14 September 2018




PATRICIA KARVELAS: Penny Wong is the Labor Shadow Minister. Welcome back to RN Drive.


KARVELAS: The CTTP has been a controversial agreement in many countries including Australia. Why did Labor ultimately decide to support it?

WONG: The Labor Party has taken a position over many years that we do believe that trade yields benefits to the economy, to working people, to jobs, to living standards. We’re a trading nation and we need to sell into other markets. That boosts employment and that boosts our living standards.

Now, this isn’t a perfect deal and Jason Clare, the Shadow Minister for Trade, has made clear we, in Government, would do what the Labour Government in New Zealand has done which is to work to fix up some of the mistakes the Liberal Party has made in negotiating this agreement.

KARVELAS: Unions are particularly concerned about the labour mobility provisions which they say will allow foreign companies to bring in workers without the need for labour market testing. Do you think those concerns are legitimate?

WONG: Yes they are, and the Government should not have included some of those provisions in the agreement and that’s why we have said that we would do what the Labour Government in New Zealand has done, which is to seek to negotiate changes to the arrangements, as we have done on previous trading agreements, to make sure there are greater protections for workers.

KARVELAS: There are also provisions which would allow foreign companies to sue the Australian Government which have been described as essentially a breach of sovereignty. Is that dangerous?

WONG: We don’t support those provisions and in fact in Government you might recall one of the old forms of this provision was used to take Australia to a tribunal internationally as a result of the Plain Packaging laws – a case which we won – and we would be seeking to negotiate those out. We don’t think the Government should have included them in this agreement.

But overall, the questions is, do we actually think as a trading nation there is benefit, both economically and also strategically, given what is happening in the world and in our region, to having some agreed rules with like-minded countries. Obviously this doesn’t include the United States and China, this agreement, but it does include a great many nations in our region and for that reason, and given our focus on the region, Labor determined to support it.

KARVELAS: The crossbench has refused to support the TPP meaning it couldn’t actually pass without Labor’s support. The unions say you should have used that to negotiate these changes now. Was that an option?

WONG: This is an agreement that was negotiated between many other countries, so it’s not a negotiation that is simply a bilateral negotiation, it’s what we call a plurilateral or multilateral negotiation. Obviously that makes it more difficult for there to be changes immediately. What it will need is a Labor Government that puts in place the sorts of protections the unions are rightly calling for.

KARVELAS: If Labor does win Government, it could be eight months it could be earlier, future trade deals could be subject to labour market testing and additional scrutiny. Take me through what you are actually proposing there?

WONG: Jason has put forward a very progressive policy when it comes to trade. He has built on past transparency measures that we have announced and he has made them even stronger. They include things like making sure we have independent economic modelling of trade agreements, making sure we have much more public outreach and discussion with interested stakeholders about the negotiation of trade agreements like they do in the United States.

He has also made clear that we would not lessen labour market testing, that is making sure there isn’t an Australian to fill the job before we would include those sorts of migration arrangements in trade agreements.

KARVELAS: The Government is expected to sign the Indonesia Free Trade Agreement before the end of the year. The Government wants Labor to hold off until the election so it would be subject to these new measures. Do you think it should be held off?

WONG: We’ve given some in principle support to the Indonesia agreement. Obviously we are yet to see all of the detail on that agreement.

Australia’s trade with Indonesia has actually gone backwards. We’ve had a situation where over the last half decade Australia’s two-way trade in goods with the world has grown, I think, by 20 per cent, but our trade with Indonesia has actually gone backwards by three per cent.

So that does demonstrate the importance of trying to increase the economic engagement with Indonesia. It’s a very important country for Australia’s security, for Australia’s stability and for the region.

If the Government is proceeding down that path what I would say to them is I hope they look to some of the issues that have been rightly raised by the Labor Party and the trade unions and the community, particularly in relation to people movement and migration.

KARVELAS: You’ve asked the Federal Government to put more pressure on China over its treatment of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang where it’s believed up to one million people are being held in re-education camps. What should the Government be doing that it is not?

WONG: I am not going to make a partisan point over this. I think there is a values point to be made here that we’ve seen a human rights report, a report from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that does raise some real concerns about the treatment of ethnic Uighurs in China. There are continuing reports of detention and other human rights violations.

What we would ask the Government to do – and I noted that Minister Payne has made comments in this regard – that the Government should continue to raise those concerns and we should do so bilaterally.

