15 April 2018




PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: First, in relation to the military strikes yesterday against chemical weapons facilities in Syria. Let’s just go back to a week ago, on April 7th, what we saw, confirmed by the World Health Organisation, were chemical weapons used against civilians, subsequently confirmed, certainly on the advice of the Australian Government and others to have been put in place by the Assad regime. We have seen dozens of people die as result of that and other casualties.

As I said earlier this week, from the Opposition’s perspective, and from the international community’s perspective, this use of chemical weapons, particularly against civilians, is intolerable.

Diplomatic efforts to ensure that the international community’s agreements that chemical weapons not be used, that there continues to be a prohibition against their use, were thwarted, thwarted by Russia’s utilisation of its veto at the UN Security Council.

Consequently, Labor yesterday indicated that we supported the strike on three chemical weapons facilities by three permanent members of the UN Security Council – the USA, UK and France – and we indicated bipartisan support for that action for the reasons I have outlined.

I notice overnight, news just in, that it appears that Russia’s motion at the Security Council to condemn this attack has been defeated and that is appropriate. We would, as I said, continue to urge the Security Council to work towards a political and diplomatic solution in Syria where we have seen years of conflict and millions of people displaced as a result of the conflict.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that the Obama Administration made an error in not striking all those years ago when there was another abhorrent attack?

WONG: I’ve seen a lot of commentary, including today, on that point. I would say this; the world has drawn a red line into the use of chemical weapons and an appropriate response to the breaching of that needs to be put in place. We judge that the response that has been undertaken by the three permanent members of the UN Security Council to be an appropriate, proportionate and targeted response.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any personal regrets that this wasn’t done years ago?

WONG: I think that there are a lot of comments about history you can make when it comes to Syria. You could also look at the fact that Russia previously guaranteed to the international community that the chemical weapons of the Assad regime would be eliminated. Now, that demonstrably has not been the case.

JOURNALIST: So, is Russia completely untrustworthy?

WONG: The Australian Government and the Australian Opposition have disagreed with a great many of the actions taken by Russia and we continue to be critical of them, in a great many respects, including in their actions in relation to Syria.

JOURNALIST: Should Australia get involved? Should Australia do some bombing if there are further chemical incursions?

WONG: Australia is already participating, as you know, in the Middle East. As I understand Minister’s Payne’s press conference yesterday, Australian assets were not involved in this particular attack.

She, quite rightly said, very sensibly, if there is any request for further assistance, or further engagement, such requests would be considered on their merits.

Thank you very much. I’m on my way to Washington.

JOURNALIST: What are you doing in Washington?

WONG: I’m on a delegation as part of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. We’re meeting with Members of Congress, as well as the FBI and CIA and other counterparts.

JOURNALIST: What are you going to discuss with the FBI?

WONG: Our continued co-operation as allies and partner.

Thank you.