21 November 2018




DAVID BEVAN: Welcome to Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade and South Australian Senator.

SENATOR SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning David, Ali and listeners.

BEVAN: Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for South Australia. Good morning to you.


BEVAN: And Penny Wong, Labor Senator for South Australia and Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, good morning to you.


BEVAN: Penny Wong, there’s a very good chance that this time next year you will be the Foreign Affairs Minister.

WONG: I never take these things for granted. We have to win an election yet.

BEVAN: But there’s a very good chance that you will be. Will you raise the internment of up to a million Uighurs in western China with the Chinese Government?

WONG: We already have raised it publicly. I put a public statement out in September, I think it was, ahead of the Human Rights Council meeting to discuss this, raising our concerns. Bill has raised it in a response to a speech he gave on foreign policy when he was asked at the Lowy Institute. And I know also that the Government has raised it through their contribution to the Human Rights Council, and that is a good thing.

BEVAN: China has dismissed this as gossip, that there’s nothing to see here. Is that the end of the matter?

WONG: China will assert its position and Australia should assert our position. And our position is that – and I think this is a bipartisan position publicly now – that we are deeply concerned by these reports. There are reports of the mass detention of the Uighur population. There are reports of violations of human rights. Those are concerning and I welcome the fact the Government has raised those publicly, as well as Senator Payne, the Foreign Minister, indicating those concerns are being raised privately.

BEVAN: Unless it comes to the issue of sanctions though, this is just talk, and that is not going to help the people who are in detention centres in western China?

WONG: I know that in a lot of foreign policy areas people immediately reach for sanctions. I think there are a range of ways in which we should be raising these issues. What the Government is now doing is the appropriate way, which is to make these concerns very clear publicly and privately.

Look, you are right, we can’t change what other countries do within their own borders on a range of issues. What we can do is express our views. No government can wave a magic wand and fix everything within someone else’s country but as we have seen over the years, in terms of our advocacy, public and private, under both governments in various nations in Southeast Asia and elsewhere you can have an effect.

BEVAN: Simon Birmingham, you’ve just spent the last few days in China as Trade Minister. You’re cutting a deal with people who are detaining up to a million people in detention centres. Does this factor in to your negotiations at all?

BIRMINGHAM: David, I did, a couple weeks ago now, spend most of the week in China at the China International Import Expo. Australia has, in a long-standing sense, made representations about different human rights issues to China. At the same time we’ve encouraged China to open up their economy and in their time of doing so have seen some 800 million plus people lifted out of poverty and that living conditions and circumstances in China are much better today as a result of our economic engagement with China and their greater openness to the world than they were a couple of decades ago.

BEVAN: What do you think they are doing in those detention centres?

BIRMINGHAM: There are still serious issues and the circumstances of the Uighur population are of deep concern and that is precisely why, despite the fact that we have those strong economic ties with China, we are not bashful about raising these concerns. We have done so through the appropriate United Nations forum. We’ve done so directly in conversations between Foreign Minister Marise Payne and with her recent meeting in Beijing with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. These are the types of approaches that people would expect Australia to take and we will continue to make those representations which we have also done alongside many other nations.

The mere fact that we are talking about this, that we are open about the fact that we are raising it, does, I hope, give Chinese authorities cause to look at the concerns nations are expressing and how best they address those concerns.

BEVAN: I think you have to do more than come on talkback radio to influence the Chinese Government.

BIRMINGHAM: We’re doing much more than that David.

BEVAN: What do you think they are doing in these detention centres?

BIRMINGHAM: David, there are various stories and reports about the treatment of individuals in those facilities. That’s the reason why we have expressed concern. There is, we believe, credible evidence to suggest that there may be large numbers of Uighurs detained in what are so-called re-education camps and that’s precisely why we have taken the steps of raising those concerns publicly, through the UN, direct with the Chinese Government.

Now, we do that in a respectful way because what we have learned over the last couple of decades is that respectful engagement with China has provided benefits in China in terms of, as I say, lifting hundreds of millions of people about poverty, ensuring that there are better living circumstances. But we continue to have these human rights concerns, and so we raise them very directly with the Chinese Government and in the appropriate places.

ALI CLARKE: Sarah Hanson-Young?

HANSON-YOUNG: This is really getting to a crunch time. We have got to seriously consider select sanctions. I think just saying that we have been raising this obviously isn’t working. The numbers of people reportedly held in these re-education camps, concentration camps – let’s call them for what they are – are growing.

I met with the Uighur leader, Rebiya Kadeer, the last time she was in Australia in April. I was one of few members of Parliament who met with her. I was disappointed she couldn’t get an audience with a member of the Government. It was disappointing she couldn’t get an audience with any of the senior members of the Labor Party when she visited.

Her story of her people, but also of her own family, is horrific. She is living in exile now as the leader of her community in America because they’ve given her refugee protection. But she’s got members of her family locked up in these re-education camps; grandchildren locked up in these conditions. The Chinese Communist Party and the Government there are clearly doing this quite boldly in the face of international condemnation. They’re thumbing their nose at the international community and it’s time that we held them to account.

