E&OE - PROOF ONLY
DAVID SPEERS: I want to turn to East Timor now. The Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong, is actually there right now. She’s been holding meetings with a number of people and joins us on the line.
Penny Wong, thank you for your time this afternoon.
SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: It’s good to be with you, David.
SPEERS: Let me just firstly ask you about East Timor because there’s an interesting issue here and that is the Timor Gap Treaty which Labor have said you are willing to open up for some renegotiation between our for two countries. Is that right?
WONG: The situation is that we don’t have an agreed maritime boundary with East Timor. And this is important because, for many reasons, but one of them is there are oil and gas reserves which are affected by that boundary. And this has been an issue of tension for many years, as many people in Australia who are close to this know.
My predecessor, Tanya Plibersek, articulated a very sound policy which was that we thought it was in Australia’s interests to resolve this issue. That Labor, should we have won the last election, would have sought to finalise the boundary either through conciliation and negotiation or if necessary arbitration.
The government criticised Labor for that but I’m pleased that they finally have essentially come to the same position and are now in a conciliation process which is aimed at finalising these maritime boundaries. And I think that’s a good thing for both Australia and for Timor-Leste.
SPEERS: What’s it potentially going to cost Australia though? Some might wonder because there is the Greater Sunrise Gas Field that will be affected by this maritime boundary. What’s potentially at stake for Australia?
WONG: Those are the sorts of issues that the two governments are currently negotiating through the conciliation process.
But I would make this point – I think this has been an ongoing sore in terms of our relation with Timor-Leste. It’s a country I think that, because we of the role we’ve had in its emergence into independence, because of its proximity to Australia, I think it’s a country about which we feel a great deal of affection and to which Australians have looked as a country that is making its way not only to independence, but now as a democracy.
I think it’s been a problem for us having this ongoing conflict and concern about the boundary. So I do think it is agood thing that the government has finally come to the position Labor has had and is engaging in a conciliation process for finalisation of the boundaries.
Now, in terms of Greater Sunrise, that will be affected and considered as part of that process and those sorts of issues will have to be resolved in the conciliation.
SPEERS: Can I ask you, Penny Wong, an issue back here? You are Labor’s Senate leader and I know you haven’t been here but the government has finally introduced its citizenship bill. I know Labor has been concerned about the tougher English language test for citizenship. It will require a competent level of reading, writing, listening and speaking. What’s your listening position on that?
WONG: Well, as I understand it’s looking at what Tony Burke has had to say about this, despite all the fanfare we’ve only just seen this legislation. Obviously Peter Dutton has felt the need to use this to further his leadership campaign by trying to use it to get himself on television a fair bit.
We’ll look at this closely. We did raise a concern about the level of English language competence which was required, whether that was really a sensible approach. And we’ll certainly look at detail at the legislation with an eye to making sure, as we always have, that citizenship demonstrates the allegiance to Australia that we all expect. And I think anybody who has been to citizenship ceremonies would see precisely the value of taking out Australian citizenship.
SPEERS: Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong, live there on the line from East Timor, appreciate your time this afternoon. We’ll talk again soon.