6 April 2017




KIERAN GILBERT: Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong joins me live from Adelaide. A strong response from President Trump, he says his view of Assad has changed, but those that have watched this civil war, this atrocity over many years, would remember the sarin attack of 2013. This is just the latest in a long list of atrocities from Assad isn’t it?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Certainly he has been a leader who has been known for his cruel attacks and barbaric behaviour towards his own citizens and I think this has been confirmed. I agree with President Trump, this is a barbaric act, this is a criminal act and it’s also a great tragedy.

We join with the Government in urging the UN Security Council to act and we join with the President in urging Russia to exert its influence on the regime.

GILBERT: It adds another complexity to any political solution to this war doesn’t it, given some, of course the Russians among them, want Assad to remain? But how can he when he is so clearly a war criminal?

WONG: Russia has the capacity to influence, more than any other nation, the behaviour of the Assad regime and I think that it is incumbent upon them to use that influence well.

We saw awful images of this chemical attack. We have widespread condemnation from countries across the globe and really, Russia ought take the opportunity to do what humanity demands, which is to put pressure on the Assad regime to prevent further atrocities such as the one we’ve seen.

GILBERT: A huge security question now internationally is that on the Korean Peninsula. We saw another missile launched into the Sea of Japan yesterday and over the next 24 hours President Trump and President Xi of China will be meeting in Florida. That of course is the big issue – North Korea. If President Trump were to act unilaterally, that would have drastic consequences wouldn’t it for, not just US China relations, but the stability of the region more broadly?

WONG: Let’s start with a few principles. First you’re right, North Korea is a state which is destabilising, which is acting contrary to UN resolutions and contrary to national norms, and we utterly condemn the actions it has taken, particularly yesterday in relation to the missile.

In relation to the meeting between President Xi and President Trump I’d say this – a good relationship, a constructive relationship, a stable relationship between the United States and China is in the world’s interests. So, this is an important meeting, it’s a meeting in which all of us have a stake, obviously Australia has its stake.

When it comes to the region you’re right, what we see is a great deal of instability and concern in the region as a result of North Korea’s actions. The best way forward in managing that is for the US and China to act collaboratively to seek to contain the regime’s actions and we would certainly encourage for that to occur.

GILBERT: In relation to the Trump/Xi dialogue, you could not find two leaders more different could you? From the brash President to the very calculating and cautious Chinese President.

WONG: It’ll be interesting to see how they get along. We hope that they get on well because whilst the media might be focussed on the differences, and there are certainly differences in personalities, actually what is most important is the relationship between the nations.

We all have an interest, not just in President Xi and President Trump having a good dialogue, but in China and the US having a stable relationship, a constructive relationship. That’s critical to global security, certainly what Australia would want.

GILBERT: President Trump has been criticised for some of his appointments including having Steve Bannon, his chief strategist political adviser on the National Security Council. He’s now been removed from that, General Mattis as the chief adviser on that front obviously taking control. Bannon is off that. Do you welcome that move?

WONG: My view is these are matters for the Administration themselves to deal with. Obviously that’s a decision for the President, for the National Security Adviser, I’m not going to be engaging in commentary about their personnel.

GILBERT: What about our personnel here? You made a speech earlier in the week, which was very interesting in the sense you called for a shift in the way our dialogue is engaged in the terms of national security. Not diminishing the need to protect, and the traditional goals of the national security framework, but you’re saying there needs to be a different approach to it. Can you explain to our viewers what you meant by that?

WONG: Everybody understands the need for what we call strong kinetic responses, such as bollards, security guards and those sorts of direct-threat responses. The point I was making is what we need though is to ensure that the community at large works together to prevent these attacks from occurring, prevent radicalisation. We need to deal with the causes of radicalisation, we also need to work well with the community, so that any perpetrators can be identified and contained rapidly.

I made the point – which frankly Malcolm Turnbull has made and Bill Shorten – our best ally, our frontline ally in the fight against home-grown radicalisation, are of course, the Muslim community, and it is very unhelpful for people to be targeting all Muslims. Not just because I think that’s the wrong to do, but it actually makes us less safe.

GILBERT: It sounded like a more inclusive message that you’re arguing for, and you refer to the need to have the Muslim community working in our favour. Something that I remember David Irvine, the ASIO Director General said in his valedictory speech at the Press Club.

WONG: Yes that’s right. This is the consistent advice from the agencies. And we really need as a country to remember that dividing ourselves, setting some Australians apart from others, is never going to make us more safe.

So, politicians across the board have a responsibility to continue to argue for inclusion, the values of inclusion, and security for all peoples. Once we start to divide the community that way leads to not only division, but makes us less safe and less secure.

GILBERT: I want to return to focus on China just to conclude our discussion this morning, and this relates to a parliamentary delegation, which was due to be in China this week. A group of Federal politicians that were heading to China. Apparently the delegation was cancelled abruptly a couple of weeks ago after Australia supported a human rights letter of concern to the Chinese about human rights lawyers in China. This looks like a return action by the Chinese blocking this delegation. Do you know anything about this?

WONG: I’m not going to get into commentary about what did or didn’t happen and what the Chinese decision is about. I would make this point, these sorts of people to people contacts between all nations, and certainly between Australia and China are really important.

We do have different political systems and we’ve navigated those for use, and on occasions we have differences of views. But engagement at a Parliamentary level, at a level of the executive, at people-to-people level, is extremely important to the bilateral relationship, and I would encourage those engagements to continue, and I’d encourage more of them.

GILBERT: But in relation to this case, is this how you understand it, that they were meant to go; blocked after that letter was received?

WONG: I’m not a member of that delegation, so I haven’t been party to the precise arrangements. But I’d again say Kieran, whatever the reasons behind it, what we should continue to advocate to the Chinese people and to the Chinese Government is that our bilateral relationship is strengthened to the benefit of both parties when you have this sort of engagement between our Parliament and the Chinese Party.

GILBERT: Shadow Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, appreciate your time, thanks for that.

WONG: Good to be with you.