12 May 2020




LEON BYNER, HOST: Recently our push to get an evaluation of where this Coronavirus came from has been a victim of a whole lot of actions, or at least threats by the Chinese Communist Party. Now, originally, my next guest, the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong, was in support of such an investigation. I wonder if that’s changed. Penny Wong thanks for joining us again today.


BYNER: Has your support for this changed?

WONG: Of course not. Of course not. No, we continue to support an inquiry. I think when you and I last spoke, and as I’ve made clear publicly, I think it is a pretty unremarkable position to say that the world should look to how this pandemic began so we can make sure it doesn’t happen again. And so we do support the Government’s push for an independent inquiry into how the pandemic began.

I think the Government possibly could have handled it a little better, maybe got a few countries on board before they announced it but absolutely we continue to support the inquiry.

BYNER: What do you make of China’s threat to, for example, impose an 80% tariff on barley. Do you think that’s payback or just, it’s just the way negotiations work?

WONG: Well I think it’s very disappointing that we’ve seen a dispute in relation to our barley exports. That’s an important export for Australia.

And, you know, we’ve been given a very short amount of time to respond and the Government does need to ensure we respond quickly and we try and resolve this, so, you know, our exporters, and growers are not, you know, not disadvantaged.

I’m also very concerned about news that I think is just recently broken of some concerns about exports of beef from certain abattoirs also having problems in terms of entry into China.

So, you know, we hope the Government can manage this. We do want to continue to have a productive relationship with China. There are times we’re going to disagree, and Australia is not going to step away from those things we believe are in our national interest but we want a constructive and productive relationship with China.

BYNER: There’s been very strong rhetoric though, certainly from China, about some of our views. Should we be discussing those in a more private area, rather than going public, or is it just the nature of the way the Communist Party of China work?

WONG: Well, look you know, we should always hold to our national interests. We should always stand up for Australia’s national interests and our values.

And sometimes that means public statements, sometimes that means private, and the Government of the day has to manage this sensibly.

I do think this relationship would benefit from a little more leadership from the Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, who often doesn’t say a lot and unfortunately that space ends up being filled by Liberal backbenchers who do take quite strident positions, you know, in terms of their views about China.

I think it would be helpful if the Foreign Minister could show the leadership around what is, you know, a complex relationship, a relationship that is challenging at times to manage but a relationship we do need to work at managing constructively.

The point I always make Leon is, you know, we’ve got to think about this relationship over a 30 year time frame and that’s certainly how the Chinese think about it. We can’t think about it in terms of three years.

BYNER: I want to ask you about the possible tweaking of JobKeeper. Now we know that there are instances, Senator, where you’ve got, and this is just one example, where you’ve got people who might be doing a bit of part time work or earning a couple hundred dollars a week, but through an anomaly in the way JobKeeper was created, they’re picking up 750, or 750 minus the tax. You, as far as I understand it, your side of saying look, we probably don’t need to be talking about changing or reducing it but probably extending it. Is that your position?

WONG: Oh look, we’ve raised the concern about that example you raise, previously. So let’s just come back on JobKeeper, we argued for a wage subsidy. The Government resisted it. We are pleased that they finally shifted their position because there are millions of Australians who need to be supported through this crisis – that’s the first point.

We do have concerns about the design and one of the anomalies that you point to Leon is a problem with the design. And Albo in his speech yesterday, actually spoke about this. He said, look the way the Government’s designed JobKeeper is that a single mum with three kids who’s worked for 11 months as a casual doesn’t get it, but a kid who works at a supermarket on a part time job gets much more than the wage that they’ve lost.

Now, I think that that is a design problem. I think that that is not, you know, a good way for that money to be spent, to have those anomalies in the system. So we have said, we should look after people who are casual employees because there are a million casuals who aren’t going to get it, who aren’t getting it, and some of them are people who really need it.

But at the same token, you know, there are some people who are getting more than they were paid and I think most people would say that’s not the sort of design of the program that we need.

BYNER: I want to ask you about the repatriation of Australians, in other countries. Now we’ve got both Virgin and Qantas, who are flying internationally, subsidised by the Government, to bring people back. Are we doing this effectively because there are thousands of Aussies who either got stranded, or might be expatriates who now want to come home. Is there still a big waiting list?

WONG: Well, it’s not as bad as it was. And frankly that’s because the Government has had to respond to the advocacy and the pressure and the media profile, including, you know, from yourself and others who did I think shine a light on, you know, the very difficult situation a lot of Australians, and some South Australians were, where they were stranded through no fault of their own.

They were somewhere, where there were no more flights, no commercial options and the Government wasn’t assisting.

So, to be fair, to the Government I think that has meant they’ve moved and done a lot more than last time you and I spoke.

Yes, we still have people overseas, but we’ve got a lot more home as a result of, you know, I think people on the ground, families, and with the support of media, putting pressure on the Government, so I think that’s been a much better outcome than it would have been.

BYNER: When is the Parliament going to resume so everybody can turn up. Have you got a date on that?

WONG: No, in fact we’ve raised with the Government, we’re obviously doing social distancing, we’ve got a reduced Parliament, but at least Parliament is sitting and we have raised with them that Parliament really should start regular, having regular sittings again.

I think it’s pretty hard to tell people, they should, they can go back to work, they should be working, we’ve got people back at school but somehow the Parliament can’t meet again and we’re certainly managing it.

Whilst I’ve got you on that, can I just do a shout out for International Nurses Day today, Leon.

BYNER: Absolutely.

WONG: I mean, they’re a group of people who have been on the frontlines through this, they’ve been magnificent and we thank them for their work.

BYNER: We always think of their hats as a halo, once a year. Penny, thank you for coming on today.

WONG: Good to speak with you.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.