18 October 2018




FRAN KELLY: Signs are emerging that the Scott Morrison Government’s about face on the position of our embassy in Israel is damaging our most important regional relationship, our relationship with Indonesia.

Leaked text messages screened on Channel Seven News last night from the Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi to her counterpart Marise Payne warn that the possible relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem would be “a really big blow” to Indonesia which is a staunch supporter of a Palestinian state.

This comes as a number of Arab nations release a statement decrying the manoeuvre as detrimental to the Palestinian cause and damaging to the peace process.

Penny Wong is the Shadow Foreign Minister; she’s in our Parliament House studios. Senator Wong, welcome back to Breakfast.


KELLY: In the WhatsApp message trail that went to air on Channel Seven there were a number of messages from Retno Marsudi to Marise Payne complaining that the policy switch on Jerusalem would “slap Indonesia’s face” and would “affect bilateral relations”.

So, even if the Government doesn’t end up pushing ahead with this, what’s your view? Has damage been done here?

WONG: Absolutely.

KELLY: Or is this just politicking?

WONG: Absolutely it has and we regret that deeply. This is the price that Australians are paying. These leaked messages demonstrate the price that Australians are paying for this Prime Minister, Mr Morrison’s selfishness. This is a bloke who puts politics first and good government second every single time. And he has put the Liberal Party before the nation.

I have said before this is a decision which is not only contrary to a long-standing position and bipartisan position, it was a decision made without going to Cabinet, against long-standing advice, without consideration of the damage to our friends and neighbours, frankly without consideration of the national interest.

The only thing the Prime Minister Mr Morrison was thinking about was the seat of Wentworth and his own political interest.

KELLY: Just on the “without going to cabinet and without advice”, you don’t know do you the Prime Minister didn’t seek advice? He told us he spoke with the key members of National Security Committee of Cabinet, we know he spoke to the Trade Minister and the leadership group.

WONG: To make a decision to overturn a decade-long held position, a bipartisan position, you would have thought Cabinet consideration would be required. We asked Senator Payne this and it was very clear, frankly, from her answer that this matter did not go to Cabinet. If that is wrong then I invite the Prime Minister to come out and say so.

But whatever process, it is clear the long-standing advice from the agencies, Julie Bishop’s position, Malcom Turnbull’s position and until a short time ago Scott Morrison’s position, was that this was not the right thing for Australia. I think regrettably overnight we have seen some of the damage his political selfishness has caused.

Remember Scott Morrison told Australians he was going to wear a lapel pin, Fran? A lapel pin with the Australian flag on it to remind himself whose side he is on? Well he might have been better off looking at that before he made this decision.

KELLY: Well the Prime Minister’s response to that, as formulated yesterday, was that he is on the side of Australia and we are a sovereign state and we have a right to consider things and make changes if we want to.

The Australia Indonesia relationship is notoriously difficult, we’ve had many high profile differences in the past, and as the PM said the relationship is strong enough to have different views at times.

WONG: And I do agree that the relationship is strong enough to have different views at times. But to inflict harm on a relationship and inflict harm on Australia’s relationships and frankly how others perceive us for a short term domestic political interest is political selfishness and political recklessness from someone who is supposed to be looking to the interests of the nation.

KELLY: Could short term political interest be playing a part in the Indonesian response in a sense? I mean we all know with elections coming up there is a push by Islamic hardliners in Indonesia to have more control over policy.

WONG: I am not going to get into commentary about Indonesian domestic politics.

KELLY: But it could be seen in that context surely?

WONG: I would make the point that we also need to be sensitive to how things might be communicated and might be understood in the context of our regional partners. I think that this does go again to the recklessness of Scott Morrison, to the recklessness he’s shown and the selfishness he’s shown, but also the risk that he has been prepared to have in the context of relationships which are important to security and are important to Australians economically.

KELLY: The future of the resolution of the Israel Palestinian two state solution is absolutely critical and Australian major parties have had a bipartisan approach on this. The Opposition wasn’t told in advance of this controversial announcement. Have you had a briefing since from Foreign Affairs?

WONG: No we have not and we certainly intend – Senate Estimates is next week – and we certainly intend to be asking many questions about this as you would anticipate.

But you do make an important bipartisan point. I think the relationship with many nations, but certainly with Israel, would benefit and has benefited from bipartisanship and it is really disappointing to see the way in which this Government has been prepared to open up a partisan position for perceived political advantage. I don’t think that is conducive to progressing a two state solution which I think everybody would want.

