15 October 2018




QUESTION: Andrew Ritchie, Councillor AIIA New South Wales. Quickly, would a Labor Government appoint a minister specific for nuclear disarmament and would you have an Ambassador for Nuclear Disarmament?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Two different questions. The first is obviously a question for an incoming Prime Minister. I would have thought though it is something you want your Minister for Foreign Affairs kind of engaged in, so I’m not sure I’m particularly keen for you to reduce my job description just at the moment, hopeful job description.

I think the Ambassador is a good idea. I am trying to get an understanding of why the Government hasn’t reappointed anyone to such a position and I think having an identified person at the public service level to progress such negotiations, progress the multilateral and bilateral work that underpin it, is certainly important.

Certainly when I was Minister for Climate Change the Ambassador for Climate Change – I think it was Environment and we made it Climate Change, have they made it Environment again because they don’t like the words climate change?, something like that – was extremely important role and one that I, certainly as minister, deeply valued.

QUESTION: Richard Broinowski, immediate past President of AIIA New South Wales. The previous speaker, the Foreign Minister, made one reference to another existential problem, climate change. Can I say first though, a very quick comment, that there is no reason why we couldn’t sign on to the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty and maintain our support for International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Both of them go hand in hand in my view.

WONG: I think I spent some time in this speech and I’m sorry if I had to go through it in some detail, but I thought it was important outlining why I think, that is, with respect, a position that is a little simplistic.

QUESTION: Okay, let’s not debate that now. My question is about climate change. I’ve just voted in the electorate of Wentworth. The former Prime Minister’s son disinvolves himself from the Liberal Party, saying that they have no climate change policy. That seems to be the case. Does Labor have such a policy? Is it something that you’re very concerned about, as you are about nuclear disarmament, as an existential problem?

WONG: I’ll take those questions in reverse order. Yes. And I think if you look at my advocacy on this issue over a decade you would see my views about climate change.

It is an existential challenge. I think it is – I’m trying to find an adjective that is not too undiplomatic – but I think it is both deeply distressing and irresponsible, and frankly unworthy of a party of government the way in which the Liberal Party has allowed internal division to frustrate any progress on climate action in Australia for a decade. (applause).

When I was Climate Minister I got an agreement with Malcolm Turnbull in 2009 on an Emissions Trading Scheme and I worked very hard to get an agreement because I anticipated that this would become an issue where bipartisan support would be critical for two reasons. One is the political certainty and the second is the correlative reason is the investments you are talking about to create this sort of economic change are long lived investments, so you need that certainty.

Tony Abbott tore down Malcolm Turnbull in 2009 and prevented any progress. We finally introduced a version of the Emissions Trading Scheme and of course we then lost the election and we’ve had the sort of inaction and irresponsibility we’ve seen since then.

I’ve said very clearly, publicly, I do not believe we should be held back from climate action because Morrison hasn’t got a policy, because Malcolm Turnbull was too weak, because Tony Abbott wants a fight.

We do have a policy question within Labor on how we need to proceed given that the three mechanisms the Coalition have put on the table, which we left the door open on, they’ve now backed away from all of them because of their internal fights. They have no mechanism to meet their emissions target. So there is a domestic policy agenda that has to be given effect to as well as the multilateral agenda, which I am very committed to.

I do want to end – and you may well have heard this. I can remember reading CSIRO reports a decade ago, including one that said, for those who are from South Australia, that the Goyder Line, which is the line for arable land, would move south of Clare and that had a profound effect on me.

If you read the IPCC report that was released last week as I was Acting Shadow Climate Minister, it says that we risk, on current trajectory, passing 1.5 degrees by 2040. At my press conference that day I just said this: how old will you be in 2040? How old will your children be? How old will your grandchildren be and what sort of world do you want for them? So let’s actually get on with doing something.

Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra.