30 August 2018




KIERAN GILBERT: We’re joined by the Shadow Foreign Minister and Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Penny Wong. This is a positive development isn’t it, the free trade agreement with Indonesia – you’d welcome that?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good morning Kieran. Yes, this is a very important relationship for us. Indonesia is critical to our national security and to our ongoing economic prosperity, particularly as they become such a large economy by 2050. Unfortunately, it is the case that the economic relationship is pretty thin, and in fact has worsened under this Government. Whilst our trade with the world has grown, trade with Indonesia has actually declined, so there’s a lot of work to do. But yes, we support upgrading the relationship, we support increasing our economic engagement. It’s an important relationship for Australia and Mr Morrison is doing the right thing as many previous leaders and Foreign Ministers have done in making sure that Indonesia is an early visit and an early priority.

GILBERT: It’s such a massive market and neighbour, why is it so undercooked in your view – the relationship that is?

WONG: I gave a speech a couple of weeks ago – probably in the middle of all of the leadership woes of the Government – and I made the point that others have made that when you’ve got an economic relationship which is thin, that’s going to affect whether or not you can have a genuine strategic partnerships. So we do have to work at it; government has to work at it, the private sector has to work at it.

One of the ideas that Labor has put forward, which I think is a very important step if we were to win government, is to make sure that the Treasurer and the Trade Minister also have a two-plus-two dialogue with their Indonesian counterparts to explore the ways in which we can build a stronger economic relationship. We know it’s a priority and we also know, whilst we support upgrading the relationship, it takes more than a signature by Mr Morrison on a piece of paper to ensure we have the relationship we want with Indonesia.

GILBERT: As a former Climate Minister, are you encouraged by the language that you heard there from Mr Morrison in relation to his argument about splitting the two portfolios. He says Angus Taylor is about reducing prices; Melissa Price the new Environment Minister is about meeting commitments, including he said specifically there, the emission reduction commitments under Paris.

WONG: He’s trying to have his cake and eat it too when it comes to the division inside his party room. The reality is if you don’t have an energy policy that reduces emissions and pollution, you’re not going to meet the Paris targets and you’re not going to be part of the solution, and instead part of the problem when it comes to climate change.

Angus Taylor, he might be a fresh face, but it’s the same old ideas. It is the Tony Abbott, Peter Dutton, hard-right ideologues who are anti renewable and want to argue the science of climate change and more importantly argue whether we should do something about it. I don’t think there’s been a Climate Minister, an Energy Minister who’s been more anti renewable than Angus Taylor. So fresh face, same old hardline, head in the sand ideas.

GILBERT: He says he just wants the best energy mix without subsidies to bring prices down, that’s effectively his argument.

WONG: If you look at the advice of the Energy Security Board that advised not only Mr Turnbull but Scott Morrison and the entirety of the government, they made very clear that the cheapest way forward is not coal-fired power, but the cheapest way forward in terms of new energy is a mix of renewables, including things like pumped hydro but solar and wind. The reality is they don’t want to hear that advice because they have an ideological position, so he can dress up his language all he likes but we know he’s actually just Peter Dutton, Tony Abbott with a fresher face.

GILBERT: There’s a joint declaration being planned out of the Pacific Island Leaders Forum and The Sydney Morning Herald reports they’ve seen a copy of that where the various nations of the Pacific will sign on. It’s not just about climate change, it’s about various other things like humanitarian assistance, crime and so on, but climate change is a significant element of it. I just want to read a bit to you because this is what the Morrison Government will be asked to sign via the Foreign Minister Marise Payne at the end of the week and it says “we as a Pacific reaffirm that climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific and our commitment to progress the implementation of the Paris Agreement”. Australia’s been part of formulating that declaration, if they sign it that would be a very encouraging signal to the region.

WONG: Look, we absolutely have to not only work with, but provide with them, the collective leadership on climate change for Pacific Island nations. This has always been the case. When we came to government over 10 years ago and ratified Kyoto, one of the things that we did was to work with Pacific island nations on the international negotiations and on climate initiatives because for them this is a front and centre existential threat. Now, it is really disappointing that this Government has been so bad when it comes to not only climate initiatives but when it comes to aid. It has cut aid by $11 billion and the Pacific has felt the impact of those cuts.

