16 August 2017




SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Yesterday in Parliament we saw a desperate government trying to manufacture a Kiwis under the bed scare campaign. And we saw a Foreign Minister sent out to risk and damage bilateral relations with one of our closest friends and allies.

It really was nothing more than an exercise in a government trying to divert attention from the fundamental problem they have, a problem which is of no one’s making except Mr Joyce’s and that is, that he appears to have been a New Zealand citizen when he stood for parliament.

JOURNALIST: There are a number of Labor candidates that the government says it is considering referring to the High Court. Will the now produce the documents to prove they are not dual citizens?

WONG: I think it is really regrettable that this issue is being dealt with in this way. We have, over many years in the Senate, before I was in Parliament and after, actually had to deal with these issues of referral.

If you ever have time I’d encourage you to read the debate we had recently because I think the Senate took a very mature approach. We encouraged leaders of parties to self-refer, to refer their own Senators which is what occurred. I have a lot of concerns with Ms Hanson, but Senator Hanson did the right thing. We haven’t taken a partisan approach and we also have taken the principled approach that there isn’t a reverse onus of proof.

I understand that Mr Pyne is very stressed about losing votes in Parliament and very stressed about hanging on to government by a vote that appears to have been, at least, compromised in some ways. But really, this sort of behaviour, I don’t think, is particularly good for the democracy.

JOURNALIST: Just for the record, could you take us through the time frame of when your office was involved?

WONG: I want to make it very clear. There were questions asked in the New Zealand Parliament about this issue and they have been the subject of comment.

I was not aware that those questions were asked until after this story had broken in Australia on Monday. My Chief of Staff was not aware that those questions had been asked until after that story broke on Monday. He has had contact with mates in New Zealand, including Mr Hipkins. I made that clear last night in the statement I released, but I want to again make it very clear that at no stage in that conversation did he request that those questions be lodged.

Mr Gartrell from Fairfax Media has made it abundantly clear that he approached the New Zealand Government on the Monday. Questions were not lodged in the New Zealand Parliament until the Wednesday and the New Zealand Minister has made it very clear that this story broke as a result of contact from the Australian journalist.

Now whatever people’s views about that contact, let us be utterly clear about this, what Ms Bishop did yesterday was an extraordinarily reckless and irresponsible act from a Foreign Minister who generally has been competent and credible.

JOURNALIST: Senator, did your office have contact with foreign MPs without your knowledge?

WONG: He’s a New Zealand citizen. He’s a dual citizen. He’s got mates in New Zealand. Including one MP, well, I assume including more than one MP because he worked with MPs in New Zealand.

But really, are you suggesting that it is an “act of treason” for him to have a chat with a mate? Because this is where we are at, that Ms Bishop can seriously suggest that there is some act of treason here is ridiculous.

JOURNALIST: Senator Wong, you joke about Kiwis under the bed, the bed is in your office. The Kiwi is in your office, that’s the plain thing about this

WONG: I wonder how many Kiwis there are in the Press Gallery? Look, I accept it was unwise for him to have that conversation, and he knows that. But we do need to be clear about what the facts are here and I’ve been clear about that.

JOURNALIST: Will you be disciplining him?

WONG: I’ve spoken to him.

JOURNALIST: What other conversations is this person in your office having without your knowledge that could influence issues as we’ve seen this week?

WONG: I don’t believe, and I’d ask you to refer to what I have just said, I don’t accept that the conversation influenced this week. And what I have said is borne out by the minister in the New Zealand Government and the MP concerned.

JOURNALIST: If you’re saying political parties need to do the right thing and refer their own MPs, will the Labor Party now refer Tony Zappia, Justine Keay…

WONG: No. We don’t believe that we have MPs who breached the Constitution. That’s the difference.

JOURNALIST: Well why then don’t the release the documents? Wouldn’t that clear the air?

WONG: I understand the call for that and I understand that’s what the government wants to talk about. But I again say to you, if there is evidence on the public record that demonstrates that what people are saying is incorrect, then MPs do have an obligation to release. If there is not I think what we are ending up in is a reverse onus of proof. That’s not the way we have dealt with these matters in the past.

JOURNALIST: Senator, what are some of the risks of our Foreign Minister picking sides in an election?

WONG: I am deeply concerned about that and I think Australians are deeply concerned. It is regrettable because I think generally Ms Bishop has been a competent and credible Foreign Minister. But she did her credibility great damage yesterday. What she essentially said to the New Zealand people is I can’t work with your government if the opposition is elected. And she added to that saying she doesn’t believe one of the ministers in the current government.

It’s an impressive press conference where you manage to criticise both sides of politics in the context of an election in a nation which is a friend and ally.