12 February 2019




SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Can I first say something about the arrival this morning of Hakeem Alaraibi.

It’s wonderful to bring him home, it’s wonderful to see him home, and can I say thank you. Thank you to the Government and people of Thailand. Thailand is a friend of Australia’s, we know that Australians were obviously involved in the rescue of those boys and the whole world watched. The Thai Government, the Thai people, have heard Australia’s call, the call from across the political divide, the call from across the community and it is wonderful to see him home, fantastic that there has been so much community support.

Can I pay particular thanks to Craig Foster and the whole football community for the way in which they got behind him and also of course to our officers and our diplomats in Thailand who have done such a fantastic job.

JOURNALIST: Senator, on this issue of Hakeem, what do you make of suggestions this morning that some human rights groups are saying there should be an investigation into Australia’s role as to why he was imprisoned?

WONG: These issues about the process whereby the Interpol Red Notice was issued have been raised for some time.

The judgement I took, as Shadow Foreign Minister, whilst he was still overseas, unable to come home, was that those issues should be put aside for the moment until he came home. Our objective was always to support all the calls to bring him home.

Now he is back I think there are legitimate questions to be asked and I would encourage the Government to be upfront about those. We do need to consider whether or not the automated Interpol Red Notice system is fit-for-purpose, particularly when it comes to people who are found to be refugees.

JOURNALIST: Senator, on the medivac bill, Labor previously said it would safeguard national security adequately. Now you want it changed. Does that mean you were wrong before?

WONG: It is clear that advice has been made, both public, and advice has been received by the Labor Party, and we are acting accordingly.

I would make a couple of points about this bill. The first is we always had two objectives. One was to make sure kids and other people got the medical care they needed and the second was to ensure we maintain a robust system of border protection. And the amendments that we will be exploring reflect the advice that we have received since that bill was in the Parliament in December and Labor will act accordingly.

But I do have one point I want to make. Scott Morrison demonstrated yesterday, and will demonstrate every day between now and the election, he is demonstrating that fear is all he has left. He can’t run on his record because his record is cuts and chaos. He can’t run on stability because they are so bitterly divided. So what does he want to run on? He wants to run a fear campaign. And whether it is this, or any other issue, that is what you will see from Australia’s so-called Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: Labor blinked though after this security briefing with Mr Shorten and the Chief of Defence etc. Do you agree then that this bill was a security threat?

WONG: Well you can call it what you like. I say Labor acts responsibly on the advice of national security agencies and that’s what we’re doing.

JOURNALIST: Has Labor sought advice from security agencies about whether the three amendments you are proposing are enough to stop the boats from coming as the Government claims?

WONG: The amendments we are pursuing are as a consequence of advice received from agencies but that is all I’m going to say about that.

JOURNALIST: Why didn’t Labor seek that advice before passing the legislation?

WONG: We get regular national security briefings. You would be aware that this advice only became clear in the period between December and now.

But I think there is a bigger issue for Australians and the media to consider and that is why classified information was briefed to the media by this Government. An utterly irresponsible act that no government should be engaging in.

JOURNALIST: Senator, if these amendments do pass the House today, if..

WONG: If? So you’re asking a hypothetical?

JOURNALIST: Would Labor rule out pursuing a no confidence motion in the government?

WONG: I am the Leader in the Senate so I leave the House to my colleagues. That’s a matter, probably, you might want to see if Tony Burke is prepared to answer.

JOURNALIST: Which of the amendments do you think will have the most trouble getting?

WONG: I am not going to go into the details of these discussions. There are discussions occurring in good faith. Labor has made clear what our objectives are and I hope we can work with the crossbench to craft a workable solution to something that should be dealt with.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.