9 March 2018




SAMANTHA MAIDEN: Joining us right now from Adelaide is Labor’s Penny Wong to speak to us about the tariff decision. Good morning Penny.


MAIDEN: Good. Is there fresh hope this morning that Australia will secure an exemption and will that go far enough in protecting Australian business from these US tariffs?

WONG: I hope so. We know that overnight, our time, the President did sign the proclamation giving effect to the tariffs on steel and aluminium and the only countries that are specifically exempted at this point are Canada and Mexico. He has however made some positive comments about Australia.

I would note that it is somewhat surprising and disappointing we’re in this situation where we still see this sort of confusion given that the Prime Minister did indicate last year that he had secured the exemption that we are now seeking.

We certainly support the Government in all of their efforts to deliver the deal that we were told, the country was told, the Prime Minister had obtained in relation to the imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminium.

MAIDEN: If those exemptions are secured does that suggest that Labor was a little premature in those criticisms? Steven Ciobo once again pointing out this morning that Labor said the TPP was dead, and this morning he was signing it.

WONG: That’s a long bow. I think it is not unreasonable for the country to say to the Prime Minister you said you had an agreement, it should be delivered.

We have been very supportive of actions the Government is taking. We have said there is bipartisan support for the securing of these exemptions and so I think that is a sensible place to be. It is undeniable the Prime Minister had already indicated to the country that he had secured agreement and we look forward to that being delivered.

In relation to the Trans-Pacific Partnership I would make a couple of points. The first is the way Labor has always approached trade is to look at the effect on the Australian economy and on jobs and we hope the Government will take up our suggestion of ensuring that there is independent modelling to demonstrate the benefit of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Mark 2.

I’ve made the broader point though, as Foreign Affairs spokesperson, that there is an additional strategic benefit to the countries of the region, particularly at this time, coming together to engage in these sorts of arrangements. It is the case that co-operation on trade, co-operation on economic prosperity is a good thing for peace and stability.

MAIDEN: Okay, now Bill Shorten has announced today that a Labor Government will triple the penalties for circumventing trade remedies, boost the funding for the Anti-Dumping Commission. Why do you think this is necessary?

WONG: It is necessary because the imposition of tariffs that the United States Administration is engaging in has a number of effects. The first is the obvious, immediate effect that you started the interview with which is the effect on Australian exporters. We obviously want to make sure that they are not affected, that they are exempted from the tariffs.

But the second effect is a flow-on effect and that is there are nations that can’t sell into the US market, looking for somewhere to sell into, looking for somewhere to put their steel and aluminium, to send their steel and aluminium. There is a risk that can occur in a way that contravenes the existing trade system, multilateral trade system. That’s why countries do have anti-dumping arrangements. They are safeguards. They are protections against the trade system not being observed and what Bill has announced is in recognition that there may well be the risk of more dumping activity as a consequence of the Trump Administration’s imposition of tariffs.

MAIDEN: Okay, now just in the last hour the US President has created a bit of chaos in the press briefing room. He’s walked into the briefing room in the White House and said that there’s about to be a major announcement in relation to South Korea.

Now some reporters in the US; a Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin, is reporting that US officials are telling her that a South Korea national security adviser will announce at 7pm from the White House an invitation from Kim Jong-un to meet Donald Trump. No change to planned US/South Korea military exercises in April and a commitment by Kim Jong-un to stop nuclear and missile testing. If that is indeed the announcement that we’re about to hear, do you think that the world can really trust these pronouncements from North Korea.

WONG: Well I think the world has learnt over many years regrettably, that it is very difficult to trust assurances given by the North Korean regime. Having said that, what do we have to do? We have to continue to put pressure on the regime and I think the international community has done so. The international community, the UN Security Council has worked together to put in place sanctions to exert the maximum diplomatic pressure and that’s a good thing.

It is sensible to keep talking, it’s always better to talk than to not talk but as Mr Turnbull has said, as Labor has said, it must always be with the recognition that we don’t step back one inch from the demands that the international community is making of the regime to ensure that they desist from their violation of international and UN Security Council resolutions.

MAIDEN: Do you think that President Trump should meet with Kim Jong-un?

WONG: Well, that’s a matter for the President. Certainly that would get some attention, wouldn’t it? But the more important thing is whether or not we can get the regime off the path it’s currently on. The path it’s currently on is a threat to peace and security in the region and worldwide that is demonstrable so we need to get them off that path and we need to continue the pressure. Dialogue is a good thing, but we need to continue the pressure to ensure that denuclearisation is in fact what occurs.

MAIDEN: Yeah, I mean we should stress obviously these are unconfirmed reports at this stage but that is certainly what some outlets, including Fox News, are reporting in the United States. But just as a principle, should someone such as Donald Trump really meet with a dictator who has starved his people? Is that what we need to do to secure peace in that region or is it just not appropriate?

WONG: As you have correctly identified these are unconfirmed reports, I’m not going to get drawn into commenting on details of things which may or may not happen.

I think the principles are clear, the regime is a threat to peace and security, the international community has to resolutely continue to work together to put pressure on them to get off the path they’re on.

Dialogue may be a part of that but they can never be at the expense of the sort of pressure that we’ve seen applied to the regime to date. They’re the principles and I’m sure that’s the way in which the US and indeed other nations will continue to approach the regime.

MAIDEN: Alright, well it sounds like it is going to be a big day in foreign politics for Australia and no doubt the world, but thank you very much for your time today, we appreciate it. I know you’ve just been at an International Women’s Day Breakfast with more than 3,000 women marking the big day so thank you for finding time for us here at Sky News as well.

WONG: Yes, 3,000 of my closest friends, thanks very much Sam.