30 August 2018




FRAN KELLY: Scott Morrison flies to Indonesia tonight on his first foray on to the international stage since becoming Prime Minister. But it is his decision not to attend next week’s Pacific leaders’ forum which is raising a few eyebrows especially given the spread of Chinese influence among island states.

It coincides too with criticism by the former Minister for the Pacific, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, that the Morrison Government is jeopardising Australia’s position throughout the region.

Senator Penny Wong is the Shadow Foreign Minister and she joins us from Adelaide this morning. Senator Wong, welcome back to Breakfast.


KELLY: Scott Morrison has been PM for less than a week and is already heading overseas. He’s chosen our most important strategic neighbour Indonesia for the first visit. Is this early evidence, do you think, that foreign relations will be in good hands under Prime Minister Scott Morrison?

WONG: Let’s do the good and the bad shall we? Obviously Indonesia is a critical relationship, as you identify. It’s the right call by Mr Morrison to make this his first overseas trip as Prime Minister. It was the first visit I made as Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The reality is under this government we have seen the relationship slide. We have seen, in particular, the economic engagement reduce. Trade has actually gone backwards over the last five years.

So it is a good thing that we are seeking to upgrade the relationship but I would make the point that I think a number of Indonesians have made that if we want a genuinely close strategic partnership we have to do better on the economic relationship.

KELLY: But isn’t that what this trip is all about? A preliminary free trade agreement to be signed, and maybe more importantly, the bilateral relationship will be upgraded from a comprehensive partnership to a comprehensive and strategic partnership?

WONG: And both of those are good things. But I think the backdrop is that we have seen our trade with Indonesia under this government decrease by three per cent. Now Indonesia is going to be the fourth largest economy by mid-century. We’ve got a very strong national interest in, not only a good bilateral relationship with them, but we have an economic interest in improving our economic relationship.

Now, Chris Bowen and Jason Clare have said very clearly that one of the things we would do if we were in government is ensure that we expand the ministerial dialogues, regular ministerial dialogues to include Trade and Treasurer and I think that is a good thing.

KELLY: Do you share any of the concerns that Scott Morrison has decided not to go to next week’s Pacific Islands Forum. The fact is Prime Ministers don’t always go to this meeting; Foreign Minister Marise Payne will be there.

WONG: He should go. We have spent a lot of time over this last period of time, including on your program, talking about the world in which we live. We’re talking about the importance to Australia of continuing to be the natural partner, the partner of choice for Pacific island nations and we have to do better.

Now what has Scott Morrison done in the few short days since he became Prime Minister? One; he’s downgraded the role of the person responsible for the Pacific from minister to parliamentary secretary. Two; he’s appointed someone who in her own words has “no idea” why she was appointed to that role. And finally he cancelled his visit as Prime Minister to the Pacific Islands Forum.

Those are not the actions of a leader nor a government that recognises the importance of the Pacific to Australia.

KELLY: As I say though, Prime Ministers sometimes don’t go to this particular meeting. We are represented by our Foreign Minister. I presume Marise Payne is well able to present Australia there as somebody keen to be engaged in the region as a counterweight, if you like, to China.

WONG: It is a signal to the region about how we regard the Pacific. It is a signal to Pacific island leaders about where they sit in terms of the priorities of Australia. I think for a new Prime Minister to cancel the visit is the wrong call.

KELLY: Talking of signals, do you think it would help if Australia signed that joint security declaration by 18 Pacific Forum members to support the Paris climate accord and declare that climate change “is the single biggest threat to the region”? Should we sign that?

WONG: When I was Climate Minister I worked closely with, not only Pacific island nations, but small island developing states in the international negotiations because they do bring a very urgent perspective. And certainly what we remember under this government is we have Peter Dutton, a member of Scott Morrison’s cabinet who made jokes earlier in this term, or the last term, made jokes about water lapping at people’s doors.

Now we have a long way to go to recover from Peter Dutton and those in the Coalition who have been waging war against any action on climate change and the first thing Scott Morrison should do is to make very clear that he recognises the priority climate change is for our neighbours and to ensure that he doesn’t bend at all on the Paris Agreement despite the calls to do so.

