20 October 2017




PATRICIA KARVELAS: Penny Wong is the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. She is in our Parliament House studio. Penny Wong welcome.


KARVELAS: Labor will form minority government in New Zealand. Quite a turnaround from the losing position they found themselves in when Jacinda Ardern took over. What do you make of this news?

WONG: It certainly is a turnaround and can I first congratulate Jacinda Ardern and the New Zealand Labour Party on forming government in New Zealand.

I also do want to thank former Prime Minister Bill English for his contribution to the relationship between our two countries. It’s obviously a very long standing relationship. We look forward to engaging with the Labour Government in New Zealand and I hope that we will see relations go from strength to strength in the years to come.

KARVELAS: It’s been referred to, since this decision, that Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister, said she might not be able to trust New Zealand Labour, having accused them of a conspiracy with the ALP over the discovery of Barnaby Joyce’s New Zealand citizenship. What do you make of those comments now? What should Julie Bishop do?

WONG: It was a deeply regrettable lapse in judgment by Julie Bishop. It was an attempt to divert attention from the citizenship crisis surrounding Mr Joyce and she publicly declared as Foreign Minister that she couldn’t trust a future New Zealand Labour Government.

She said that “Should there be a change of government, I would find it very hard to build trust with those involved.” That was a most unwise decision by Julie Bishop and what Labor does look to is the Foreign Minister of Australia, Ms Bishop, outlining the steps she is going to take to move away from those remarks and rebuild relations with the new Government of New Zealand.

KARVELAS: Jacinda Ardern really moved on pretty quickly from those comments and of course we have always been very close allies. We are neighbours. We are very similar people. We have so many similarities. We are incredibly close. Do you really think they are going to have a lasting impact?

WONG: I hope not because, as you said, we are pretty close to the New Zealanders, even though sometimes they beat us at rugby more than we would like. But we are very close to New Zealand. We have had such a longstanding kinship with them and I hope that the Foreign Minister, that Julie Bishop, does set about repairing the damage her remarks did cause. They were, as I said, intemperate and unwise and a lapse of judgment from Ms Bishop on this occasion.

KARVELAS: Jacinda Ardern says New Zealanders living in Australia should be better treated when it comes to things like welfare and Medicare. Do you agree?

WONG: This is a long standing discussion that has been occurring over the years between New Zealand governments and Australian governments. Obviously, once the new Prime Minister of New Zealand is sworn in and establishes the Cabinet, these are discussions which should proceed and continue and see if there is a way through.

This ultimately will be a matter for the current government and we would look to see what sort of propositions would come forward that would be capable of consideration.

KARVELAS: Are you going to be making an appointment to see Jacinda Ardern as soon as you possibly can with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten?

WONG: We always take our relationship with New Zealand seriously and obviously it is the New Zealand Labour Party and we have longstanding ties with them. Of course we will be seeking to engage with them. But they’ve got a few things on their plate that they will be focussed on in the immediate term.

KARVELAS: Turning to another country, President Xi Jinping used a lengthy speech during China’s National Congress to restate his assertive foreign policy stance. What are you expecting from China in foreign policy in the coming five year term of President Xi?

WONG: Over these last years we have seen China become much more assertive and engage much more deeply with the global community. Obviously China’s economic influence has become much greater over the last decade. They are now our number one trading partner and the number one trading partner for many nations. So, we should recognise that has been a good thing for the world. Not only have hundreds of millions of people moved out of poverty in China, Chinese demands for goods, services, our commodities has been a very important part of Australia’s continued economic growth over these last ten years.

Certainly China has become a more assertive global player and it is important that we continue to engage and also continue to assert those interests and values that Australia believes are important and that are intrinsic to who we are.

KARVELAS: On immigration and these new citizenship rule changes, the government has not had much success with its bill and it has lowered now the bar for the English language test to a step below. Is Labor willing to talk about having an English language test which is clearly higher than the one we currently have, but lower than that one that was regarded by Labor as kind of university level?

WONG: Not just regarded by Labor.

KARVELAS: I think the government contested that.

WONG: But Patricia, the community had a view. You said something and I responded. I think the community, particularly ethnic communities, had very strong views about this test.

