10 January 2019




KIM LANDERS: Penny Wong is the Acting Opposition Leader and Shadow Foreign Minister and she joins me on the line now. Senator, good morning.

PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good morning Kim, good to be with you.

LANDERS: Many asylum cases take months if not years to resolve, are you surprised that it only took the UN two days to determine that Rahaf al-Qunun is a refugee?

WONG: Obviously this is a very high-profile case and needed to be resolved promptly and I assume the UNHCR undertook the assessment accordingly.

I would say this is a case which Labor has been supportive of the Government’s moves to consider humanitarian settlement in Australia given that she has been found to be owed protection by the UNHCR. Mr Shorten did write to the Prime Minister on Tuesday indicating that if she had a valid claim we’d support their efforts to offer her settlement in Australia.

LANDERS: Rahaf al-Qunun captured global attention by live tweeting her plight. Do you think she got special treatment and might this encourage other people to adopt the same tactics in their bid to reach countries like Australia?

WONG: I think you have to look at every case on its own merits and every case has to be considered on its own merits. Obviously the fact that it became high profile may have also heightened any risk to her should she return – that’s certainly one argument that I’ve seen put. But these are matters that the Government should consider through the process which they will now go through as a consequence of the finding that she is able to be offered protection.

LANDERS: Does this open a new route to get to Australia?

WONG: You have to make sure you handle all these immigration border protection policies sensibly. The Government itself has indicated it will go through its appropriate process. We agree with that.

LANDERS: The Department of Home Affairs is now assessing whether to grant her a visa. All this international attention, does that put a lot of pressure on Australia to say yes?

WONG: I think the Department should go through an appropriate process and consider this claim for protection in the way that it would consider other claims for protection, and I’m sure they will do so.

LANDERS: The Foreign Minister is in Thailand today. She is going to press for the release of the Australian resident and refugee Hakeem al-Araibi. He’s been detained in Bangkok since November on the request of Bahrain. Should the Minister have made this trip to Thailand sooner to advocate for him?

WONG: Senator Payne has been advocating appropriately and publicly for Hakeem al-Araibi’s return. I have to say it’s been heartening to see the way the football community has come together and united in support of him, and certainly the Football Federation of Australia’s support in highlighting this issue has been important. We’ve joined calls for his release from detention. I’m sure that Senator Payne, because she is very sensible about these matters, will be discussing his situation with her counterpart. I think her comments on this have been measured and sensible. Certainly they stand in stark contrast to the way in which Peter Dutton has made a mess of our relationship with Fiji over the citizenship matter. But I assume Senator Payne will be dealing with this appropriately.

LANDERS: Let me bring you to that case – you mentioned Fiji – and that’s the case of the Islamic State recruiter Neil Prakash. The Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton says he’s stripped him of his Australian citizenship leaving him a citizen of Fiji. Fiji categorically denies that’s the case. How much of a strain do you think it’s putting on our relationship with Fiji?

WONG: Well this is another case of Peter Dutton, instead of acting sensibly and responsibly around national security matters – which governments need to – trying to make a bit of a splash, and in doing so, has undermined and damaged a relationship with an important, close neighbour.

Of course we’re all committed to keeping Australians safe from terrorists. The citizenship laws were supported with bipartisan approval. But you can’t strip someone of citizenship and dump them on a close neighbour full stop. You need to be sure, if you’re a Minister, that they are actually a citizen of another country. Mr Dutton clearly got it wrong. We’ve had a predictable reaction from Fiji at a time when we’ve got the Prime Minister visiting shortly. We’ve got a very clear view from both parties of government that we need to do much more in the Pacific. I think that the Coalition have come late to that and they’re not doing a very good job, frankly.

LANDERS: If I could turn you to something closer to home. The Productivity Commission has released a report, its final report, on the superannuation system today. Some of its recommendations are similar to policies the Government’s been trying to get through Parliament. Why has Labor been reluctant to back the Government’s proposed super changes?

WONG: Well, let’s be clear, and my colleague Chris Bowen will be dealing with this in more detail later today, but the people who’ve been dealing with superannuation as an ideological issue has been the Government. If you read the report, there are a great many matters in that which go directly to the ideological campaign the Government has been waging against industry superannuation.

Now, Labor will consider all of the recommendations and we will consult with stakeholders. Our priority has always been putting members’ interests first and cracking down on the dodgy, for-profit retail funds that so many of the Coalition seem so attached to.

LANDERS: Alright, Acting Opposition Leader and Shadow Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, thank you very much for speaking with AM.

WONG: Good to be with you.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.