20 June 2019




PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY IN THE SENATE: Thanks very much. Can I first start with one of the important stories of the day which is in relation to MH17.

In 2014, 298 people were killed, 38 of them Australians, and they deserve justice. So we welcome the decision to charge three Russians and a Ukrainian with the murder of these innocent passengers.

Can I do two things, the first is to acknowledge the work of the Joint Investigations Team and acknowledge the work of the Netherlands, on behalf of the international community, in pursuing this criminal case, pursuing justice for the victims.

We call on Russia to abandon its obstructionism, to stop obstructing the pursuit of justice and to allow these individuals to stand trial.

Finally, I want to again personally, and on behalf of the Australian Labor Party, offer our deepest sympathies to the families who lost those they loved. I know these events must bring again to people’s lives the pain and grief of loss and we stand with you and I say we must not let you down.

I’m happy to take questions on that and then I will go to a couple of other issues.

JOURNALIST: How difficult do you think it will be for this to be moved further forward and potentially extradite the suspects to the Netherlands?

WONG: That is ultimately an issue for Russia and as I said, we do call on Russia, as the international community does, to not obstruct the pursuit of justice. Those who were killed on that day deserve justice.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there’s more that Australia can do to try to ensure that justice is done?

WONG: On this issue we’ve seen bipartisan support for the work of the JIT and I do want to acknowledge the work of the former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop who was dogged in her pursuit of these proceedings and in her public advocacy for, and on behalf of, the families who lost loved ones.

On a couple of other issues, if there’s nothing further on that, can I first go to the Medevac court case and Peter Dutton’s latest attempt to start a political fight. I want to make a few key points. The first is that nothing in this decision changes or lessens the minister’s power to reject someone coming to this country on health grounds, on character grounds, or national security grounds, nothing.

The second point that Peter Dutton doesn’t want to talk about is on his watch more people have actually been transferred to Australia from Manus and Nauru outside of the Medevac process than through the Medevac process.

My final point is this. Peter Dutton is in the papers again today saying he wants to amend the law. Well I say put up or shut up Peter. If you want to amend the law, bring forward a bill with the advice that you rely on that says it’s necessary. Let’s see what he does.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of his argument that people smugglers will use the Medevac bill to start up the boats again?

WONG: My answer is nothing in this decision changes the minister’s power to reject someone coming to Australia on health, national security or character grounds. He doesn’t like the facts Mr Dutton, does he? He wants to have a fight on something he knows isn’t true and I say to him well, you bring forward a bill and the advice that justifies it.

We’ve also got reports today on another matter which is advice in relation to Mr Taylor and Mr Frydenberg. It appears from public reports that not only did Angus Taylor breach the Ministerial Code by meeting the Department of the Environment about a matter that concerned his private interests, his private interests, what we’ve also learned today is that the now Treasurer of Australia, Mr Frydenberg, canvassed whether he had the power to weaken federal environmental laws to benefit a colleague.

So Josh Frydenberg has now taken centre stage in this poisonous scandal which is engulfing the Morrison Government. It’s clear that this is a government that is more interested in looking after itself, its mates, rather than serving the Australian people.

So Josh Frydenberg really needs to come clean. He needs to release all of the documents, front the national media and explain why he tried to keep secret his dealings with Mr Taylor on this matter. Why did he – because this is what it looks like – why did he try to change the rules to benefit a ministerial mate? I think that is what is alleged. He should front the media and answer.

JOURNALIST: I just have a few other questions. What do you make of Peter Khalil’s argument today that Labor shouldn’t block the tax cuts package even if the Federal Government doesn’t split it up?

WONG: The Labor Party’s position is this: we support Stage One. The Government holding the Stage One tax cuts hostage to a political strategy that’s about tax cuts after the next election I think really speaks for itself. That’s our view. If you want the Stage One tax cuts passed why don’t you bring it forward and we will vote for it.

On Stage Two and Three let’s be clear, we’ve asked for information, information that was asked for during the election campaign. Mathias Cormann promised they’d provide it and Mr Frydenberg won’t. I think the crossbench and the Senate should have that before they finalise their positions.

JOURNALIST: How important do you think it is to get the tax cuts through for Australians?

WONG: We should absolutely get Stage One through and the only people holding that up are Mr Morrison and Mr Cormann and Mr Frydenberg.

JOURNALIST: There have also been comments today from Matt Canavan indicating that the Government could look at a domestic gas reserve on the east coast. What do you make of that?

WONG: I’ve seen that there’s been a lot of discussion about gas and energy in the context of the Government’s negotiations with Senator Rex Patrick. What I would say is this: this government can talk all it likes about energy prices but the facts speak for themselves. They don’t have an energy policy and energy prices have continued to rise. The reason they don’t have an energy policy is they’ve been divided on it. So let’s see what the Government’s comprehensive energy policy is and we can look at whether it’s worthy of support.

JOURNALIST: Do you think a domestic gas reserve could help bring gas prices down?

WONG: The Government has, I think, had 13 energy policies and all of them, they said, would bring energy prices down and none of them were able to be got through their party room. If the Government has a response on energy policy we obviously will look at it. But we’re up to 13 or 14 energy policies and costs continue to rise. That’s what Matt Canavan and Scott Morrison have delivered.

JOURNALIST: Just on the John Setka matter, what do you make of the latest position in the union seeking to stand firmly behind him but then there are issues around his deputy?

WONG: I’m not going to engage in a running commentary on this. We’ve made our position clear, we want him out of the Labor Party for the reasons we have outlined. That’s our position and I don’t intend to engage in further discussion about it.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.