CLARKE: While we’re talking about foreign affairs, and this is to you Penny Wong. Lisa has actually called and she wants to know what you think of US President Trump’s defence of the Saudi Prince in the light of his reported involvement via the CIA of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi?

WONG: We’ve had deep concerns about the murder of Mr Khashoggi. It’s a really tragic event and the details which have come out over time have really been truly horrific.

I do note that the reports are that the CIA has come to certain conclusions about that. Obviously I haven’t been party to those. Ultimately, Mr Trump’s words are a matter for him. Whatever relationship the US and the current Administration chooses to have with the Saudis, and how they choose to engage with those in authority there, is ultimately a matter for the United States. But we have a really horrific set of allegations and obviously a tragic death of a journalist which we, and the Government, I think all parties, have voiced their concerns, their sadness and their horror about.

BEVAN: Actress Pamela Anderson has accused the Prime Minister of making lewd comments about her. The background to this is that she’s raised the issue of Julian Assange, the Australian WikiLeaks founder, and Mr Morrison responded by saying that he “had plenty of mates who’ve asked me if they can be my special envoy to sort the issue out with Pamela Anderson”. Simon Birmingham, does the Prime Minister regret those comments?

BIRMINGHAM: Well I haven’t spoken to him about those comments.

CLARKE: Well should he?

BIRMINGHAM: I’m sure he would not wish for any offence to have been taken in what was clearly a light-hearted comment made in a radio interview. In the end, I think what matters more is what the Government’s policy is in these sorts of areas and just over the course of yesterday and today we’ve been outlining $109 million worth of investment in women’s economic empowerment.

BEVAN: Well is there a discrepancy between your policy and the comments made by the Prime Minister?

BIRMINGHAM: No, not between a…

BEVAN: Just so they’re consistent.

BIRMINGHAM: Not between a light-hearted remark in an FM radio interview compared with what is the serious detail of government getting on with policy initiatives to ensure that we provide greater flexibility for Australian women in terms of how it is they access and take their paternity leave, maternity leave; that’s really critical support for people to give that flexibility and I know that they’re reforms that have been warmly welcomed, which Kelly O’Dwyer was outlining yesterday.

CLARKE: So Simon Birmingham, what the Prime Minister says on FM radio is fine to stay on FM radio, is that what you’re saying?

BIRMINGHAM: No Ali, I’m saying that he made a light-hearted remark on an FM radio station and I haven’t spoken to him about it and I think what working women and every one of your listeners across Adelaide would think is that the Government’s policy actions matter a lot more, a lot, lot more, than a radio interview that relates to Pamela Anderson.

CLARKE: Than how the Prime Minister of this country represents themselves and how they think of a certain woman? Okay. Well let’s go to Penny Wong, your thoughts?

WONG: Well I actually had to ask my staff about this, I thought what is this stuff about Pamela Anderson? How did this even come up? So obviously I’m not listening to FM enough. But I just thought it was pretty weird, frankly, I think it’s a very odd thing for a Prime Minister to say. I understand what Simon says, he said it was “light-hearted”, but I just thought it was weird. I thought, Kelly O’Dwyer – I’m surprised you didn’t back it in Simon – said at the Press Club yesterday the Prime Minister regrets those comments. I thought, if that’s the case, well there you go. But it doesn’t appear that he did regret them.

BIRMINGHAM: Kelly may have spoken to him about it…

WONG: Okay, fair enough, fair enough. I don’t know if he does regret them or not.

BEVAN: But Penny Wong, is it a bit rich for Pamela Anderson, who has built her career on her good looks, criticising…

WONG: Why are you having a go at her?

BEVAN: No no no, what I’m asking…

WONG: I think perhaps Ali should respond to you, I don’t see why…

BEVAN: No no no, if I could put the question to you and then you’ll know whether you should be outraged?

WONG: Well I’m not outraged, I just don’t understand why we’re getting into her…

BEVAN: Perhaps if you listen to the question you’ll understand, so I’ll ask the question to you. Pamela Anderson has built her career on her good looks; is it a bit rich for her to criticise the Prime Minister for saying “well I know plenty of blokes who’d like to come round and talk to you?”

WONG: So only ugly women can say we should be treated well, is that what you’re saying?

BEVAN: No, what I’m saying to you is she has built her career on looking good in a swimsuit. I’m pretty sure that’s why she got the job in Baywatch.

WONG: I don’t know, I never watched Baywatch.


WONG: I’m pretty boring, clearly. David, I think people should be treated appropriately and respectfully regardless of how they look or what they might have worn at some point.

CLARKE: Sarah Hanson-Young.

HANSON-YOUNG: Oh look, this has gone from Scott Morrison trying to pretend that he’s the daggy dad to the creepy uncle now. I just think he is really trying too hard to be some kind of jovial, you know kind of blokey bloke, and it doesn’t suit him, no one believes it.

BEVAN: Did he do anything wrong?

HANSON-YOUNG: Well, I think it’s pretty smutty David. I don’t think it came across well, I don’t think he earned himself any ticks or support from women out there and I think most blokes look at him and go, “eww, God you’re giving us all a bad name”.

CLARKE: Alright well, we will have to leave it there. Sarah Hanson-Young, Penny Wong and Simon Birmingham, thank you for your time.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.