18 November 2019




SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY IN THE SENATE: Thanks very much for coming. It is great to be here in Brighton today where I am at an event to commemorate the election of the first woman to local government here in South Australia – Susan Grace Benny. She was a trailblazer from a state where many women have been trailblazers over the last 125 years.

On a less happy note, I want to make some comment about the situation in Hong Kong where it appears, as we see this unfolding on social media, on our televisions and in our news reports that the situation continues to deteriorate. We again urge authorities to engage in a genuine dialogue with the people to address widespread concerns, including in relation to police conduct. We again reiterate our support for One Country, Two Systems, including the rule of law and an independent judiciary. I’m happy to take questions on these and other matters.

JOURNALIST: In light of the bloodshed and violence overnight, is it time for Australians to leave the territory?

WONG: I would urge Australians to ensure they keep abreast of what is happening by looking at Smartraveller and by looking at DFAT advice. These are matters that the government, I’m sure, are very focused on and will ensure that Australians are advised as quickly as possible about what decisions they should make.

JOURNALIST: Any contingencies required, do you think, should the situation deteriorate and Australia has to act to pull out its citizens?

WONG: These are matters for the government. I would just say that the opposition has been briefed and continues to be briefed regularly by the government about this and I acknowledge Senator Payne’s assistance in that regard.

JOURNALIST: Angus Taylor has flagged state-by-state deals as potentially a good way to get to reliable and lower energy prices. Do you think that or a national approach would be better?

WONG: Well, it would be good if Mr Taylor came up with a plan, wouldn’t it? Every day there is just another idea, another thought bubble. Meanwhile we have seen wholesale power prices go up by about 158 per cent, we see no investment certainty and we see Australians paying more as a consequence. It’s time this government came up with a plan rather than an announcement.

While I am on that, I noticed Prime Minister Morrison is here today making announcements in South Australia. I will tell you a few things about Scott Morrison when it comes to South Australia and more generally. This is a bloke who is loose with the truth. This is a bloke who doesn’t have a plan – he might have a headline but no plan. This is a bloke who doesn’t answer questions.

Today he was asked a few times by the South Australian media to back in South Australian defence industry jobs and he went missing, yet again.

JOURNALIST: You and the government have denounced China’s treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang province. It’s characterised as arbitrary detention. Should Australia engage in diplomatic protest to underscore their condemnation?

WONG: The reports that we saw released and published by the New York Times and other international media over the weekend were gravely disturbing. I again reiterate Labor’s call, which I believe the government consistently also calls for, China to respect its international obligations in respect of human rights.

We are deeply concerned by the reports of arbitrary detention. We are deeply concerned by the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang province. These are concerns that are not just the Labor Party’s, they are not just the government’s, they are Australians’ concern and they are the international community’s concern.

You might recall Australia joined with other members of the Human Rights Council in relation to an expression of concern earlier this year about this matter. Those concerns have only been heightened since that time.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there’s a case for China’s ambassador in Canberra to be called in on the matter, or alternatively, for Australia’s ambassador to be recalled.

WONG: We need to continue to engage with China. We need to continue to engage with China on points of difference for we have difference of values and interests, just as those points where we have convergence.

I would simply say, we’ve reiterated our concerns on a number of occasions, as has the Australian government, and those concerns have only been heightened by the reports over the weekend.

JOURNALIST: Paul Keating – you’re probably familiar with his inclination or his view that too much reliance is being based on advice from security agencies and Australian forming policy on China. Do you agree with that point of view?

WONG: I have worked as a minister and as a shadow minister and have engaged with security agencies. I respect the work they do for Australia and I respect their advice. We have always acted consistently with that advice.

I also have great respect for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Governments of the day have to make decisions based on the advice they get.

JOURNALIST: There is a scenario developing where assistance could be obtained via America to get Australian citizens out of Syria, which apparently is being either dismissed or ignored by the Foreign Minister and the government. Do you believe that assistance should be accepted?

WONG: I have seen those reports and I’ve seen Mr Morrison and Senator Payne’s response. I would make two points. The first is there is a great risk to Australians from people who are members of and are participants in Islamic State activities. I don’t think that risk is necessarily diminished by having them roam freely around the world.

In relation to what should be done with these foreign fighters, those are decisions the government needs to make on the basis of the best advice they receive from security and intelligence agencies.

JOURNALIST: Perhaps I didn’t say – it was women and children in the…

WONG: And these are decisions the government needs to make on the basis of the advice it receives. That is a matter, ultimately, for the government to determine on the basis of that advice.

WONG: Thanks very much everybody.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.