14 October 2019




SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS SENATOR PENNY WONG: I appreciate the AIIA’s invitation to speak on foreign policy today. And really I’ve sought to make a few key points. We’re in a challenging time in foreign policy, a challenging time in terms of handling the China relationship, and I make this point: we need to work together.

The problem is the Prime Minister is not working together, he’s playing foreign policy for short-term political tactics, he is being loose with the truth and that is not in Australia’s national interest. I’m happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: How can we have a coherent bipartisan policy with China, when China itself is not [inaudible] coherent actions, where it is very sensitive to criticism, to legitimate criticism, where a tweet by a US sporting official has caused row over the weekend.

WONG: Well I actually think China is very strategic, and we need ensure we are strategic and sensible and considered in our response. And the point I’m making today is that the Government doesn’t appear to have a plan, doesn’t appear to have a plan as to how to deal with the China relationship or what is occurring more broadly in the international arena. What they do have is a series of political tactics, and what you’ve seen from the Prime Minister and his ministers are behaviours which are about short-term domestic political tactics, not about a coherent plan to deal with what is a more challenging phase in our relationship with China, and what is occurring in our region.

JOURNALIST: On the Prime Minister’s negative globalism speech, last week the UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said Australia is happy to be applauded by the global community, but a little bit sensitive to criticism. Do you agree with that?

WONG: I think the Prime Minister should explain what he meant in that speech. There are two points about that speech. The first and most and most important one is this: we are a trading nation. Australia is a trading nation and Australian jobs demand open, fair, transparent trading arrangements. That is why Australia under Coalition and Labor governments has been so supportive of the World Trade Organisation.

Now Scott Morrison bowls up, wants – for domestic political purposes – to rail against globalism but he’s free trade. He’s pro-free trade. Well you can’t be pro free-trade and rail against globalism. It’s entirely inconsistent and, I think, demonstrates what his position is.

JOURNALIST: At the Pacific 2019 Maritime Conference last week, there were academics and experts who said we’re entering a defence warning time, strategic warning time when it came to a build-up of capabilities especially by China, with a lot of fears on cyberspace, foreign interference, but also modern militarisation. Do you have also your own fears about that? Is it something that keeps you up? And also, how do we chat about that without it being damaging to the relationship?

WONG: Sure, well the first point is: I’ve said for some time we live in era of strategic competition, and I gave a speech in Jakarta a couple of weeks ago where I was very clear about that. And what I said is that means we need to work very hard in our region, including with the US but regional partners, other regional partners, in order to ensure a multipolar region. What your comment reminds us of is why is it so important for the Government to be measured, considered and strategic about how it responds to the China relationship.

As I said in there, there will be occasions given China’s increased assertiveness where we have to manage difference more and I think you point to one of those areas. The important point about managing difference: you have to do that sensibly and with a plan. My concern is that the Prime Minister has not evinced that seriousness, he has not demonstrated he has a plan. What he has demonstrated is he is very interested in playing short-term political tactics and being loose with the truth.

JOURNALIST: The Kurds seem to have struck a deal with the Syrian regime, facing attacks with Turkey. How much of a mess is Syria in and whose fault is it?

WONG: I made some comments on Thursday, and I will repeat them and I think they have been demonstrated to be correct over the last few days, sadly. I said that these events would lead to regional and global instability; that they would lead to a worsening of the humanitarian disaster in Syria; that we called on Turkey to desist from the attack; and that these circumstances have been enabled by the Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw. I also made the point, echoed the point that others in the US have made that this will compromise our efforts against Daesh, against ISIS, and I’m afraid that appears to be the case. That is a national security issue for the world.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that there’s a danger that Labor will be seen as the pro-China party, and that the Coalition will be seen as the anti-China? Is this where the debate is heading?

WONG: Well it would be untrue. And it would be a disservice to the Australian community to allow the Government to get away with those sorts of talking points. As I made the point in there, we demonstrated our willingness to stand up for Australia’s sovereignty. What the Government is doing is lurching from one press conference to another around a series of unplanned domestic political tactics when it comes to the China relationship in foreign policy [inaudible].

JOURNALIST: Are you satisfied with Gladys Liu’s claim that she’s now confident that she’s no longer linked with associations that would be inappropriate?

WONG: You know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of the Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop test, you know, when they were asked whether or not they’d complied with the Ministerial Code of Conduct, and they said ‘yes we have’ and the Prime Minister said ‘so it’s all fine’. So Ms Liu says she’s fine, therefore the Prime Minister says she’s fine.

The issue that Australians see is that at no stage was Mr Morrison, nor any one of his Cabinet ministers prepared to stand up in the Parliament and say this person is fit and proper person to be a member of the Australian Parliament. Not once. And we gave them many, many opportunities.

JOURNALIST: Do you agree with Barnaby Joyce’s calls that the Government should be [inaudible] to intervene in the Assange case?

WONG: Julian Assange, he is entitled to and should be receiving, and I understand that he is receiving consular assistance in relation to these legal proceedings.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.