3 May 2018




KIERAN GILBERT: Live to Adelaide now, the Shadow Foreign Minister and Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Penny Wong. Thanks for your time.

It was a very clear message from Mike Pompeo, the new Secretary of State to the diplomats there at the State Department, saying that the State Department “will get its swagger back” as he put it. Also to Kim Jong-un, in this, his first official day as Secretary of State, he says “this is an unprecedented opportunity to change the course of history on the Korean Peninsula” but “I underscore the word opportunity”. What do you say to those remarks this morning?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: First, we welcome his confirmation, his swearing-in, and also the words that he spoke to the State Department which project a confidence and a willingness to ensure that American diplomacy continues to operate around the world and is strengthened and that is a good thing.

My view is we approach this upcoming summit and the developments in relation to North Korea with both hope and caution and I agree with the Secretary that this is an opportunity. But he is right to continue to assert the position that the world holds in relation to North Korea and that is it must commit to permanent, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation, the removal of the capability. So he is right to both point to opportunity but also underscore what the US and the world’s position is in relation to its nuclear capability.

GILBERT: As I discussed with Cameron Stewart a couple moments ago, with Pompeo saying that we’re in the beginning stages here one thing is certain he says, the Administration will not repeat the mistakes of the past, “our eyes are wide open”, “it’s times to solve this once and for all” that sort of language. If Kim Jong-un thinks he is playing the Trump Administration, Pompeo is saying maybe not, you should think again.

WONG: Well again, hope and caution, and the caution comes from the lessons of history which the Secretary of State is rightly referencing which is we’ve seen this before from previous leaders. We’ve seen North Korea make commitments to President Clinton, to President Bush which were reneged upon. And we’ve seen this sort of behaviour where it looked like there was some hope of a more sensible path and then they took a different one.

So it is an important point for the Secretary to keep asserting what the position is. And the point we have all made is that whilst these are unprecedented events and they are events we all hope will yield an outcome, we have to remember that the international community must stand together resolute in the imposition of sanctions and ensuring that economic and diplomatic pressure continue on North Korea.

GILBERT: And what is your view on how we have got to this point? Foreign Minister Bishop has been very positive about the Trump approach in ending what was known as the doctrine of strategic patience when it came to North Korea, because that just let them make incremental gains in the view of our government and others including Donald Trump. But what’s your take on what brought this to a possible resolution?

WONG: There are many factors. There is no doubt that President Trump’s approach has shaken things up and that has prompted a recalculation by many players and actors in the region. We’ve seen China more engaged. We’ve seen the international community, including China, putting in place much stronger sanctions and much stronger pressure on North Korea. On a less positive note some might suggest that North Korea also believes it has sufficient capability to bring people to the table. So there are a range of reasons why this might have occurred.

We are at a point where there is an opportunity, as Secretary Pompeo has said. I hope, we all hope, that this can lead to the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

GILBERT: Emmanuel Macron is wrapping up his visit here. He said yesterday it is necessary to introduce balance in the region, and it is important not to have any hegemony. This was in the context of China. Is there more scope in our relations with the French, particularly in the Pacific in a strategic sense or a counterbalance sense to the assertiveness of China?

WONG: The French are a Pacific power and we welcome more engagement, a deeper cooperation with them.

What I would say is two points. The first is if you read President Macron’s speech to the US Congress I think what he articulated there were values and interests that we share. As he said, balance in the region, stronger multilateralism, a regional order in the 21st century world order that isn’t predicated on hegemony.

The second point on the Pacific – and I know you have spoken to me and to Richard (Marles) about this previously – is obviously Australia needs to do better. We need to do more. We’ve seen a lack of focus by the Prime Minister and others on the region. We’ve seen more competition in the region which we have spoken about.

So we do need to work with other partners but we also need to ensure we pay attention, we work in partnership and the government should ensure that there are no further aid cuts in the Budget which is handed down next week. We need to work harder and making sure you maintain and increase your aid budget is part of that. Instead the government has been going in the other direction with $11 billion in cuts.

GILBERT: So let’s pick up on that because I’m interested in your thoughts on foreign aid spending less than a week out now from that Budget. Can we expect in the Budget reply an increase on that front, given not just the humanitarian idea but, as you rightly point out, there are strategic implications as well out of overseas development?

