E&OE - PROOF ONLY
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Labor’s Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong is in the Pacific with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on a planned visit aimed at reinforcing Australia’s presence in the region and I caught up with her a little earlier.
Penny Wong welcome to RN Drive.
SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good to be with you.
KARVELAS: Just on this breaking news, Labor has reached agreement with the Government on those proposed foreign interference laws. How significant is this?
WONG: Well, as you know Patricia I’m currently in Micronesia so I’m a fair way from those discussions, but I would say this: I’m a member of that committee – the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security – we work very hard in that committee to get bipartisan agreements because national security should be above politics and that is the way we have approached this and all other legislation that has been presented.
KARVELAS: Are you able to give me any indication of what’s been resolved in terms of the sticking points that have meant that there wasn’t bipartisanship yet?
WONG: Patricia, I don’t as a member of that committee discuss the workings of that committee. One of the strengths of the joint committee is that we do work together to resolve these issues. Labor has said from the beginning that we support the intent of the legislation. Obviously the public hearings did identify some issues with the legislation; that’s frankly not unusual in these matters and most of the national security legislation that has been passed in this term and in the last term of Parliament were substantively amended as a result of the report of the committee.
KARVELAS: There were media reports that US officials had urged the Labor Party to back these changes. Our allies regard this as critical for regional security don’t they?
WONG: Well as I said I don’t discuss what happens in terms of working for the committee. What I would say to you is I was part of a delegation that the committee took to Washington and obviously these issues are issues that likeminded nations around the world are considering and that was a useful process to understand the different ways in which these issues are being approached in different jurisdictions.
KARVELAS: The Australian Government says it’s disappointed by Qantas’ decision. It says private companies should be able to conduct their business free from political interference. Do you agree?
WONG: I do agree that these matters, business matters, are matters for companies to determine. It’s up to them how they run their businesses.
KARVELAS: Alan Joyce says Qantas is doing exactly what the Australian Government does which is to follow the One-China policy. He’s got a point doesn’t he?
WONG: I haven’t seen Mr Joyce’s comments, obviously I’m overseas at the moment, I’d make a few points though. There has been a One-China policy that has been observed by both sides of politics since the diplomatic recognition of China and we do acknowledge the Chinese Government’s position in relation to Taiwan and our diplomatic relationship is obviously with the People’s Republic of China. So that is a consistent position across both parties of government and that means of course we do have ties with Taiwan but they are economic, cultural and people-to-people links rather than a diplomatic relationship.
KARVELAS: You’re in the Pacific with Julie Bishop in a show of bipartisanship, she says this visit isn’t about countering Chinese influence. How do you see it?
WONG: It’s about furthering Australian influence. Now I think the important thing here is to remember that the Pacific is our region, we have both an obligation and an expectation as well as a national interest to engage deeply in this region to continue to build our links with the region. We have done so over decades and we need to continue to do so.
This bipartisan visit was reinstated by Julie Bishop at my request and I appreciate that she has done so; this is the second visit this term. It is a very important and useful demonstration of the importance of the region, both the North and the South Pacific to Australia, and certainly that’s a message that is being heard by those we’re meeting with on this trip.
KARVELAS: The Turnbull Government’s just announced the biggest ever aid spend in the Pacific, it’s $1.3 billion, does that have bipartisan support?
WONG: I do think the Pacific should be our priority in terms of our development assistance spend. Certainly the Pacific and perhaps the South East Asian region are the region in which we live and that is where we should be focusing our development assistance on.
My criticism of the Government which is longstanding is less about where they’re spending their assistance than the fact that it’s in such a diminishing budget. I mean this is the lowest level of assistance Australia is spending as a share of national income since records have been kept so it does put it in perspective; and at a time where we obviously need to continue to enhance Australia’s standing in the region. That makes Julie Bishop’s job a lot more difficult.
KARVELAS: This is an all-female delegation to the Pacific, what message does that send in a region where gender inequality remains a major problem?
WONG: It is interesting isn’t it? We have an all-female delegation…
KARVELAS: Four women.
WONG: …not because we’ve chosen that but because we occupy the relevant positions, so obviously the foreign affairs portfolio both in terms of the Foreign Minister and the Shadow Foreign Minister and the two junior ministers in the portfolio are all women.
Look I think that is a good message, it says to the nation’s we’re meeting “look there are women in leadership, that’s how Australia operates”, and it’s often a talking point, it’s certainly a talking point for many of the women we meet.
KARVELAS: Thank you so much for your time Penny Wong.
WONG: Good to speak with you Patricia.
Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra.