9 March 2018




PATRICIA KARVELAS: Penny Wong is the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and I spoke with her a little earlier. Penny Wong welcome to RN Drive.


KARVELAS: Has the Government done enough to negotiate an exemption with the US, especially given the mixed messages coming from the White House?

WONG: It is disappointing, not only that we’ve faced the United States putting tariffs on steel and aluminium, it’s very disappointing that Prime Minister Turnbull’s earlier assurances that he’d obtained some guarantees for Australia haven’t yet been delivered on. I hope they can be. I think that is important.

I understand that Ms Bishop, from what she said today, has not yet been able to speak to Secretary Tillerson and I hope she can do so soon and press Australia’s case as a good friend and ally for our exporters.

KARVELAS: Do you have some sympathy for the Government on this issue though? Because exactly what the policy is seems to change hour by hour.

WONG: The Government and the Opposition have the same view about this. We would jointly be urging the United States not to impose these tariffs in respect of Australian exports.

I’ve made the broader point that I think nobody wins from a trade war. Certainly Australia doesn’t as an exporting nation, a middle sized economy that trades a lot. We lose from a trade war but I make the broader point that nobody wins from a trade war.

KARVELAS: The latest messages out of the White House this morning is that countries could be given carve outs based on the national security interest. That it could be industry specific. Canada and Mexico were mentioned. Would Australia qualify on these grounds?

WONG: Well of course we would believe so and we would be supporting the Government in advocating that position to the United States.

Let’s remember not only would the imposition of these tariffs affect in excess of $500 million of steel and aluminium we export, there’s a flow on effect and there’s also the potential for consequential action by other nations. So, there is a great deal of interest behind the push to exempt Australia from this policy and we would be supporting the Government in seeking that

KARVELAS: The EU is already drawing up a list of products they would impose tariffs on should the plan go ahead in what really would be a tariff trade war – Levi jeans, bourbon, peanut butter. Should Australia do something similar?

WONG: No. this is precisely what I was speaking about. Nobody wins from a trade war and certainly not a middle sized economy that is fairly trade dependent like Australia.

Now, obviously there are issues if the tariffs are imposed about what happens to steel and aluminium that can’t go to the United States and where else and what other markets it goes to, and whether it is dumped into other markets. That is an issue that would need to be considered. But more broadly, retaliation in the form of additional tariffs simply ensures over time that economies are less able to deliver for the consumer.

KARVELAS: On another issue, North Korea says it is willing to conduct talks with the US about the future of its nuclear program. This is what the Trump Korea policy was aimed at. Should the US seize that opportunity?

WONG: A lot of people who have been engaged with North Korea for many years know that there have been times when they have been willing to talk and times when they have been not willing to talk. But they have continued to act in violation of the decisions of the international community and of the UN Security Council.

If they are prepared to talk talking is always better than not talking but I don’t believe the international community should be stepping back one inch from the sanctions that have been imposed on the regime nor from the position that the Security Council has been articulating for some time.

KARVELAS: The US currently has no ambassador in South Korea. Many of the Trump Administration’s top advisors on the Korean Peninsula have left. Is the White House equipped for nuclear talks?

WONG: That’s a question for the President and for the Administration, not for me. But I would say this, when it comes to North Korea we know that it is the greatest risk for peace and stability and security in our region. We need to ensure that diplomatic, economic and broader efforts are made to put pressure on the regime to denuclearise. So, if there are talks, there’s no difficulty with that provided people are clear that the position of the international community, including in relation to denuclearisation, remains the same.

KARVELAS: Former head of Defence Dennis Richardson says Australia should be conducting “Freedom of Navigation exercises through territorial sea claimed by China, generated by man-made features” – that’s a direct quote. Dennis Richardson is very well respected, clearly, as you know. Do you agree with him on that piece of advice?

WONG: Both parties of Government support the right for all nations to exercise Freedom of Navigation. Certainly Labor has made that clear. I’ve also made clear, Labor has made clear, that what we want to see is a stable regional system that is anchored in the Rule of Law. We support the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and that is a position that we have articulated for some time and it is a position that I understand is the position that Julie Bishop and Marise Payne have been articulating.

KARVELAS: Should Australia be part of these Freedom of Navigation exercises with the US?