WONG: That’s right. We have an interest in a peaceful, stable and prosperous Pacific and international development assistance is part of that.

I’ve already made the commitment as Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister that we will spend more than the government. We will invest more than the government in international development and we will be clear about the quantum of that prior to the election.

But really the test is for the government here. There is not much point bringing out a White Paper that talks about increasing soft power when you are cutting development assistance which is part of that and that is what Julie Bishop has done. The government really needs to make sure it puts its money where its mouth is and stops using the international development budget as an ATM to fund company tax cuts.

GILBERT: Did you regret the fact that it was the Gillard Government that first stopped that trajectory to the original goals set by Kevin Rudd, which would have met the Millennium Development Goals? It was Julia Gillard’s Government that paused that trajectory, that’s the history?

WONG: The history is aid increased in every year we were in government. Aid in this Government has been cut by $11 billion.

GILBERT: But that trajectory..

WONG: You can talk about trajectories, how about real cuts? We are at the lowest level of international development assistance since records began. That’s what has happened under this government. You can’t project power in your region if you are walking away from it.

GILBERT: Onto this poll that we have done, Sky News and Reachtel, it shows there is strong support for this idea of a 90 day limit for asylum seekers in the offshore centres of Manus and Nauru. This is something put forward as draft platform by Shayne Neumann to have a 90 day limit. Is this an idea that you support?

WONG: The principle of offshore processing being temporary is of course a Labor principle and it has been really appalling the way in which Peter Dutton and others in this government have used offshore professing as an indefinite detention.

I think what your polls shows is that Australians do understand the importance of breaking the people smuggling business model, of making sure that we don’t have in place incentives for people to get on boats, but, they do want a system which is reasonable and fair and this government has turned offshore processing into a system of indefinite, and at times, punitive detention. I think what this poll shows is that is not where most Australians are and that is certainly not the approach Labor is taking if we are to win government.

GILBERT: Do you support the idea of a 90 day limit on Manus and Nauru for those asylum seekers? Is this something you’d advocate at the Conference?

WONG: It seems to me we should be advocating for detention for processing purposes to be limited. It’ll be a matter for Shayne about how we approach that. We don’t have a specific limit in our policy currently and these will be matters that the National Conference will discuss.

I think the more important point is what is the purpose of offshore processing? It doesn’t have a purpose of indefinite detention and that has always been our position.

GILBERT: The risk though is, you’ve got that policy on the one hand of supporting the offshore processing and that these people won’t be resettled here, if you get to any limits set by Labor what do you do then?

WONG: The point is, you want a system that is temporary and you need to ensure there are countries of resettlement, third countries, and what have we seen in the years of this government? Inaction on that.

My view is that if Labor had been in government that would have been a diplomatic priority for us, to ensure, in the context of increasing our humanitarian intake, that we negotiated third country resettlement options. That has not been a priority for this government.

GILBERT: On to some economic stories. As we mention, the Budget looming, some numbers done by AlphaBeta run by the former Kevin Rudd adviser Andrew Charlton. The front page of the Australian shows those companies that have received their first wave of tax cuts created jobs 24 percent faster than those that missed out. Is this an endorsement of the government’s economic prescription?

WONG: Let’s dig into the figures that that survey actually showed. It showed the majority of companies – and remember, these are small and medium enterprise companies where you might suggest that the behaviour might be different to say the Commonwealth Bank – but the majority of the businesses that got a tax cut actually banked it and fewer than 1 in 5 employed more people.

So if they’re the statistics that the government is relying on, it is no wonder that the BCA members refused to sign a letter that guaranteed higher employment as a consequence of this $65 plus billion – it will be more, I’m sure, at the next Budget update – but this $65 billion tax cut this government wants to hand out to big business and to foreign shareholders.

GILBERT: But half the cut went to wages, investment or growth – that’s pretty significant isn’t it?

WONG: I think it’s about 19 percent actually led to higher employment, and over 50 percent banked the cut if you look at the statistics. As I said, it isn’t any surprise is it, that you’ve got the BCA and some of its members refusing to sign a letter to the government saying we’re going to employ more Australians.

GILBERT: Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong, appreciate your time as always, we’ll talk to you soon.

WONG: Nice to speak to you Kieran.

Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra.