E&OE - PROOF ONLY
SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: The problem the Coalition has is that they have signed up to a Paris Agreement that half of their party room doesn’t support and the way that Scott Morrison is dealing with that division, after what we’ve seen over these last weeks and months, is to say ‘we’ve got a target, but we’re not necessarily going to do anything to ensure we achieve it’.
Well, I think Pacific island leaders look at that and know precisely what that means, it means we are not acting to ensure we meet our agreement, just as the Australian people understand Mr Morrison isn’t acting because of division in his party room.
STEPHEN DZIEDZIC: Do you think that Australia should look at increasing its commitment in terms of the money it offers to Pacific island nations for climate mitigation? There is already a very substantial commitment made by the Australian Government, is that something that we could look at increasing or is that avoiding the core issue of emissions?
WONG: What we need to do is to listen to what the Pacific wants. We need to listen to what they want and we need to work with them, as the Prime Minister of Samoa said recently, to ensure that we can contribute to achieving their security and prosperity.
Now, they recognise that climate change is a development risk, they recognise it is a security risk. We should be ensuring that not only do we, as a significant power in the region, do our part when it comes to climate change, but we recognise the importance of supporting adaptation and resilience in Pacific island nations who are already dealing with the frontline effects of it.
DZIEDZIC: Do you believe, and this isn’t necessarily just this government, but do you believe over the last few decades, let’s say, that there has been strategic neglect, as the Prime Minister of Samoa suggested, of the Pacific nations by Australia? And has there been, again, to use his words, a patronising attitude taken towards Pacific island nations?
WONG: I read, and listened to what the Prime Minister of Samoa said, and I think we would do well to understand what he is saying. And, on behalf of the region what he is saying is we do want a good relationship with Australia, but we recognise we want you to listen to what we want, we want you to contribute to our security and prosperity and we want you to work with us.
Now, that’s what we should do and certainly were Labor to win government that is the approach we would take. We would regard the Pacific as core business and we would ensure that it was a serious aspect of Australia’s foreign policy. What we have seen to date from this government is a lot of rhetoric in recent times but very little delivery, and division and paralysis on the issue that is of most importance to the Pacific island nations.
DZIEDZIC: It was only a few weeks ago, from memory, that you and Julie Bishop, along with your junior counterparts made a trip to Palau and declared that bipartisanship was the defining characteristic of Australian Pacific policy. Has that bipartisanship frayed over the last few weeks?
WONG: I don’t think that bipartisanship means that you can never say the government can do better and I think the government can do better.
I do think those Pacific trips with former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop were very important because what they demonstrated to the nations we visited and to the region as a whole, was that regardless of who was in government we recognise our role in the Pacific.
What I do think this government suffers from is a failure at its core to deal with the single biggest issue that the Pacific identifies as its strategic threat which is climate change.
Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.