And the problem with Peter Dutton’s approach to this is he doesn’t come at this from the view of what would be good for the country or the community. He comes at this from the perspective of what will be popular inside the Liberal Party room, what will burnish my credentials as a potential Liberal leader. And that, unfortunately, affects all of his thinking about these issues.

Now, I haven’t seen the details of what he is proposing, but I would fear that it springs from the same motivation that has ensured that this legislation has recently failed in the Senate this week.

KARVELAS: Labor does not support a Senate Inquiry into the allegations that Crown Casino tampered with pokie machines. Why not?

WONG: As I understand the allegations that were made and reported, these are of criminal activity. These are of actions that contravene state law and state regulation. Now the Senate is not an enforcer of law, that is a matter for the police and the police of the appropriate regulatory authorities in the state should investigate.

KARVELAS: But if these allegations are true, then the Victorian regulator has missed them. Surely this needs to be addressed by the Federal Parliament?

WONG: They are in the public arena and they are matters that should be addressed by the appropriate law enforcement authorities. We don’t operate as a law enforcement agency.

KARVELAS: Is this a consistent view? Because there are concerns, on both sides of politics – not just yours, the government too has been very unenthusiastic about pursuing these allegations – but they are very serious allegations.

WONG: I don’t doubt that. They looked extremely serious from what I saw in the paper over the last couple of days. But I make the point as Leader in the Senate, where you have allegations of behaviour that is unlawful, criminal behaviour, we should be ensuring that the relevant agency, the law enforcement agency, pursue those allegations.

KARVELAS: Just another story which has broken today, well I have certainly read about it this afternoon, Tony Abbott will take his No campaign message to the US later this month. He is addressing an organisation which has previously called for the recriminalisation of homosexuality. Does it matter that they have that view? Is he entitled to give speeches to whoever he likes?

WONG: It seems that Mr Abbott just wants to become more and more extreme on this and other issues in order to gain more publicity. Frankly, it is somewhat sad to see a former Prime Minister behave in this way. I fundamentally disagreed with everything he said and did but it is sad to see him sink to such a level.

Those are views that Australia has moved past many decades ago. Homosexuality was first decriminalised in the state of South Australia, my home state, in the 1970s. If there is any suggestion that is the sort of view he endorses he should make very clear publicly that he does not.

KARVELAS: On what will happen after November the 15th, are you confident there will be a Yes vote that is delivered?

WONG: I’m never confident until I see the result Patricia, you know that.

KARVELAS: Some people appear more confident. They look at the polling, that’s all.

WONG: I know people are, but we know fewer young people participated than would have participated in an election, for example. And we know that young people are statistically more likely to vote Yes, so I would use the opportunity on this program to say if there is anybody out there who is a Yes voter and hasn’t done so, please do so.

KARVELAS: How about what will happen if there is a Yes vote delivered. Is the Dean Smith bill your template? Will you go any further on religious exemptions?

WONG: Can I make a couple of points?


WONG: On what will happen, I would say to those who have sought to frustrate the march towards equality for over ten years, can you please get out of the way? If the Australian people vote for this, then those who have stood in the way of equality need to get out of the way. That is the first point.

The second is, the Labor Caucus, because it was the last full Caucus we will have prior to the vote coming in, did consider what our position would be in the event that there was a Yes vote. And our view was that the bill that arose out of the Senate Select Committee, the bill that you have described as the Smith bill, but which arose out of a report that was cross party, struck a sensible balance between exemptions and those other competing views as well as delivering marriage equality. So we did believe that bill in its current form would be the appropriate bill to pass.

KARVELAS: Just finally, New Zealand, they’ve managed to have now their third female Prime Minister. What goes on there that doesn’t happen here?

WONG: That’s a good question. I don’t know that I can answer that but it’s pretty impressive. And if in fact you look at the political and institutional history of New Zealand they had at one point the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Governor-General and the Chief Justice were all women and that was some time ago. So they are probably doing a bit better than Australia.

Certainly as long as the Liberal Party and the National Party here send as few women to Parliament as they do we will continue to go backwards when it comes to women’s participation it is going to be very difficult for our Parliament to represent the community fully.

KARVELAS: Penny Wong, thanks for coming on.

WONG: Good to speak with you.