27 June 2019




PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY IN THE SENATE: Can I first start with the reports today that an Australian student has been detained in North Korea. We have contacted the Foreign Minister’s office. I understand that Minister Payne’s office is seeking further verification of these reports and information as to the Australian’s whereabouts.

This is obviously a very deeply concerning situation. I welcome the fact that the Foreign Affairs Department is providing consular assistance to the family and has been liaising with Sweden, which has an embassy in Pyongyang which is able to provide consular assistance to Australians.

I would say my approach as Shadow Foreign Minister, and the approach that the Opposition has taken to these sorts of very sensitive consular matters, is to work with the Government to ensure the safety and security of Australians. So we do refrain from making public comment unless that would be helpful. This is the approach I took last term and this is the approach I intend to continue. We work with the Government on a bipartisan basis towards the safety and security of Australian citizens.

Before I go to questions I would also like to make some comment about the G20 and in particular Mr Morrison’s dinner with President Trump. This is a great opportunity for Mr Morrison. It’s a great opportunity for him to advocate Australia’s interests to the United States.

Australia has an interest in open, fair, transparent, trading arrangements and we don’t want to see Australia’s interests overlooked or damaged in the trade conflict between the US and China. We don’t want to see Australia’s interests overlooked or damaged in the trade conflict between the United States and China. So we should be advocating – as a staunch ally and a friend of the United States – this to the United States, just as we should continue to advocate Australia’s position to China as a great power in our region.

JOURNALIST: On the situation in North Korea how difficult is it for us to get information and to provide that assistance as well?

WONG: Well obviously it is challenging. And I understand, as I said, that our arrangements are to liaise with the Government of Sweden which has representation there and, presumably by other means as well.

Obviously we don’t have that sort of relationship with the regime. It’s a regime that we, and other members of the international community, have asserted a very important, clear position in relation to denuclearisation and we will continue to do that. But our primary interest at this stage is obviously the safety and security of the Australian.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that this could be a politically motivated situation?

WONG: Look it’s not helpful, I think, in these circumstances, for someone like myself to be drawn into that sort of commentary.

JOURNALIST: I just have some questions on Christopher Pyne’s new job. Do you think it’s an appropriate position for him to have at this stage?

WONG: This is a clear breach of the ministerial standards. So the question for Scott Morrison is will you exercise any ethical political leadership or not? This is a clear breach. Has Mr Pyne even attempted to justify this as not being a breach? Has the Prime Minister? Australians are entitled to expect the Government, recently elected Government, to ensure its ministerial standards are adhered to and they are clearly not being adhered to in relation to this appointment.

JOURNALIST: Can you just explain what those standards mean for people outside of politics? What does it actually mean? Why is Christopher Pyne not doing the right thing?

WONG: Well there is a provision in the ministerial standards which clearly states that a minister shouldn’t be engaging in a role whereby she or he is utilising the knowledge that they have from their time as a minister. So Mr Pyne taking a job, in the way that he has, is clearly going to be utilising the inside knowledge he has as a minister. This is a breach of the Prime Minister’s standards and the Prime Minister has to act.

JOURNALIST: What steps could the Prime Minister take?

WONG: You should ask him that. You should ask him that. But it’s a question of whether these standards are worth anything.

JOURNALIST: Is there a typical process though in this situation?

WONG: The Prime Minister needs to act.

JOURNALIST: How important do you think these standards are when it clearly states there should be a period of 18 months before you can be in a role that applies to your former knowledge? How important do you think it is that is enforced?

WONG: This is about ethical government. We are a democracy that expects accountability of ministers to the Parliament. We expect a certain level of ethical behaviour from government and ministers and Mr Pyne’s job clearly is a breach of Scott Morrison’s standards.

Now, ultimately, this is a question for Scott Morrison. Is he going to assert the standards that he’s told Australians are the ones he expects of his government and his ministers and former ministers or is he not?

JOURNALIST: Parliament resumes next week. Is there anything in particular that you are looking forward to? Is there anything that is a priority for Labor?

WONG: Oh it’s always great to go back to cold Canberra isn’t it? It’s a big week. It’s a new Parliament, the Government has been re-elected and we are returning obviously for, not just for the ceremonial debate, but also some legislation.

As Senate Leader I would make this point: this Government has got a much easier Senate to deal with than it had prior to the election. It’s a much more conservative Senate and they need fewer Senators to get their legislation through. So I anticipate that we will see the Government working the crossbench Senators and we will anticipate that they going to have more success than last term because it’s an easier Senate for them.

It’s become even easier for them because it’s quite clear that Senator Patrick and Senator Griff and Ms Sharkie here from South Australia are prepared to throw in the towel even before we get to Parliament. So, once you do that, it’s a pretty easy ride isn’t it?

JOURNALIST: Is that in terms of the tax?

WONG: Yes, and I would say on that I saw Centre Alliance Senators making some assertions about this. If there’s a deal which they’ve already done on the gas prices they should probably tell you what it is. And I hope that South Australians will be holding Centre Alliance accountable for this supposed deal around gas prices and making sure that three, six, nine months from now that Centre Alliance has actually delivered lower gas prices and not just more words from a Government whose whole energy policy had nothing but words and high prices.

JOURNALIST: Centre Alliance would argue they may be a thorn in the side of the Government because the Medevac bill, for example, Senator Griff has come out this morning talking about Peter Dutton. Do you think that’s just a bit of theatre?

WONG: I think on Medevac that that is an exception. Senator Griff was very much involved in that legislation getting through the Senate. In fact I’m surprised that Mr Dutton is proceeding with his threats to bring forward legislation. I think he should put up or shut up Mr Dutton. He likes to have a lot of discussion in the media about it. Well, let’s see a bill and the advice that supports changes if that’s what is required. I do think on this issue Senator Griff was involved in making sure that legislation passed both the Senate and the House.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.