KELLY: Do you think it will ever happen? Do you think the relocation of the Australian Embassy to West Jerusalem and recognition of Jerusalem as the legitimate Israeli capital will ever happen?

WONG: That could only happen in my view in the context of a final resolution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict and in the context of the two state solution as part of that settlement. It is a final status issue, as I think Julie Bishop said on many, many occasions.

But if you’re asking me do I think Scott Morrison will ever deliver on this? No I don’t. I think he’s floated this idea, he’s used words such as “consider”, “review our position”, in order to generate a story without locking himself down before the Wentworth by-election.

Not only is this a reckless decision, not only is this a risky decision, it is also a deeply cynical decision.

KELLY: Speaking of the Wentworth by-election, if the Liberal Party do lose, it would be an enormous blow obviously to their government in political and psychological terms, but it would also lose its majority on the floor of the Parliament. How strong will the temptation be for Labor to test those numbers on the floor? Is there a plan?

WONG: Well, let’s get through the by-election first.

KELLY: Is Labor running dead in the by-election to try and get Kerryn Phelps over the line?

WONG: Well I was out there, I think last week, campaigning with Tim, so I don’t think that is running dead.

Look I think the problem for Scott Morrison and the Liberal Party with this by-election is simply this: Scott Morrison and his Government’s values don’t reflect the values of Wentworth. So the reason they’re in trouble isn’t because of any political strategy or any particular independent or any particular candidate. The fundamental reason they’re in trouble in a seat which is a very, very safe Liberal seat, the fundamental reason why, is they do not share the values of the community.

This is an electorate that wants action on climate change. This is an electorate where the overwhelming majority voted for Marriage Equality and this is an electorate that supports the ABC. And we have seen from this Government, from their people time and time again, they’ve been dragged kicking and screaming on issues of equality, they have refused to act on climate change – even in the face of the recent report – and have made it their business to reduce funding to, and attack, the ABC.

KELLY: It is also an electorate concerned about the fate of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island. Pressure has been building on the Government over this. A circuit breaker offered by Scott Morrison is the notion of a New Zealand offer to take 150 refugees, if Labor and Greens pass the travel ban bill, which means that if you did get to go to New Zealand you could never step foot in Australia.

Why wouldn’t Labor just say yes to that? Get the people off Nauru and Manus and into New Zealand where they would be happier and have some hope, and then if you do win government unwind that visa ban?

WONG: Seriously, this offer has been on the table for years…

KELLY: Yes, why not do it?

WONG: …under successive New Zealand governments, and yet again Scott Morrison is putting politics before good government.

KELLY: But you could just call his bluff now and say yes?

WONG: Fran, there is no reason other than Scott Morrison’s own political interests where he is trying to give himself cover for reversing a position that they should have taken in past years to resettle the people of Manus and Nauru. He is trying to give himself cover by suggesting we should put in place legislation that gives people a lifetime ban.

Now you want to see why this is a reckless idea? Have a look at what Winston Peters, the Foreign Minister of New Zealand, said yesterday where he expressed deep concern about this and said that New Zealand could not accept or did not wish to accept a second class of citizenship. I mean that really demonstrates precisely what we have been talking in this interview.

KELLY: I am not suggesting that Labor would leave that in place, if that is not your policy, but you passed the TPP legislation you say you don’t agree with and you’re trying to change some of that. Why not this?

WONG: No, that is very different. The TPP legislation was passed but we know there are aspects of the agreement that we have to negotiate as side letters.

What you’re asking us to do is to pass legislation that is completely unrelated, other than in Scott Morrison’s political calculation, legislation completely unrelated to the resettlement arrangement.

KELLY: Just finally can I just get your view, I wonder what you think as you watch on, the National Party seems to be looking at tearing down its leader. Michael McCormack could face a challenge, we read, as early as next week. Barnaby Joyce has indicated if he is asked he is happy to do it, but he is not counting numbers or agitating. Given the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Barnaby Joyce, what’s your view? Has he spent enough time on the sidelines?

WONG: The more important issue is they’re fighting again, isn’t it? I think it is an example of the Coalition, whether it is the Liberal Party just a little while ago, or the National Party this week, putting themselves before the nation.

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

WONG: Good to be with you.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.