KELLY: And just while we are talking foreign ministers, Julie Bishop was foreign minister for five years, highly regarded. Will her departure from the role be missed? I don’t know if it would cause any reputational damage but do you think it will be missed or disrupt our foreign policy priorities?

WONG: First on Julie, and I made a public statement about this. She was a highly effective and competent foreign minister. Whilst we might have had disagreements with the Government’s views on certain things, she worked extremely hard for Australia and I wish her well. I think she was poorly treated by her party room and I think that has been reflected in the way in which people have responded.

On foreign policy I think Marise Payne’s position on most issues is likely to be consistent with Julie’s and I think you’ll see a reasonable amount of continuity.

KELLY: Penny Wong, in the wake of the Liberal Party’s brutal leadership changes last week some women in the Liberal Party have voiced concerns. The Member for Chisholm Julia Banks has announced she is quitting at the next election.

But as she has made that announcement she exposed the brutal nature of politics. She is leaving citing the “bullying and intimidation she encountered both from her party and the Labor Party”. You’ve been in Parliament 16 years. Do you know what she is talking about?

WONG: I wasn’t part of the arm-twisting and the extraordinary scenes we saw in that last week of Parliament where people were being lent on to vote for Peter Dutton.

KELLY: But she is talking about the bullying and intimidation from her party and the Labor Party.

WONG: It’s up to her to explain some of those allegations in relation more broadly. But she has done more than voice concerns. She has said this is so bad I’m going to leave the Parliament.

I make two points, or three. The first is obviously bullying in any workplace is completely unacceptable. Intimidation is unacceptable. The context of this makes it even more imperative we act because this is about our democracy. The allegations of bullying and intimidation are around the prime ministership of the country. That’s the context of it.

So, because of that two things have to happen. One is, Peter Dutton, in whose name apparently this bullying and intimidation occurred, needs to be utterly clear that he knew nothing about it, utterly clear this was not done with any authority. And secondly Mr Morrison must act. He should identify who the people are and he should say what action has been taken.

You’ve got someone who left the Parliament as a consequence of this. That’s an extraordinary situation and people have to act. It’s no wonder that we have so few women in the Liberal Party.

KELLY: What about your side of politics though? Another Liberal MP, Sarah Henderson, says she has experienced “unfounded attacks, bullying and intimidation by the ALP”.

WONG: I don’t know to what she’s referring.

KELLY: Will you find out? Will you ask her?

WONG: I don’t know to what she’s referring. I would make a clear statement of course bullying and intimidation in any workplace are unacceptable. But this is, I think, an extraordinary set of events, really unacceptable and compounded by some of the comments which have been made by members of the Coalition who have been suggesting something very insensitive about Ms Banks’ position. I’m not even going to repeat some of the things Craig Kelly is saying because I find them really offensive.

Now, Mr Morrison needs to decide if he is going to be a Prime Minister that condones this, or if he is going to be a Prime Minister, a leader who says this is unacceptable, because it is.

KELLY: This isn’t just the rough and tumble of politics as we heard from Helen Kroger earlier?

WONG: I assume if somebody has made a decision to say publicly that they are being bullied and intimidated last week and to say, despite the fact I’ve only been elected in the last election, I’m going to leave Parliament, I think that’s a pretty good indication we are talking about pretty serious behaviour here. So, really Dutton has to front up and so does Mr Morrison.

KELLY: Senator Wong can I just ask you finally on another issue, it seems as though, there’s indications, the government is looking at banning the US whistleblower Chelsea Manning from coming to Australia for a speaking tour. As the Shadow Foreign Minister does Labor believe that Chelsea Manning meets the character requirements to be granted entry?

WONG: It is up to the Government to explain why they’re looking at this, and if they make such a decision they do need to be up front with people.

She is obviously a very high-profile figure, controversial and if the Government has grounds on which they believe she ought not enter Australia, they should be clear about it.

You’d have to say though after what we saw over recent weeks it seems pretty inconsistent in this approach to Chelsea Manning as opposed to the ease with which a couple of au pairs were let into the country after a phone call by Peter Dutton.

KELLY: Penny Wong, thank you very much for joining us.

WONG: Good to speak with you.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.