E&OE - PROOF ONLY
SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: It’s great to be here in Perth on a beautiful sunny day and to be here for the In The Zone conference. I just want to start by thanking the University of Western Australia, and particularly the Perth USAsia Centre, which does such great work when it comes to foreign policy matters, and the perspective from the west of Australia.
JOURNALIST: Are negotiating efforts with North Korea being undermined by Donald Trump’s comments that the US Secretary of State is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Kim Jong-un?
WONG: I’ve just recently returned from a visit to Korea and Japan, including a visit with Bill Shorten to the Demilitarized Zone, and that certainly brings home the extent of this crisis and the extent of history here, which is that for a very long time we’ve had a situation of potential conflict on the Korean peninsula. That conflict needs to be avoided if at all possible and I think it is correct that Julie Bishop is talking at length about sanctions, about economic pressure, about diplomatic and political pressure.
Let’s focus on the fundamentals here – the fundamentals are that we need to de-escalate this crisis, we need to resolve this crisis and we need to continue to work to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula. That’s in the interests of all the nations of the region. It’s certainly in Australia’s interests.
JOURNALIST: So comments like that from the US President, do you see them as helpful with negotiating or are they more provocative?
WONG: I’ve made a habit since Mr Trump was elected of not commenting on tweets. I don’t think that is necessarily the way to go. What I will comment on is what is US foreign policy and the foreign policy position has been very clearly in support of denuclearisation of the peninsula.
JOURNALIST: Helen Polley claims she is being told, being pressured into changing her stance publicly on same sex marriage. I’m just wondering if you can confirm whether or not that is true, and what the situation is?
WONG: The situation is this; Labor Senators and Members of Parliament have a free vote when it comes to the issue of marriage equality. The Labor Party has a free vote when it comes to marriage equality and the overwhelming majority of Labor MPs and Senators will exercise that free vote in support of Yes. They will exercise that vote in support of equality. That’s the position of the Labor Party.
In relation to Helen, Helen’s position has been well known for a very long time, as long as I’ve known her, and she’s entitled to hold that view.
JOURNALIST: So do you support the right of Labor MPs and Senators to vote No?
WONG: I uphold the rules of the party and the party has gone through a lengthy process here of resolving its position and the overwhelming majority of Labor MPs and Senators will be voting Yes.