WONG: In terms of Freedom of Navigation, we obviously should continue to exercise Freedom of Navigation and Freedom of Overflight in accordance with international law. I don’t think it is in Australia’s interest to be discussing operational details. Certainly the Government doesn’t and I won’t.

I would note that Julie Bishop has addressed these issues directly and I think the position she has articulated on this has been a sensible one.

KARVELAS: It’s International Women’s Day as you know. You haven’t missed it, no one has here. A lot women here talking. Nothing wrong with that! But a story that has broken this afternoon again on something, the timing sort of speaks volumes. The WA Nationals Leader Mia Davies says the party mishandled the complaint that Catherine Marriott made about Barnaby Joyce, Mia Davies says this makes it harder for women to come forward in the future. Is that the kind of chilling effect of this?

WONG: I think as a broad principle, that if women make complaints about harassment or abuse, and they do so on the basis that they will be dealt with confidentially and appropriately, and that is not observed, then that is a bad thing for the woman concerned but it is a bad message more broadly.

KARVELAS: Still staying on this theme of International Women’s Day, #pressforchange is this year’s message for International Women’s Day. We’ve seen global statistics get behind the #metoo movement, #timesup. How can that movement be made into change? There’s a lot people raising these issues, but how does it turn into something tangible?

WONG: That is a good question and in an opinion piece which has been published online today I made the point that there is difference between saying something is wrong and actually being prepared to be part of changing the society in which we live in so that these things do not happen. That women are free from harassment and abuse and violence and that women get the same opportunities as men and we know we are still a long way off that.

I do think it is about committing in all parts of our lives, both in our work and more generally, to try to ensure we generate opportunities for women and we adhere to standards of behaviour and expectations of each other and ourselves that reflect those principles.

KARVELAS: Do you sometimes worry that the #metoo movement or any of this could also precipitate a backlash?

WONG: We’ve seen this in feminism over the years haven’t we? We have seen progress and then steps back, whether they are backlash or simply backsliding. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stand up and the thing I think has been very important about #metoo is it has really been unmasking that culture of silence, confronting the culture of silence and the culture of collusion and harassment and abuse and inappropriate behaviour.

It is very hard to confront things when they are hidden when they are not spoken about and the women who have been prepared to stand up have confronted that culture and that in many ways is one of the pre-requisites to changing the culture.

KARVELAS: How would you say Parliament as an institution has treated and valued women in recent weeks?

WONG: It hasn’t been our finest hour has it? It’s been disappointing and, I think, more than that, it’s not the way in which Australians want us to behave. I hope that collectively that people can move on to, not only better behaviour, but some of the issues and topics that Australians do want us to talk about.

KARVELAS: You’re raising two young girls. I’m also raising two young girls and I bet lots of people listening right now are also raising women or are really influential in young girls’ lives. Do you feel like we are bringing them into a decent world where they can feel safe and valued in workplaces? Are we going to get there by the time they are adults?

WONG: I think any parent never stops worrying about their kids. You’re always worrying about them. Worrying about the world in which they live, both today and in the future and part of why I am sure you do what you do and certainly why I do what I do is about them. It’s about what sort of world you want for your children. It’s always a work in progress.

But, you’ve got to do two things don’t you? We have to keep generating change and keep generating opportunities and also bring up strong young women who have a sense of self, a sense of self-respect and are resilient enough to weather some of what life throws at them. That’s the idea anyway.

KARVELAS: You’ve said in an interview this morning you’ve told your daughters not to go into politics, or something like that. Why not?

WONG: It was a little unguarded that answer. I think like most parents .. mum was a social worker and she probably didn’t want me to be a social worker. I’m a politician and I hope they do something else.

KARVELAS: I don’t want my kids to be journalists.

WONG: There you go, you see, so it’s not just politicians. We have different hopes for them.

KARVELAS: So we can’t look forward to a Penny Wong child aspiring to be Prime Minister?

WONG: I also have a philosophical view against dynasties. I don’t think it’s a good idea, so, there you go.

KARVELAS: So, now they can’t aspire to be Prime Minister because you have a philosophical view?

WONG: Oh dear, okay, this is turning into an interesting discussion Patricia. I think we should move off this topic.

KARVELAS: I think that’s a good way to end our interview anyway. Penny Wong, thanks so much for joining us.

WONG: Happy International Women’s Day for you and all your listeners.

KARVELAS: Thank you.