I do think the Government could look at doing more through its membership of the Human Rights Council. It would be a good thing for the Government to utilise the Council to continue to press the legitimate concerns which have been raised.

KARVELAS: Should Australia be prepared to do more than just criticise China, or is our economic relationship too important to risk?

WONG: Whether it’s China or any other nation, we have shared interests, we have an interest in increased economic engagement. You and I have just been talking about trade arrangements and that is one of the reasons we support them because economic engagement is a good thing and benefits the bilateral relationship.

But there are principles that democratic countries like Australia have, and whatever circumstance in the world in which they occur, there are occasions on which the Australian Government should speak out and should make its views clear. That’s who we are.

KARVELAS: Just on some of the big political shenanigans we have been seeing…

WONG: It’s been an interesting period, hasn’t it?

KARVELAS: Shenanigans is a good way to describe it. Last night Liberal MP Julia Banks delivered a scathing assessment of her experience in the Liberal Party. But in her resignation letter she also mentioned the Opposition. Do you believe bullying happens on all sides of politics?

WONG: What I’d say is this: I think the Liberal Party, or some in the Liberal Party demonstrably have a problem with women, and what’s the evidence for that? The evidence for that is the public claims of bullying and intimidation. I think the evidence of that is a situation where 17 per cent of the members of the House of Representatives that represent the Liberal Party are women. When you’ve got less than one in five of your representatives in the lower house being women and you’ve gone backwards over the last decade then you obviously have a problem.

Now, we have had a very lengthy and sometimes public argument inside our party around affirmative action, around making sure women are preselected; making sure that becomes part of our culture. Something that started in the ‘90s and now we’re at a situation where we’re almost at 50 per cent. So I don’t pretend that any party has been perfect but we have been willing to be publicly advocating for better outcomes for women in the Labor Party for over 20 years and we have done so because we believe the Parliament should better represent the community.

I know there’s been a bit of an attempt by some to turn it around into a partisan issue and I’d say to them this: if we were prepared to criticise our own party and act to change our party, you should expect that we will speak out for what we believe in and against actions that we think are wrong even when they’re on the other side of the chamber, and we’ve done so.

KARVELAS: Fairfax Media saying that they are aware of at least one Cabinet Minister and Liberal MP who refers to female Labor MPs as “quota girls”. Have you heard that before?

WONG: “Quota girls”, I’ve heard it many times. I think what’s interesting about this is that actually has been a very common phrase hurled across the chamber by Liberal Senators at me and others over the years. I think we found an example of Senator Abetz calling Jacinta Collins a “quota girl” back in 2005, so it’s been around for a long time. We also have had “handbag hit squad”.

So this sort of goes to what I was saying. I think there are some in their party who have a problem with women. If you call people “quota girls”, “handbag hit squad” and what was the appalling thing that one of their members said in response to Julia Banks’ complaints of bullying “roll with the punches”? It just demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the demonstrable experience of women and the lack of female representation in Parliament, and this goes to democracy.

The reason I have always supported affirmative action is I just think the Parliament does better when it more closely represents the community and that’s a standard that should apply across the Parliament.

KARVELAS: Were you surprised that Julie Bishop did not rule out crossing the floor to refer Peter Dutton to the High Court?

WONG: Well it certainly was a very big thing to say, wasn’t it? And it’s been interesting to see that even Malcolm Turnbull has said he should be referred.
Of course he should be referred. I think there is a question that needs to be answered and the fact that Mr Morrison is refusing to do so speaks very badly for the way in which this Government has started off.

KARVELAS: I know you worked pretty closely with Julie Bishop. You went on a trip to the Pacific. I tweeted the picture out, so, if you want to go through my Twitter feed..

WONG: You tweet so much it would take them a long time to get there, Patricia.

KARVELAS: Alright, you would never find it, it’s true. Julie Bishop is a very experienced diplomat. She’s not leaving politics soon but she may. If you win Government and you become Foreign Minister, would you consider appointing her to an international role?

WONG: I think they need all the women they can get, don’t they? I think they need her to stay and she’s indicated she wants to stay.

There may well be a likelihood or a possibility this Government might appoint her given we’ve seen media today that suggests that Mr Morrison offered Julia Banks a three-month secondment to the United Nations in the context of her having raised these bullying allegations.

I have a lot of regard for Julie. I put out a statement publicly saying that. I think she’s worked very hard for Australia and I think she was a very effective diplomat.

KARVELAS: Penny Wong thanks for your time

WONG: Good to be with you.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.