24 November 2017




SAMANTHA MAIDEN: We’re going to take you straight to Melbourne now where Labor’s Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Penny Wong joins us. Good Morning.


MAIDEN: I just want to ask you about this call that the Greens Leader Richard Di Natale has made this morning. We know that he sought legal advice in relation to the Governor-General. A lot of people have said, well, there’s nothing an individual Senator can do. That’s not really how the Constitution works. But he’s suggested today on the programme if the number of MPs referred to the High Court hits double digits and there is a real question mark over the legitimacy of Parliament, that perhaps the Governor-General should press pause on Royal Assent. What do you think of that idea?

WONG: I’ve been in a high level dialogue with the members of the Chinese Government and Government officials and the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, so, the first I’ve heard of this is what you have just told me.

What I would say is this; it is clear from the Prime Minister’s cancellation of the Parliament, his refusal to turn up to the democratic institution of Parliament because he is worried about his numbers, really goes to the legitimacy of this Prime Minister, which has been only added to by the sort of chaos we’ve seen at the moment. The tension around leadership and cabinet ministers accusing each other of leaking.

MAIDEN: Let’s move on then from there, and let you have a chance to look at that later and talk about the meeting you have just been in. We have heard that Labor thinks that some of the risks that are in this White Paper are overstated in relation to China. What has been the reaction from these Chinese officials that you have been talking to today about that White Paper?

WONG: Can I say first I think there is a lot that is good in this White Paper, and I said so yesterday. I think the Departmental officials have done a very good job in making sure they are clear about the sort of disruption we face, and also clear about the regional order. The importance of a stable, peaceful, regional order that we have enjoyed to date and we want to see continue. It has underpinned peace and prosperity and stability in the region.

In terms of discussions today, yes, there was discussion of the White Paper and it is a good thing to have those discussions. It is a good thing for China and Australia at the highest levels to engage in open, frank and clear dialogue.

My view, Sam, is we should approach China on this basis – we should approach China in the spirit of co-operation and with mutual respect. That is the way in which we should approach our relationship with China.

MAIDEN: Do you think that there is anything in this White Paper though that doesn’t hit the right note, that you don’t agree with?

WONG: There are always questions of nuance and so forth, but I think it does deal with the key issues that we were calling for it to deal with, frankly and appropriately.

I have already been critical of a couple of points. I have made the point that it is not much use talking of soft power and the importance of a resilient Pacific when you have taken $11 billion out of your aid budget, which goes directly to Australian soft power, which undercuts directly our capacity to support and strengthen the Pacific region.

I’ve also made the point that it is not much use talking about climate change if you don’t have a mechanism in your economy, domestically, to meet the targets you have asserted.

So, I have been critical of those points, but I am not going to be a petulant and petty as Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop were when they won government and expunged the work that the previous Labor Government had done, the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, which was digitally burned. We would, if we were to win government, we would take this White Paper and we would work with it. Because we think that is the appropriate way for foreign policy to be undertaken.

MAIDEN: What do you think the reaction has been there though? You have been in these high level meetings. These are people who are passionately engaged in this region. What do you think the reaction to the White Paper has been?

WONG: You have seen some of the public responses, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t. I think the White Paper does very clearly set out Australian interests. There are times when our interests and the interests of different nations are not the same, but that doesn’t mean we should shy away from them.

What the White Paper also says, and what the dialogue which I have just been in also says – as does the 45 years of relationship with China – what those things say is we recognise China’s importance to Australia, China’s importance to our region, China’s importance to the world. We’ll continue to invest in that relationship, to work on that relationship and, wherever we can, to find convergence with China whilst always looking, as they do, to our national interests.

MAIDEN: Now, I know as one former Foreign Minister used to say, you’ve got to zip. Before you go we learned today that Julie Bishop has texted her colleagues to say she has not the leaker and terrible colleagues of hers have leaked that too. How is she going? Has she WhatsApped you to tell you she is not the leaker?

WONG: We haven’t really discussed it. But it is an extraordinary situation isn’t it? You’ve got a foreign policy White Paper which did good work, which looks to Australia’s national interest in the years ahead and you’ve got a government incapable of advocating that and prosecuting that because they are too busy prosecuting each other. It is a sorry state of affairs in Australian politics under Malcolm Turnbull.

MAIDEN: Alright Penny Wong, thank you so much for your time there from State Parliament in Melbourne, thank you.

WONG: No worries.