7 December 2017




FRAN KELLY: Senator Penny Wong is the Shadow Foreign Minister and the Opposition Leader in the Senate and she joins me now in our Parliament House studios. Penny Wong, thank you very much for joining us.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good morning, good to be – actually, you’re not just a voice at the end of the line.

KELLY: That’s right. It’s great to be here in Parliament. What a time, what a week. We’ll get to domestic politics, which is what this place is swirling with. But there’s been a major international development overnight -Donald Trump’s announcement that America will recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Has the President now blown up the peace process in the Middle East?

WONG: I don’t think it is a helpful unilateral act. What I would say is this: we know the status of Jerusalem is disputed. We know the status of Jerusalem is an integral and core part of negotiations regarding a two-state solution. So, engaging in unilateral actions, I fear risks progress towards a two-state solution. It certainly risks deep concern and a negative response in the region so I think it is not helpful.

KELLY: It is not as though Donald Trump wouldn’t have been aware of that. It is not as though this weren’t made loud and clear and yet he stands, as he announces this, and says America remains committed to the two-state solution, to the peace process and a solution where both sides agree on the deal.

WONG: In all of the discussions – and I think I’ve been on your program talking about this – my view, certainly from the Australian Labor Party’s perspective – we have a clear view that the two-state solution is the only way in which we achieve peace and security in the region for both the peoples of Israel and Palestine. Therefore, our policy position should always be guided by that. Are these actions conducive or not conducive to delivering that? And I think you would have to say this is not help to that objective.

KELLY: Just getting more detail on Labor’s position here, the UN position is that East Jerusalem is occupied territory and the capital of Palestine in any two-state solution. Is that Labor’s position? Do you agree with that?

WONG: I have previously acknowledged the status of East Jerusalem. But I think the point is this. It is disputed. The status of East Jerusalem is disputed. Jerusalem is a key, central part to any resolution of the peace process and any resolution to a two-state solution. Therefore if you have a unilateral set of actions, ahead of the broader objective of the two-state solution, what I would say is that is not going to be helpful to the outcome, which I think is shared by all, which is a two-state solution.

KELLY: Donald Trump, when he made this announcement, said it does not interfere with contested borders. So, he’s seemingly happy to leave that option of East Jerusalem open there. But he also said that recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is “nothing more or less than a recognition of reality”.

WONG: I think the response from President Macron and Prime Minister May about this demonstrates the concern that many do have about this and it is consistent with the concern I have expressed here.

KELLY: So should Australia be protesting?

WONG: I think Australia should make its position clear and that is we support a two-state solution. We don’t support actions which make that outcome less likely.

KELLY: There has been a furious reaction already throughout the Middle East, and it was forewarned this could trigger a fresh wave on unrest. Donald Trump seems oblivious to that consequence. He’s clearly playing to his base at home – there’s no other reason for the timing of this. But is he playing with fire, which is exactly what the Arab League suggests he is?

WONG: I can’t comment on some of the motivations you inferred in that question. I can simply comment on the policy proposition and the policy proposition is one we disagree with.

KELLY: Let’s bring it back home now. The Foreign Interference laws the Government will introduce almost certainly today. Beijing clearly feels these laws are aimed at China. The Chinese embassy has released a statement saying the laws will undermine mutual trust between our two countries.

You are still having a look at the laws, the Opposition. What do you think of these laws? Do you agree with the embassy that the weight of them is wrong? That they endanger the bilateral relationship with China?

WONG: All countries are entitled to ensure their sovereignty is safeguarded. And Australia, absolutely, is entitled to ensure that our regulatory framework enables our sovereignty to be safeguarded. That’s the basis on which the Opposition will assess these laws.

I personally haven’t been yet briefed. I understand the Opposition has received some briefing and we will certainly study them closely in that spirit of bipartisanship.

I do think some of the tone of the debate, as a result of the intense partisanship of politics at the moment, and frankly a Prime Minister who desperately wants to distract attention from his own woes, has perhaps not been as constructive as would be desirable.

