20 October 2017




SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: I want to start by paying tribute to all of the Holden workers and their families. It’s a tough day for those who work at Holdens, it’s a tough day for South Australians and a very sad day for South Australia and the nation. It’s the end of a local car manufacturing industry.

We all know it didn’t have to be this way. But I am not going to dwell on those things today I just want to say this to Holden workers – thank you for your contribution. Thank you for your contribution to South Australia and to the nation, and we will do our best, the whole community, to stand with you and your families, in the days ahead. We know this is a hard day. It’s a day we wish never happened and it’s a day where we stand with you.

I also want to make mention of the reports today of the letter sent by North Korea to the Foreign Minister. I think it is an open letter which has been sent to a number of nations. I’d make this point, if this letter is intended to divide the international community, if this letter is intended to try to lessen the pressure, well, we remain resolute. We remain resolute and committed to continuing to put the pressure on North Korea to step away from the path it is on, to denuclearise peacefully.

I notice that the open letter does mention sanctions and that does suggest that sanctions are having an effect and it reminds us of the importance of all nations of the world standing together to put pressure on North Korea.

And finally, on New Zealand, I again send my congratulations to Jacinda Ardern and the New Zealand Labour Party for forming Government and wish them well. We look forward to meeting them in the near future.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the correspondence from North Korea is disingenuous, or do you see it as a real effort at detente?

WONG: I’m sure there are many ways in which you can interpret it, but what is important is the path that we now take. And the path needs to remain a resolute agreement from the international community to put the economic pressure on, the political pressure on, the diplomatic pressure on North Korea.

I note Secretary Tillerson has said the diplomatic path remains open and if North Korea is willing to engage toward the peaceful denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, that is a good thing.

JOURNALIST: If you then see it as being interpreted several ways, then there is also the prospect that North Korea has blinked first?

WONG: I looked closely at the wording of the open letter. It does talk about illegal sanctions. What that would suggest is that the sanctions are having an effect and this is a good thing. They remain the greatest threat to peace and security in our region, in fact globally. And it is a good thing that the international community continues to stand together.

JOURNALIST: With regards to Julie Bishop, has she damaged Australia’s relationship with New Zealand?

WONG: Julie Bishop’s behaviour, at the time I described as unwise. I thought she was unwise to bring partisan politics into our relationship with New Zealand. I thought she was unwise to play domestic politics with our relationship with New Zealand. And the intemperate nature of her remarks has been demonstrated by the election of a New Zealand Labour Government. This is the Government that she suggested that she would have difficulty in trusting.

She does have to set about repairing the relationship and demonstrating as Foreign Minister that she is not going to put partisan domestic politics into those important bilateral relationships.

JOURNALIST: It’s my understanding that are new trade deals being pursued by the Peters/Ardern Government which could have knock on effects for free trade agreements between Australia and New Zealand. What does that mean for Australia’s economic relationship with New Zealand?

WONG: I think you might be jumping ahead. I think the government hasn’t worked out who their Trade Minister is. We want to see what their agenda actually is before we actually make any comment.

But if I can come back to the question here, I do think Australians expect more from their Foreign Minister. Australians don’t expect partisanship when it comes to diplomatic relations, and I’d say this; it would be good if the Foreign Minister acknowledged her mistake and reached out to the New Zealand Government. That would be a wise thing to do instead of making it worse.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of Malcolm Turnbull saying Julie Bishop doesn’t need to apologise for her remarks?

WONG: I was always taught when you were wrong, the first step was acknowledging you were wrong and then going about fixing it, and that’s the approach that should be taken here.

JOURNALIST: The ABC has published a story today about a gentleman named Jian Yang. He’s a New Zealand MP with links to a Chinese spy school. He interned in Australia’s Parliament in the 90s. Does that bother you and have you even met him?

WONG: Have I met him? I wasn’t in Parliament in the 90s so, but thank you for suggesting I’m older than I am! We generally don’t comment on intelligence matters but I would say this, all of us, at every level of the Parliament, whether in Government or Opposition, should listen to the advice of our security agencies. We are certainly committed to ensuring our agencies have the resources that are required to do the work that they need to do to keep the nation safe and I’m sure that the New Zealand Government would take the same approach.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that this sort of drama around Julie Bishop could overshadow Jacinda Ardern’s upcoming visit to Australia?

WONG: No, I’m concerned that Ms Bishop’s remarks brought partisan politics into an important diplomatic relationship and I think that when you are Foreign Minister you represent the country when it comes to other nations. There is always the domestic argy-bargy, but that should be kept separate from our relationship with other nations.