E&OE - PROOF ONLY
SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Thanks very much for coming.
Before I get to the very serious issue of North Korea I just want to respond to the announcement which has been recently made in relation to the sale of Arrium. Can I say we welcome this news. What Labor wants is a secure future for Arrium. What we all want is a secure future, jobs and security for the people of Whyalla, and we know they’ve been living with this uncertainty for a very long time. So we welcome this news and we are committed to working with the Federal Government in a bipartisan way to ensure the security of employment and the ongoing economic future of both Arrium and Whyalla.
Turning now to North Korea, we do know, unfortunately, that North Korea has engaged in another missile test this time, apparently an intercontinental ballistic missile. This is a grave escalation by North Korea. This regime poses a continued global threat and it demands global action to contain it. It demands all the nations of the world working together to put pressure on the regime.
Can I say this, it is clear North Korea is no longer simply a threat to South Korea and Japan, it is a threat to all nations, and it does require a global response from all nations to respond to it.
JOURNALIST: Would Labor support military intervention?
WONG: I noted Secretary Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, put out a statement earlier today, our time, where he said what the United States seeks is a peaceful denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. We think that is a sensible approach and we believe that it is critical that the nations of the world work together to exercise maximum pressure on the North Korean regime.
JOURNALIST: Should Australia be participating in anti-missile war games with the US, South Korea, China?
WONG: We have a deep, longstanding security arrangement with the United States and we cooperate with them on many fronts.
JOURNALIST: And so on these particular…
WONG: The details of that would be a matter we want to understand the details of, get a briefing on, but can I just say as a matter of principle, Australia has a longstanding, deep relationship with the United States and we will continue to have that.
Just in terms of North Korea let’s understand this, it’s a global threat, it’s a threat to all of us, and it requires global action. It requires all of the nations of the world to exercise maximum pressure on the regime whether it’s China or the community of nations as a whole.
JOURNALIST: What threshold for a military strike against North Korea, what would start justifying some kind of intervention?
WONG: I think that going down that kind of path in terms of hypotheticals is not a helpful thing for someone in my position to engage in.
JOURNALIST: Has the pace and the scale of North Korea’s weapons surprised you and do you think that Australia has been caught out unawares at all?
WONG: I think the pace and scale of this regime’s continued, blatant disregard for international law, for the resolutions of the UN Security Council has been demonstrated. That they have continued down this path of testing, and escalating what they have been testing, is a problem for the whole global community. So we know that this a risk for global peace.
I would say this though, it’s actually a risk for the regime – escalation is actually not in the interest of the North Korean regime.
JOURNALIST: Do you think what we’re facing at the moment is partly to blame on the government’s inaction?
WONG: I’m not going to engage in any partisanship on this issue.
JOURNALIST: Do you think this strengthens the case for a stronger anti-missile defence shield for Australia?
WONG: The first thing we need to do, through the UN process and in close consultation with the United States and our other partners is to coordinate additional pressure on the regime to seek, as Secretary of State Tillerson said, the peaceful denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
JOURNALIST: Are you aware of the war games that are going on in Queensland and Northern Territory?
WONG: Yes, but I’m not going to respond in detail on those right now.
JOURNALIST: But you’re aware of what’s going on?
WONG: Yes, but I’m not going to respond in detail on those obviously.
JOURNALIST: In regards to Arrium, do you think the Federal Government could have done more to make the sale come sooner?
WONG: We had a difference of views at the last election in relation to Arrium. We were prepared as the Labor Party, as an alternative government, to put more on the table in terms of support for Arrium. But on this issue now, what we’ve got is a sale, an opportunity to secure jobs and continued secure employment into the future for the people of Whyalla and we’ll work in a bipartisan matter on that.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it could have been done sooner?
WONG: We had a difference of views at the last election. We were prepared to put more on the table than they were. That’s self-evident.
We place a greater priority on local jobs, we place a greater priority on the steel industry than the Coalition did at the last election. But we welcome the announcement today and we will work in a bipartisan fashion on this issue.
Can I make another comment about the Prime Minister, whose off to the G20. This is a very important meeting and obviously there is a lot on the table that is in Australia’s national interest. What we have, unfortunately, is a government that is at war with itself.
At the G20, at any international forum, Australia needs a Prime Minister who is focused on our national interests and what we have instead is a man who is focused on his own political survival. So what I would say to Malcolm Turnbull and to the Coalition is how about you stop fighting amongst yourselves and start focusing on what’s in Australia’s national interest.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of Tony Abbott’s latest leaked comments on the leadership?
WONG: There’s a few things I’d say about Mr Abbott. The first is that it’s pretty clear that the war continues internally. I think the second thing that the leaked tape shows us is that whenever the Liberals talk about health and education, they don’t actually mean it.
He made it very clear that he and ministers don’t support the Budget, and they certainly don’t support the measures in it including the expenditure on education and a supposedly new found support for Medicare. I think Tony Abbott demonstrated yet again what the Coalition really does think.
JOURNALIST: On Arrium, is it a good sign that it’s foreign investment involved?
WONG: I saw that in the announcement. There are two issues which do require resolution before the sale can be finalised. One was a creditors meeting and the other was FIRB approval. That’s obviously a matter for the Foreign Investment Review Board and they will make their decision in the national interest.
I think it is an example, however, where there is a clear interest, in the absence of a local owner, in continued local jobs.
JOURNALIST: Is it good that the Federal Government and State Government from different sides can be working together?
WONG: On this issue we should put jobs first. I’ve made it clear that we’re prepared to do that.
Thanks for coming in.