22 March 2019




SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Thanks very much for coming. I have got a briefing shortly but I wanted to quickly respond to Scott Morrison’s extraordinary interview last night with Waleed Aly.

I want to start by talking a little bit about history. I know that is an unusual thing to do in Parliament House. The history I want to remind us all of is that in order to be the diverse, multicultural, harmonious society that we are, we have had to do a lot of work. And the work that we have done has been done best when it has been bipartisan. When, across the Parliament, the parties of the centre, the parties of the centre-left and the centre-right, have worked together on issues of prejudice and race.

My parents married when the White Australia Policy was still in place. That policy was abolished with bipartisan support. The Racial Discrimination Act was legislated with bipartisan support. Community concerns about the wave of Indo-Chinese refugees in the 70s were dealt with, with bipartisan support. The Asian immigration debate that Pauline Hanson led, where she said that Australia was in danger of being swamped by Asians, was responded to effectively with bipartisanship and both parties stood against her. Because what the nation needs when it comes to issues of prejudice and race, when it comes to extremists, is bipartisanship. We have to remember that what unites us is greater than what divides us.

At this moment, after what happened in Christchurch, where the country is looking to its leaders for leadership against hatred and hate speech, what we saw from Scott Morrison last night was the absence of leadership. As an Australian I was so disappointed. Leave aside being a Labor politician, because on this one issue surely the Liberal Party of Australia could agree that they would put the extremists last. That is what Labor has done and that’s what the Liberal Party has previously done and that is help keep out One Nation, a party founded on hate. Let us remember that. It is not a party that just has different views to us, it is a party led by somebody who says that Islam is a disease against which we should be vaccinated, led by a woman who said that this country was in danger of being swamped by Asians.

So it is time for leadership and Scott Morrison has to show some leadership. He can put the country first by putting the extremists last and he should make that commitment.

JOURNALIST: Senator, can you guarantee that Labor will put One Nation last in every seat that they are running a candidate in?

WONG: Hang on, we have put, consistently, One Nation below the Liberal and National Parties for years. Bill Shorten has made that commitment that we will put One Nation and extremists like One Nation last. There has been no deviation from that commitment.

I know Mr Morrison wants to play word games around preference deals. I think everybody who watched last night saw what he was doing. He is keeping his options open to preference One Nation above the Labor Party. We have said we will put the Liberals before One Nation and that is called putting the country first.

JOURNALIST: Is it fair enough for the Prime Minister to say you have to wait for nominations to close before deciding your preferences?

WONG: Did you believe that? Did you believe watching him that was fair enough? Or did you think – I shouldn’t put you on the spot you’re a journalist. Did Australians think, actually, you know you should say we are going to put extremists last.

Okay, so yes, if there’s a neo-Nazi on the ticket maybe we will put them somewhere near One Nation but put them below the Labor Party. That’s what we are committed to because we put the country first.

JOURNALIST: What about the ACTU line from Sally McManus today which is to put the LNP last? Now, I don’t know whether that is going to be on how to vote cards, but it is certainly her comment to the media. Would it be wiser for the ACTU to also say put One Nation last?

WONG: The ACTU doesn’t set Labor’s preference policies and Bill Shorten has made clear what our position is.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe Scott Morrison when he said he didn’t push to exploit anti-Muslim sentiment in that Shadow Cabinet meeting?

WONG: I don’t think anybody watching that thought that was credible that explanation. We always know he has got a problem when he starts shouting and interrupting people and this was the first time that explanation has been proffered and it appears to be contrary to what others have said about that meeting.

But he does have a chance now to remedy that, doesn’t he? He had a chance last night and he’s got a chance today to say, actually you know what? I will put the extremists lasts. One Nation, this party that is founded on hate speech, we will put them last. We will put them below the Labor Party.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of his argument that Labor benefited from One Nation preferences?

WONG: Have a look at the ticket in Longman. I know that is the argument that he runs, but have a look at the ticket in Longman and where we preferenced the LNP and where we preferenced One Nation.

JOURNALIST: Senator, he was asked about describing people coming to Christmas Island as rapists and murderers and whether this was fair or whether he was tarring all of these people with the same brush and his response to that was there only has to be one. What did you make of that?

WONG: I hope in the aftermath of this event that we can have a discussion in this country about language and framing and I thought that was the point that Waleed Aly was making.

I thought it was wrong for Mr Morrison to turn on him and say ‘well, how many rapists? One is too many’. Well of course we all agree with that. The point was about how these discussions are framed and we would be better if some of these challenging policy decisions – and people will have different views about policy – were not framed in that kind of language. That is not about sugar-coating that is about recognising how to frame a debate.

JOURNALIST: Michael McCormack isn’t ruling out a preference deal with One Nation.

WONG: I saw Mr McCormack‘s suggestion yesterday. I think I was at home. I saw the tweet and tweeted late last night about it. I think frankly where are your principles?

I mean I don’t agree with the Greens Party. They are a virtue signalling protest party. I have spent a fair bit of my political life campaigning for the Labor Party against the Liberals and the Greens, but to seriously say that a party that is founded on hate speech lead by woman who has the views she has, One Nation, is somehow less bad than the Greens political party, well I just think that really you have no principles.

And you should perhaps take a lead out of Mr Barilaro who said he thought his federal colleagues should be putting One Nation last.

JOURNALIST: What do you think about Michael Daley‘s comments about foreign workers and what kind of impact that will have on the New South Wales election?

WONG: I thought that he could have expressed himself better. I thought he expressed himself poorly and his statement a couple of days ago demonstrated that. He apologised and I think that was appropriate.

JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison, on behalf of the Morrison Government, has appointed Tina Arena to the board of the Australia Council.

WONG: This is where I demonstrate how old I am. Did I read somewhere she’s had a platinum album every decade? There you go.

JOURNALIST: Your thoughts on that appointment?

WONG: Fine. That’s great. I’m sure that Tony Burke may have something to say about that but she is obviously a very popular Australian artist.

JOURNALIST: Senator, just on another issue, the ANZAC Day services at Gallipoli and security concerns. Will Labor still be sending a representative at this stage?

WONG: We are pleased that the discussion appears to have become more temperate. It is an important relationship for Australia and for Turkey. Obviously we share a history and ANZAC Day and the service and the recognition of what that means for both our countries is very important.

So we welcome the fact that Turkey has indicated Australians will still be welcome. That is certainly how Labor will be approaching it. And we welcome the improvement in the language. Obviously it is an important relationship for both parties.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.