17 April 2020




WILL GOODINGS, HOST: We’re joined now on 5AA Breakfast by South Australian Senator Penny Wong. Senator, good morning to you.


DAVID PENBERTHY, HOST: Have you been contacted by Guinness yet? Are you sort of trying to break in isolation world record at this point?

WONG: I’ve got to stop going interstate. That’s the problem. There’s this pesky thing called Parliament and then you get 14 days home when you come back. But it’s all good.

I think, you know, I reckon what, what you’ve been talking about has been absolutely spot on and South Australians have done a sterling job. People have been fantastic at doing what the, you know, the governments and the health authorities have asked of us. There’s a really strong community spirit around it, I think.

DAVID PENBERTHY, HOST: Yeah, absolutely, Penny. So Penny, walk us through where you’re at now. So this is the second time that you have been put into lockdown as a result from having returned from Canberra for sittings of Parliament. What day are you at today? How many days do you have left to go?

WONG: I think I’ve got a week to go. So yeah, we had the first, first round obviously, we sat and then I think whilst we’re in Canberra, the Government imposed a quarantine arrangement for interstate travellers. So I actually drove back from Canberra then and had 14 days at that point.

And then we’ve had another, you know we went back to pass the wage subsidy the JobKeeper package, of $130 billion, the wage subsidy for Australian workers and then I’m in the middle of a second quarantine as a consequence of that. And then we’re going back Canberra on May 11th, so I could even have another round of this.

PENBERTHY: So you said you drove. Did, do you have to drive there? You can’t fly there?

WONG: No, we well, flights were a bit difficult coming back. So I thought I’d just drive back in case also, I’d have to drive back again, for parliament, you know, if there weren’t any domestic fights.

On the last occasion, they put a RAAF plane on for the three, three or four of us who went back, so, because there weren’t sufficient commercial flights to get people there.

PENBERTHY: Now aside from being cooped up in the house, you’re still performing your role as the, as the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. There’s a lot, there’s a lot of Australians who are still stranded in far flung parts of the world. How do you assess the manner in which DFAT has risen to the challenge of helping these people in such crazy times?

WONG: Look there are a lot. And we actually got some figures, I think, for the first time yesterday, which DFAT have said there are about 11,500 people who are stranded overseas who want to come home.

There’s actually always about a million Australians offshore but you know, a lot of them are actually living and working somewhere else, and so they’re obviously staying where they are.

But in terms of people who have registered with embassies, and posts, just over 11,000. About 6,000 in India, which is our next big challenge.

I thought, to be honest, the Government with a bit slow to move. I recognise DFAT, you know, it’s a pretty unprecedented challenge. We’ve never had to do this before.

And certainly my office has been dealing with a huge volume of correspondence and calls from people who are pretty stressed. You know, reaching out, desperate for help. And they’ve been, you know, been locked down in the country they are. They can’t, they can’t get to an airport, they can’t get a commercial flight. They’ve been spending a lot of money trying to get themselves home.

But you know, it’s, it’s improving. We we’ve seen flights out of Peru, we’ve seen a flight out of Cambodia, Nepal, you know, some of the hotspots where Australians have been kind of locked down. Thankfully we’re seeing people come home and I’m sure those people are very grateful for that.

GOODINGS: Certainly a very interesting time, or it’s going to be a very interesting time for the world of foreign affairs. As a prospective foreign affairs minister, I’m fascinated to see how you see the world. Because we’ve learned a bit about ourselves as a planet and as countries within it, we’ve been faced with this global pandemic and it seemed almost instantly everyone broke down to their component parts. Countries set up shutters and dealt with things on a domestic level. And all of those global institutions kind of went by the wayside a little bit. What do you see? What did, what did you learn out of all that’s transpired? And what’s Australia’s role in this afterwards, where there might be a bit of reluctance to put things together, back, back together like they were.

WONG: Yeah, it’s a really good question. I think that the thing we know is that the world going forward ain’t going to be the same as the one we’ve come through. And we are going to have to work out as a people, as a community, as a country and globally, how do we manage coming through this because it’s going to be a while – I hope it’s not – but it’s likely to be a while before we can finally make sense of that. It has implications for how we operate.

And we also got to be careful, I think, of some of the tendencies that we’re really seeing, which is not just turning inwards – which we had to do, like we’ve had to close the borders, that was the right thing to do. We’ve had to prevent people coming into the country, you know, to prevent the movement of the virus. But we’ve also got to decide to make sure we don’t go down the path of really turning against each other and, and not wanting to work together.

Because ultimately, this is the worst pandemic humanity has seen in over 100 years, in about 100 years. And we are going to have to work out how we tackle both it together, but also the consequences of it.

You know, how do we, how do we get our countries economies’ and the global economy working again? I mean, a lot of people’s jobs, livelihoods, lives depend on us making sure in the year to come we can get economies working again so we don’t see increases in poverty, unemployment and loss of life.

PENBERTHY: Hey Penny, just finally I know pretty well from my own domestic arrangements, how crazy your professional life is and how it – not that we have to endure that anymore, but you’re still in the thick of it – and it takes you away from your partner and your, and your young children quite frequently. How have you found the adjustment now and have there been some happy and surprising sort of benefits from being at home more with your partner and the kids?

WONG: Yeah, it’s interesting, I sort of made a decision that I was going to try – and I’m usually not glass half-full, right? – but I was going to be glass half-full, I was going to decide to be glass half-full and, and to notice some of the good aspects of this.

And yeah, it’s been fantastic spending time with the kids and Sophie. You know, we’ve done a lot of cooking; we made pasta, like, from scratch, for the first time last night. The spaghetti lengths were a bit inconsistent but it still tasted pretty good, so we had a lot of fun doing that.

I’m bouncing on the trampoline, with and without the kids, so you know. It’s just ok, we’re getting through it. I’m not going too stir crazy, just a little.

PENBERTHY: That’s excellent. Good on you, Penny Wong.

WONG: Can I say what I think about what we do best in South Australia?

HOSTS: Yeah, oh yeah, go for it.

WONG: I reckon, I reckon we do community best. Like, we’ve got a history of progressive reform, making our community stronger, and you know we, we live well together.

And I’m just going to put in a plug for the South Australian wineries. So if people are, people are ordering wines, see if you can get it from the cellar door from South Australian wineries, we’ve got to keep them going.

PENBERTHY: Yeah, absolutely.

GOODINGS: Senator Penny Wong great to have you on the show. Great to have you as part of Meat Tray Friday, as well! That’s terrific. Thank you.

WONG: All the best, cheers.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.