KELLY: You would be aware in your position of the warnings that the intelligence agencies have given about foreign actors, and while no nation is mentioned, it is clear that many of the references in terms of that kind of intervention in Australia does relate to China.

In this statement, China said that China has no intention to interfere in Australia’s internal affairs or exert influence on its political process through political donations. Do you believe that?

WONG: I welcome that statement from China. What I would say, you asked me a question about intelligence, unlike your guest on the program yesterday, the Attorney-General, I’m not going to make innuendo and inferences about intelligence advice.

KELLY: We learnt today that during Estimates hearings Sam Dastyari grilled defence and foreign officials. He asked more than 100 questions that seemed to represent China’s interests. The Government wants him out of the Parliament, the Prime Minister is making that demand again and again. Should Sam Dastyari, at the very least, be kept well away from anything to do with China policy?

WONG: Well he doesn’t have anything to do with China policy, he doesn’t. Senators ask questions at Estimates…

KELLY: A hundred questions…

WONG: Well, I’ve asked thousands of questions…

KELLY: About China?

WONG: Well yes, I would’ve asked questions about China because I’m the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and I’m on that committee…

KELLY: And he’s not?

WONG: Well, Senators do come to Estimates, a lot of questions are asked, some of them are better questions than others. I want to make it clear though, Sam has no role in relation to national security issues or foreign policy issues.

KELLY: The citizenship circus has engulfed Labor now, two of your members referred, or a Member and Senator to the High Court. Why has Bill Shorten been so cocky all this time that no Labor MP would be caught out by Section 44? He even knew about David Feeney a week ago.

WONG: Can I first reference Senator Katy Gallagher and be very clear about the basis of her referral. We knew what steps Senator Gallagher had taken, those steps have been disclosed fully in her disclosure registration of interest, and we do not reside from the legal advice. We believe she took all reasonable steps and is entitled to sit in the Parliament.

She made the decision, which demonstrates her integrity, to refer herself because she understood that the political attacks were not going to cease unless that occurred.

KELLY: Well she’s in the exact same situation as Susan Lamb and Justine Keay. Why aren’t they also referring?

WONG: Well they did offer to be. Let’s remember what happened yesterday. Labor and all of the crossbench – which is a very unusual coalition, people from Bob Katter to Adam Bandt – all supported a joint referral of both Government and Labor MPs to end this. Who voted against that? The Government. Malcolm Turnbull.

So if he starts to run around trying to point the finger, he had an opportunity to be part of the Parliament, the House of Representatives doing the right thing, and he chose not to for partisan purposes.

KELLY: Penny Wong, in contrast to, as you say, that lack of bipartisanship and cooperation in the lower house, we have seen something different achieved on another issue – the same-sex marriage debate.

This has been a cross-party achievement. Images of you supporting Liberal Senator Dean Smith whose name is on this bill and others are unusual ones in our Parliament. In that sense has this been a unifying process?

WONG: We’re really glad on the Labor Party side and certainly I’m really glad that we were able to find partners with whom to work with in the Coalition and I do pay tribute to Dean because he’s shown enormous integrity and enormous courage to swim against the tide inside his own party.

I hope today we get the vote and I hope it will be unifying for the country. And I again say, on this issue the Australian people have led your Parliament – you have been our leaders.

KELLY: It looks like you will get the vote today. It looks like you’ll get it this afternoon. It’s been a long journey, is the journey towards equality almost over and how do you welcome that?

WONG: Well I think it’s sort of relief and joy isn’t it? Not just for me and the LGBTIQ community, it’s for the country. It does say something profoundly important about what sort of nation we are.

KELLY: But same-sex marriage will be legalised from today. That is historic, it will be enshrined in law. You have fought this within the Labor Party for a long time, it took them a long time to come on board. What’s it going to mean for you?

WONG: I’m not going to cry again, well I hope not, because I got a career’s worth of crying out in one morning.

KELLY: I think it’s going to be the enduring image of the whole thing.

WONG: Thank you very much for that. I will be very, very joyful and I will be very, very relieved, and I will be very, very grateful.

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

WONG: Good to be with you.