SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

TRANSCRIPT

15 November 2018

DOORSTOP – PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

TOPICS: AUSTRALIA-INDONESIA RELATIONSHIP, BREXIT, CHINA, EAST ASIA SUMMIT, INDONESIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT, ISRAEL, L-PLATE ENVIRONMENT MINISTER COMMENTS, PACIFIC ISLANDS

E&OE - PROOF ONLY

JOURNALIST: China, and the comments made by the Premier overnight, what does that say to Australia?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: This is in relation to the Pacific?

JOURNALIST: Yes.

WONG: When it comes to the Pacific we shouldn’t be focussing on what other people do in the region, we should be focussing on the strongest relationship we can with a region that is important to us, and has always been and will always be important to us. We want to be the partner of choice. We have to earn that and if Labor is elected we know the Pacific will be core business.

JOURNALIST: Does one country have to dominate?

WONG: We don’t go into it with that perspective and we don’t think that we should be thinking about it from a perspective that is about competition. We should be thinking about it from a perspective of what can Australia do to be the best partner that we can for a region that is important and we should be thinking of the development of the Pacific.

JOURNALIST: If that is the case is Australia’s policy towards the Pacific and China the correct one?

WONG: I think this Government has neglected the Pacific and I think we have seen some very regrettable comments more recently by the Environment Minister which have not been helpful. But belatedly the Government has followed Labor’s lead in looking at innovative ways to better fund infrastructure which is critical for development in the region. As I said, if Labor is elected, the Pacific will be core business. We want to be the partner of choice and we know we have to earn that.

JOURNALIST: Bill Shorten has said recently that stubbornness is not a sign of leadership. Is it now time for Mr Morrison to walk away from the decision on Israel?

WONG: Bill is absolutely right and on the money. What we had is a Prime Minister in Scott Morrison who junked decades-long bipartisan policy. He junked it in a desperate attempt to get votes. It didn’t work. He needs to change his position. He needs to resolve this. It’s clear that this is a decision that is dividing this Government. It’s clear that this is a decision that is compromising Australia’s national interest. He needs to recognise he made a mistake. Don’t wait until Christmas Scott, change your position now.

JOURNALIST: The Government is briefing out that they’re telling Jakarta there is only a five per cent chance this could happen.

WONG: I saw the reports that the former Trade Minister Mr Ciobo has tried to reassure his former Indonesian counterpart that there is only a five per cent chance. What chaos. What does this say about our credibility and consistency in the region? And that’s why Scott Morrison really needs to end this now, make his position clear, walk away from a decision that he is going to walk away from anyway.

JOURNALIST: On the Environment Minister, what did you make of her own colleague’s characterisation that she is on her “L plates”?

WONG: I think it shows a divided government. A government in chaos and it also demonstrates that her comments really were damaging to our relations with Pacific island nations.

JOURNALIST: Brexit is moving on to the next stage. Is it going to be easier than dealing with Brexit in limbo?

WONG: I’ve seen the reports. Obviously this is an issue that the May Government has been working on for some time. A much more complex issue than perhaps some of those who supported Brexit might have imagined. We obviously hope that this issue can be resolved sensibly.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the EU will accept this?

WONG: That’s a matter for the EU and Britain to resolve.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.