say this, we have outstanding men and women working in Australia’s security and intelligence agencies.
Parliamentarians of both parties of government are united in working together to ensure that those men and women are properly resourced and are supported in the work they do. I have no doubt we have very fine men and women in those agencies who are working very hard to keep Australians safe and it is an objective, it is something, that is beyond politics.
FERNANDEZ: Your Labor colleague Sam Dastyari has been in London supporting the Labour campaign in the UK for election. I wonder, as a politician, how you read events like this, affecting a campaign and the ultimate outcome when people are fearful, and they’re resentful in many ways about the way things have played out?
WONG: I have to say I haven’t turned my mind to any political effect of this. My mind, like I’m sure everybody’s, has been focused on the effect on the victims and their families and friends and all of those who have been affected by what’s been a shocking event.
NICHOLSON: I want to move to another issue, this week’s Four Corners report on the influence of the Chinese Communist Party here in Australia. Does it concern you that Chinese language publications in Australia are having their advertisers targeted by Chinese state security if they refuse to toe the party line on contentious issues?
WONG: If that is happening, yes, it does concern me. What I would say is all of us, all parties – certainly both parties of government – must be united in our willingness to defend and assert our democracy and sovereignty against whatever risks it faces.
NICHOLSON: And do you believe that the government should raise this issue with the Chinese counterparts?
WONG: Well, look, I will wait and see what precisely is being asserted but what we would offer bipartisan support for the defence of Australia’s sovereignty, the assertion of Australian sovereignty.
I think there are a number of areas where we need to do better. I think foreign donations is an area where Labor has for some time been saying there should be bipartisan agreement to ban foreign donations. But of course that is not the only thing we need to do. We do need to make sure, regardless of whatever nation is seeking to influence, we do need to make sure that we always assert and defend our sovereignty.
FERNANDEZ: Thank you for your insights.
WONG: Good to speak with you.