21 May 2020




PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well, joining me now is the Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong. Good morning to you Penny Wong. Thanks so much for joining us. So first of all, those comments from Mike Pompeo are very strong, what are your thoughts on them?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well, I agree with Secretary Pompeo, as we all do, that economic coercion of any sort is unacceptable in today’s world.

What I would say to Secretary Pompeo is we welcome his friendship. We welcome the friendship of the US and the Trump administration. And in that vein, I hope that he and others will ensure that the trade deal between President Trump and President Xi doesn’t disadvantage Australian farmers because our farmers need all the support we can give them at this time.

STEFANOVIC: When you link those comments from Mike Pompeo to that tweet that I was just talking about from Donald Trump this morning where he where he said ‘it’s the incompetence of China that do this mass worldwide killing’, does that end up helping us or hurting us?

WONG: Look, I think I’ve spoken before on this show that I wasn’t proposing when President Trump got elected to comment on every tweet, that was probably a pretty good policy, I have to say.

I would make this point; President Trump’s tweeted a lot. He’s also tweeted recently, I think in March, praising China for their response.

More broadly, from Australia’s perspective, you know, we have a challenging relationship with China. It’s an important relationship. It is challenging, we have to manage difference. And my view is from our end, escalating rhetoric isn’t helpful.

We have to learn to, and we have to operate on managing difference in a way that serves Australia’s national interest.

STEFANOVIC: Is there a cruel irony that in all of this, in this trade stoush when it comes to our barley, that the tariffs placed on our barley, may will be to make way for American barley?

WONG: It’s a very good question, Peter, and it’s the point I’ve been making. And I really would say to the Federal Government, to Scott Morrison, you need to come clean.

I asked questions about this trade deal in the Parliament. It is clear that the US-China trade deal does give great benefits to American farmers – $40 billion worth of agricultural product going into the Chinese market this year and next year.

Even the Department said there was the possibility or likelihood that this might lead to what they call displacement; in other words, other exports being squeezed out.

So, you know, we want to make sure not only do we have to manage the issues we have with China, but we don’t want our friends putting us in a position where we’re disadvantaged because there’s a deal between President Trump and President Xi.

STEFANOVIC: Do you support the comments made by the Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas, that the barley tariffs were a consequence of the Government’s push for an inquiry?

WONG: Look, I’ve taken a different view. We’ve taken the view that the Government has taken, that the two matters are not linked and nor should they be.

We’ve continued to support the inquiry because we do think it’s in not just in Australia’s interests, but in the world’s interest to make sure we know how this began, how this pandemic began, and how we can ensure the world better responds to it.

STEFANOVIC: But do you think those comments could well be motivated by Victoria’s links to China and its Belt and Road Initiative?

WONG: Look, I think that’s a pretty long bow. My assessment of the Victorian Government is they probably do what most Governments try to do, which is the best they can do for their electorates.

On the BRI, the Government, the Federal Government hasn’t placed a restriction on engagement in the BRI by State governments.

The view Labor takes is it should be on a case by case basis, we should look to the national interest.

This was obviously an issue in the previous state election that got a lot of airplay and Daniel’s government, the Victorian people spoke.

STEFANOVIC: Is that the problem with the BRI, in your opinion, that you can get wedged on these matters?

WONG: I think there’s a broader issue here, which is how do we engage with China, whether it’s BRI or other matters.

And I’ve made this point; China is an authoritarian, one party state. We’re a democracy, that’s going to make, that’s going to mean, there are differences we have to manage. We have different interests, but we have a very important economic relationship. And we also have a very important relationship, because China is a great power in the region and globally.

So, we have to work through as a country, how we engage, where we engage, what guidelines we associate with such engagement. And also the willingness to be very clear when we’re not going to change our position, even if China doesn’t like it and the inquiry is one of those examples.

STEFANOVIC: Angus Taylor, giving a key speech later on this morning, climate change policy is back. Have you missed it?

WONG: This is their 19th policy, I think in seven years.

So all I thought when I saw the reports on this was, well, seven years into Government, and we still don’t have an energy policy. And the consequence of that is higher energy prices and less reliability.

STEFANOVIC: I want to pick out a couple of points that I have noted this morning. First of all, it seems the Government’s easing up on coal. Gas and hydrogen, and in particular, even nuclear could be the way in the future. What’s your thoughts on that?

WONG: Well, I’m pretty surprised that we’re recycling the nuclear argument. I guess that’s what you do when you haven’t had an energy policy in Government for seven years and really, since 2009, that’s been the Coalition’s position.

You know, nuclear would take, apart from all of the environmental issues, we know the length of time and the sort of public investment that would be required for nuclear and it doesn’t stack up.

I mean, the problem with all of this is that this is a policy mess, which consumers are paying for driven by an internal division inside the Liberal Party and they just can’t get over it.

STEFANOVIC: Ok, carbon capture and storage. Does this have merit?

WONG: Well, when I was Climate Minister, I actually put, with Kevin Rudd, quite a lot of resources into CCS. I have to say that, in hindsight, looking back, some things progressed much faster. Certainly renewables got much cheaper, much more quickly, much more accessible than we anticipated in 2008.

I think CCS, it’d be fair to say, didn’t progress as much as it could.

Angus can put up as much, and as many ideas as he likes. But fundamentally, they’ve got no coherent policies. I said, 19th policy in seven years, and they’re not going to have a policy that makes any sense because they’ve got a whole bunch of people who hate renewables, and that’s the end of the matter.

STEFANOVIC: Federal Labor, though, has taken emissions reduction policies on emissions, including carbon price, to elections for the last decade, given that they get rejected all the time, I mean, is it time that Labor should reject those for good?

WONG: Well, look, I’ll leave it to my very able colleague, Mark Butler, to have a discussion between now and the next election about what our policy will be. But I’ll tell you what the central focus will be under Anthony Albanese, and that will be Australian jobs. It’ll be a climate policy that’s all about jobs.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, just finally, Penny Wong, an almighty brouhaha emerging at the moment between state leaders over borders, your state, should these borders open?

WONG: Look, I just think if the public health advice to each Premier says either you can open the borders or you can close the borders. Surely that is what the Premier should do.

And when I looked at what Annastacia Palaszczuk has said, when I look at what Daniel Andrews has said, when I look at what Steven Marshall has said, Liberal Premier here in South Australia, it’s clear they’re taking the best advice they can from their state public health officials. Surely that’s what we want them to do.

Obviously the economy is important, but you know, we’ve done such a good job as a country, all of us together, in making sure we didn’t get overwhelmed in the way we’ve seen in countries around the world, the tragic images we’ve seen. So let’s not undo the good work now.

STEFANOVIC: But then you’ve, you know, you’ve got the federal advice, the federal health advice, saying that, you know, the borders should never have been closed. And as a result of that, you’ve got tourism sectors that are being absolutely decimated.

WONG: And as a result, in part, of the borders being closed in South Australia is that we have had, I think it’s now 13 or 14 days without a new infection, and the primary vector of new infections in South Australia, new cases, was from overseas and interstate. So I think the proof is in the pudding.

I’m not going to get into arguments between public health experts.

But I think Steven Marshall, Liberal Premier in South Australia, should take the advice of our Public Health Officer here, Nicola Spurrier, who has done a great job and I assume Daniel Andrews is doing precisely the same thing as is Annastacia Palaszczuk.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong. Appreciate your time this morning. Thanks so much for joining us.

WONG: Yeah, great to be with you.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.