22 April 2019




DR. SARATH SENADEERA SRI LANKA ASSOCIATION SOUTH AUSTRALIA: I’m quite pleased to see Penny Wong here with us today, coming and sharing her kindness with us.

As the Senator was mentioning earlier, terrorism has no religion, no country but at this time what we have got to do is share our humanity. So what I request from my friends is that we act responsibly and my deep thoughts are with my friends and family in Sri Lanka in this tragic situation. Thank you.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Can I first thank you Dr. Sarath and all of the representatives from the diverse Sri Lankan community here in South Australia who, at short notice, made time to meet with me.

This is a dreadful day, it’s been a tragic 24 hours and what we know is that we have lost many people in Sri Lanka. We know there have been people injured and as yet we don’t know who is claiming responsibility.

But we do know this, that these assaults are an assault on our common humanity. We know that this assault occurred on Easter Sunday. We know that many people were targeted but I would also make this point. Today I met with people representing the diversity of the Sri Lankan community here, but that is the diversity of the Sri Lanka community in Sri Lanka. That they can all come together and speak as one and show their solidarity, to speak of their grief, to show compassion, I think demonstrates the sort of response we need which is that we must always choose hope over fear, we must always choose love over hate.

My sympathy, the Labor Party’s solidarity, is with the Sri Lankan community here in Australia who are hard hit by this tragedy and we offer to the government of the day all support for any support that is required as a consequence of these horrific attacks.

JOURNALIST: Senator, are you concerned the attacks could invite more instability or violence?

WONG: I think what is important now is to stay calm and what is important now is that leaders across the world, but obviously in Sri Lanka also, urge for calm and to urge all to recall that hatred is never ended by hatred. In fact the venerable abbot today said to me in the meeting hate is never ended by hate. I think very wise words.

JOURNALIST: Is the current DFAT travel advice for Sri Lanka appropriate do you think?

WONG: We understand there has been an update to that advice and we will trust that the professional people at DFAT will ensure that the advice reflects risks and will be updated if the risks intensify.

JOURNALIST: On another matter Senator, the ABC has reported that there is increased Chinese surveillance near Manus Island. Do you think that that is a result of Australia’s contribution to the redevelopment of the naval base?

WONG: In this context I’ll answer that question but I do want to make clear that I don’t want to get into any partisan discussion this morning.

On that issue I have seen some public reporting. I would make two comments about that. The first is Australia supports the Law of the Sea. We support states and vessels complying with, and acting in compliance with, the Law of the Sea. That is the approach we have taken.

I also note that the Defence Department has commented on that and indicated that those matters should be consistent with the Law of the Sea. That is the approach Labor will take.

JOURNALIST: Is Labor concerned by that activity?

WONG: I am not going to add anything to our response. Our views are that the Law of the Sea ought to be complied with by all parties.

JOURNALIST: Has there been any suggestion of any particular material support to Sri Lanka?

WONG: That was raised today. We did indicate, and Bill has indicated, publicly, as have I, in our statement, that we would offer bipartisan support to whatever assistance the Sri Lankan Government seeks or needs from Australia.

We are in the caretaker period and we would obviously offer such bipartisan support.

JOURNALIST: In relation to the delayed ratification of the boundary agreement with Timor-Leste, do you think that Timor-Leste is being treated unfairly?

WONG: The finalisation of the boundary was delayed, that is a disappointment. My predecessor, Tanya Plibersek, called for this to be resolved. At the time that was not supported by the current Liberal Government. I’m pleased they shifted their position and it’s a good thing that the boundary has been resolved. It’s a pity that it has not, as yet, been finalised legally in terms of ratification and we hope that could occur as soon as possible after the election.

JOURNALIST: Would Labor pay back all lost revenue?

WONG: I’m not going to get into details about that. We are obviously an important partner for Timor-Leste. That would continue under a Labor Government. We have also made commitments around overseas development assistance and we had a very different view from the current government on the boundary.

JOURNALIST: Is that a yes?

WONG: I’ve answered the question and won’t get into the detail of that. Those issues would have to wait for consideration until after the election.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.