10 August 2017




KIERAN GILBERT: Penny Wong, thanks for your time. Another threat from Pyongyang. They’re threatening four intermediate missiles on the US territory of Guam. How likely is a confrontation right now, a military confrontation?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: We know that North Korea is the greatest threat to regional stability, to global peace that we see and it is concerning. But I agree with Julie Bishop, the path to resolving this must be de-escalation, dialogue and the reduction of tensions. The solution is obviously for North Korea to heed the international community’s pressure, including the most recent round of UN Security Council resolutions.

GILBERT: That makes sense, but the problem is that’s not the approach of the President. He’s talking about fire and fury to be rained down on North Korea.

WONG: I don’t think me responding to rhetorical flourishes is what I am going to do. I would again simply say this is a risk and a threat to the global community, to regional stability, and what we need is all countries to work together to de-escalate and to resolve these issues. And we would particularly urge the US to work with China and China to work with the US, together, to resolve this issue.

GILBERT: Surely the North Koreans know though that their deterrent is only a deterrent until they use it and then it becomes suicide effectively for that regime?

WONG: It is difficult to discern what is in the mind of the North Koreans, but again what I’d say is the most important thing here is for cool heads globally to work together to seek to de-escalate this. It is a situation which has been on an escalatory trajectory, not just in recent months but for some years, and it is critical that China play its part, it is critical that the US work with China to resolve these tensions.

GILBERT: There are limited military options anyway, aren’t there? If there were to be a strike, a pre-emptive strike by the Trump Administration, the allies, particularly South Korea, Japan, they would face enormous damage, enormous casualties.

WONG: You only have to look at the geography of the region to understand that and we have to be very clear-eyed about the risks of military action as many people have pointed out, including Mr Ciobo.

GILBERT: Is it possible?

WONG: Someone in my position is not going to be drawn into those sorts of hypotheticals. The thing I would continue to say is that we need to be clear-eyed about the risks of military conflict and urge the nations of the world, particularly the United States and China, to work together to resolve this.

GILBERT: Before we get on to the marriage debate, a quick question in relation to the consular matter in Colombia right now, a judge rejecting the plea bargain for that young South Australian drug smuggler, facing now potentially 30 years in jail.

WONG: I’ve seen those reports and obviously that is deeply concerning for her family. But what I would say is on consular matters it’s generally best for there to be no public comments and that is the approach I intend to take.

GILBERT: On the marriage debate it was a very powerful speech from you yesterday in the Senate.

WONG: I guess that is for others to judge isn’t it? But I think this is a very difficult debate and it is also a sad debate. It’s sad that some Australians are having to be confronted by this sort of debate in order to gain rights that the Parliament could, and should, simply vote on.

GILBERT: I’ve never faced the sort of bigotry that you discussed yesterday so it’s impossible to imagine some of the difficulties that couples are facing in trying to look after and protect their kids. Is there an argument to say if you move towards a postal plebiscite that the goodwill in this country towards gay couples would overwhelm the negativity, because there a great deal of goodwill?

WONG: I hope so and my experience of our life is that most Australians are far more generous spirited and frankly have a lot more honour than many of the people who are arguing this in the Parliament from the other side. I hope so.

I’ve never worried about the good-hearted people. I worried about those who are not of good heart who want to use children as a political pawn in this debate and I think that is objectionable. It is also illogical because it is not like we’re not going to have kids – we’ve already got children – it’s just a question of whether or not we can get married. So I think it is a pretty low way to approach this debate.

GILBERT: In the context of the postal ballot is it now likely that Labor – while you don’t think it’s the right way to go – that the labor movement, that the unions, GetUp!, if they all combine along with the Greens and others – my understanding is the Greens won’t boycott it – but if there is a campaign run, that you just get on and win it.

WONG: First on this postal survey and that’s all it is, it’s actually just a postal survey it’s not even a proper vote. It is one big massive, expensive handball because Malcolm Turnbull has no spine and it’s really very disappointing that he’s done that. We support marriage equality, that’s our party’s position; a clear position from our party. We’re not going to be walking away from that support.

GILBERT: Well in that context, is it likely then that you’ll get on and win the vote? Because it could be done by Christmas then?

WONG: I’ve been advocating for change on this issue for a long time including inside my party until we changed the position, which I was very pleased about. You wouldn’t expect me ever to walk away from an argument or fight to get this reform through.

GILBERT: And again I go back to that point that the polls show a majority of Australians want it done. The goodwill in the community is there, and I know there’s negativity – it’s awful some of the stuff that’s been thrown at same-sex couples – but I would argue that surely in the community there’s a lot of support too isn’t there?

WONG: I think there is and I think most people have just moved on. I think most people just don’t understand why we’re still debating it. We will always argue for change whether it’s in the context of the postal vote or elsewhere. We will always argue for change and if it doesn’t occur in this Parliament, and we’re lucky enough to win government , if the Australian people entrust us with government, we’ll legislate it.

GILBERT: Finally, isn’t there a fair argument from the Prime Minister to say that people should have a say in the sense that it’s been an evolving view in terms of support for same-sex marriage within your party, within the community more broadly?

WONG: Yes it has been an evolving view and things have moved on a long way in the last decade. But we haven’t had a plebiscite or a postal survey – a non-binding postal survey – that’s going to cost $120 million, which could be much better spent elsewhere. We didn’t have that on the Racial Discrimination Act or the Sex Discrimination Act or the abolition of the White Australia policy or the introduction of Native Title or women getting equal pay or many other things. Why this? And the only reason is, the internals of the Liberal party room.

GILBERT: Penny Wong, thanks for your time, appreciate it.

WONG: Good to be with you.