But can I make a broader point about the Pacific here, and I know this has been a topic you’ve been pursuing. Since Scott Morrison has become Prime Minister, what has he done? He’s downgraded the role of the person handling the Pacific from a Minister to a parliamentary secretary. He’s given it to someone who – Anne Ruston – in her own words said she has “no idea” why she’s been given the job. And now he’s cancelled the leaders visit as part of the Pacific Islands Forum, which is a leaders forum. They are not the signals we need to send to a region that is so important to us both economically but also in terms of our national security.

GILBERT: When you talk about national security, obviously that’s in the context of the Chinese quite significantly lifting their international development assistance in the Pacific. If we were to diminish that contribution on the one hand via say, for example, Paris, which the Pacific neighbours are so committed to, so passionate about, would that make us vulnerable to that sort of, I guess strategic rebalancing in the region?

WONG: Well this is our region and we want to be the partner of choice. We want to make sure we work closely with them. We want to make sure we are the natural partner of choice. We’ve got a lot of work to do under this Government, not only the aid cuts, but frankly, statements like Peter Dutton’s which you might recall where he joked about the experience of Pacific island nations where he said “it’s hard to stay on time when the waves are lapping at your doorstep”. Well I’ve been to Solomon Islands and I’ve been to Marshall Islands and I’ve spoken to Pacific island leaders and individuals about their experience of climate change. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and unfortunately on this Scott Morrison has not got off to a good start.

GILBERT: Julia Banks, Member for Chisholm, has announced she’s standing down at the election. You’ve been on the other side of these leadership changes and they can be very difficult things to navigate. I know you and others within the Labor Party remember very vividly.

WONG: Yes, but what we’re talking about is not the emotional difficulty of navigating those hard choices. We’re talking about somebody who was elected who said she was bullied and intimidated last week and that that has led to her resigning from the Parliament. I mean this is a different order of concern, a different order of events.

I would make three points. First, bullying and intimidation are not acceptable in any workplace. Secondly, Peter Dutton in whose name this alleged bullying and intimidation occurred needs to front up. Did he know about it? What did he know? And third, Scott Morrison can’t sweep this under the carpet. He’s got someone who’s resigned from the Parliament as a consequence of behaviour. He has to name the individuals, identify the individuals and he has to ensure that action is taken against them.

GILBERT: A couple of other issues I do want to get your thoughts on quickly if we can. Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence army officer in the United States jailed for seven years. Should she be allowed to come to Australia to speak or not?

WONG: I heard Scott Morrison answer that question by ducking it. I probably would say to him every decision of the government is a decision the Prime Minister has to be accountable for. On this, the government needs to be clear about what its position is and why. She is a controversial figure, strongly supported by some parts of the Australian population, strongly criticised by others. If they make a decision, and they are entitled to under the legislation, if they make a decision that she ought not be granted a visa I think it is incumbent upon the Minister to explain why. Of course a more light-hearted response might be that if Chelsea Manning came as an au pair, she might have a better chance of getting in under Peter Dutton.

GILBERT: Let’s finish just quickly on one other thing. I know that you gave a very gracious and very complimentary statement about Julie Bishop’s contribution as Foreign Minister – a “trailblazer” you say; you appreciated her commitment to bipartisanship and her personal courtesy to you. Why isn’t Mr Shorten more positive when it comes to talk of Julie Bishop as Governor-General? There are precedents for foreign ministers to be appointed Governor-General. Mr Hawke did so with Bill Hayden and it’s happened a number of times over the last century.

WONG: I think Bill’s very sensibly pointed out that given possible timing of the election, given the position of the important, nonpartisan, above party politics position of the Governor-General, that it would be sensible to extend the existing Governor-General’s term for a period to allow any incoming government, or if this government is returned, them, to appoint a Governor-General. I think that is a sensible position.

On Julie, I did issue a statement and whilst I’m sure there are times we’ve had differences, and she’s a political opponent, I think it is important to recognise a contribution people make to public life. She has been an effective, highly competent and very hardworking foreign minister, and as I said, we have never doubted her commitment to representing Australia and advocating Australia’s interests. I think she’s been poorly treated by her party, she’s very well regarded in the community and I do want to recognise the contribution she’s made.

GILBERT: Shadow Foreign Minister and Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Penny Wong, we’ll talk to you soon, I appreciate your time.

WONG: Good to speak with you.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.