17 November 2019




SENATOR PENNY WONG: Thanks very much for coming, I just want to make some comments about the documents we’ve seen released to the New York Times overnight. The Labor Party has been clear about the importance of standing up for Australian values in the context of foreign policy and in the context of our relationship with China. We are a democracy and we have values that are consistent with our democratic views. In relation to the Uighurs, this is a deeply disturbing report. It is a deeply disturbing report because of what it says in relation to arbitrary detention and restrictions on freedom of movement. We would urge China to respond to this report transparently and swiftly, and we continue to join with the Australian Government and with other nations, as is outlined in the Human Rights Council Statement Australia joined, which calls on China to uphold its international obligations in relation to human rights to end arbitrary detention and restrictions on freedom of movement. I’m happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Senator, with this article, it was pretty damning. It even went into details about how to deal with Uighur students who returned from university around China and what to say to them. Is it time Labor hardened their position on China about the situation in Xinjiang?

WONG: I think we’ve been very consistent in terms of our position on Xinjiang. In the last term we expressed our concerns publicly, we’ve joined with the Government and others in relation to expressing those concerns and I’m here today to again articulate them, because I think Australians do care about this issue and Australians do want us to ensure that we stand up for our values. We are a democracy and other nations should expect that we will stand up for our values. This is an issue which has gained international attention and this is a report which is deeply disturbing, and I reiterate two points; firstly that China responds swiftly and transparently, and secondly that China upholds human rights as it is obliged to do – ends arbitrary detention and restrictions on freedom of movement.

JOURNALIST: So what should the Western world be doing about the situation with the Uighurs, and the situation in Xinjiang? What more should the Western world be doing?

WONG: I hope that democracies everywhere will continue to express our views, in terms of the democratic principles and values that I’ve outlined.

JOURNALIST: Senator, the Times have said in this article I believe that these documents were leaked by someone within the Chinese political establishment. What do you make of that?

WONG: I don’t know where these documents came from but I believe they are sufficiently concerning to warrant the response I am giving you today and to warrant the response I anticipate is going to be had around the world. I again say, these are deeply disturbing reports, and we ask that China responds swiftly and transparently. Human rights matter. We support the Human Rights Council position which is calling on China to uphold human rights, to end arbitrary detention, and to end the restriction on freedom of movement.

JOURNALIST: Senator, do you think the Chinese government will come out with this transparently and deal with it transparently in the international community?

WONG: Well that’s a matter for the Chinese government, but what I would say is this does matter to the international community.

JOURNALIST: Just some questions on Andrew Hastie and Senator Paterson. Should critics of China “repent” to keep dialogue open as the Chinese Embassy said of Andrew Hastie and James Paterson?

WONG: We’re a democracy, so freedom of speech, open dialogue and the exchange of ideas is part of who we are, and I would hope all countries would expect that when dealing with Australia.

JOURNALIST: Right, so Andrew Hastie says his comments aren’t indicative that relations between Beijing and Canberra are on a downward trend or hit a new low – because he’s a backbencher. Does China understand the nuance there and does it matter if the comments come from a backbencher or a frontbencher, per se?

WONG: You’re asking me to speak for China; I don’t intend to do that. What I will say is we’re a democracy and people are free to express their views. We have an open exchange of ideas. That is intrinsic to Australian values. Thank you.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.