E&OE - PROOF ONLY
MANDY PRESLAND: As we’ve been reporting this morning the Nauruan Government is refusing the ABC access to report on the annual Pacific Islands Forum later this year which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be attending. The Pacific Islands Forum is the region’s leading political and economic dialogue and will be held in September.
Last night, in a statement, the Nauruan Government said no representative from the ABC would be granted a visa to enter the country under any circumstances. Nauru is blaming what it calls the ABC’s interference in the country’s domestic politics, lack of respect towards its president and false reporting about the country.
ABC NewsRadio reached out to the foreign ministers of Australia and Nauru but neither have been available so we’re speaking now with Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong. Good morning.
SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good morning, good to be with you.
PRESLAND: What sort of message does this decision by Nauru send to Australia?
WONG: This is a disappointing decision. We believe in a free press. Australia believes in a free press and Labor certainly believes that a free press is vital to the strength of any democracy and we would hope these ideals are promoted by all participants at the Pacific Islands Forum and I hope the Prime Minister will be expressing this view to the Government of Nauru.
PRESLAND: So is that the message Labor would like to send to the Government?
WONG: I think Australians do expect Mr Turnbull to stand up for the freedom of the press and to stand up for the National Broadcaster and that he should be clear that he will do so. He should express the view of the Australian people and of the Government that the Government of Nauru should remove restrictions on this official visit by him.
PRESLAND: The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has released a statement describing the decision as regrettable, but says it is the sovereign right of every country to decide who enters its borders. Shouldn’t Australia just accept that?
WONG: We accept it is ultimately a decision for the Government of Nauru. But I think all of us would expect the Prime Minister and the Government to express our views about the importance of a free press and the importance of the National Broadcaster to other governments, and I hope Mr Turnbull will do so.
PRESLAND: The Nauruan Government is blaming what it calls the ABC’s blatant interference in Nauru’s domestic politics, harassment of and lack of respect towards the Nauruan President, false and defamatory allegations towards members of the Government and continued biased and false reporting about the country. Are these fair points?
WONG: I’m not going to get into commentary about whether reporting was something that the Nauruan Government liked or didn’t like. The point about a free press is you report things we agree with and you report things we don’t agree with. That is the point of freedom of the press and that is a principle of Australian democracy.
I do think it is necessary for the Prime Minister to express these views to the Nauruan Government in light of the fact that the ABC was there as part of a pool of Australian journalists to ensure that the Press Gallery could report on an important diplomatic forum.
PRESLAND: As the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong what do you see as the main concerns for the Pacific Islands Forum to raise? Is there something in particular that you’re concerned about won’t get coverage that needs to get coverage?
WONG: No, this is a matter of principle. I think the Pacific is extremely important to Australia. We have talked about this at length and we welcome the Government moving, somewhat belatedly, to make the Pacific a priority and we support that.
But I think there is a broad principle here which is ensuring the Australian press can freely report and this is a matter the Government should be raising with the Nauruan Government.
PRESLAND: What concerns does the Opposition have at the moment about the Pacific region?
WONG: That’s a longer discussion but we have put the view previously that, to some extent, the Government has taken the Pacific for granted. It has, somewhat belatedly realised that and it has taken substantially greater efforts when it comes to engagement at leader level, particularly with Pacific island nations.
This is our neighbourhood. We recognise that there are increasingly a range of partners for the region, but we are a natural partner for the region. We should continue to focus on that and we should continue to invest in that.
PRESLAND: Penny Wong we appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
WONG: Good to speak with you.
Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.