8 June 2017




SAMANTHA MAIDEN: Thanks for your time today Senator Wong. I want to begin, before we get to the news of the day, to take stock of the two deaths of these young Australian women who died in the London terror attacks – Kirsty Boden from South Australia, of course, and Sara Zelenak from Queensland.

Do you think that there is some way that Australia, with, obviously consultation with the families, could find a way to honour the memory of these two women, both of whom showed such enormous bravery in that moment?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Thank you for that question, Sam. It is an opportunity for me to express personally, and on behalf of the Labor Party, our sorrow and our sympathies with the family of Kirsty Boden and Sara Zelenak.

Those families have confirmed, obviously, the passing of those two young women. It is something all of us share their sorrow in and I think it does bring it home, doesn’t it? Because most of us have done that. We’ve been in London when we were younger, spent time there and so this does bring it home.

Certainly what we have seen in the reporting to date, the comments from people who knew them, they were deeply loved and very much respected. I’m sure in time, if the families wish for there to be some form of recognition of their lives and commemoration, that’s something I think all politicians would want to listen to.

MAIDEN: Terrorism is obviously a serious focus of your own portfolio. We hear increasingly there are concerns about foreign fighters returning, not just to Australia, but particularly to the region and to Indonesia. What do you think the region needs to do now to tackle this issue of terrorism?

WONG: That’s a very good question and you are right, it is an increasing focus of this portfolio. I wish it weren’t but that’s the reality and, as a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security foreign fighters is one of the risks, the threats, that we have been considering for some time.

Australia, I think, with a bipartisan focus, has done a lot, already, in terms of our legislative framework to deal with the risk of foreign fighters and we need to continue to work with our region both on legislative frameworks to make sure that the intelligence and security authorities in all the countries of the region have what they need at their disposal to keep their nations, their citizens, safe. We understand this is a risk, particularly as Daesh, loses territory militarily in the Middle East.

So it is a focus for both parties and it certainly is a focus in a parliamentary sense of the intelligence committee.

MAIDEN: What needs to happen in relation to the callout powers, do you believe, in Australia? This is when the Australian Defence Force should become involved in a terrorism incident. Some people argue, of course, there are quite broad powers under the Constitution to essentially use the ADF as required. What is your view of what needs to happen?

WONG: Look, I think anybody who watched what happened in the Lindt Cafe siege, who has read some of what has been discussed in the coronial proceedings – and, of course, there has been a lot of media and commentary and there was loss of Australian lives – has thought about this.

We need to look, I think very carefully, at what is the best way to ensure that, should these sorts of situations occur, we deploy personnel who have the greatest capacity to ensure the safety of Australians who are caught up in that.

Now, I wouldn’t want to jump to judgement about whether the callout powers, how they are currently configured, are right or wrong. I think that the coronial inquiry has certainly provided food for thought. That needs to be considered carefully by the government, and by the opposition, by the parliament, as to whether or not our current arrangements around the roles of the ADF and the roles of the state and territory police remain appropriate given that we have a different type of threat that we are dealing with.

Having said that, we do know that we have outstanding people in our police services, we have outstanding people in the ADF, we have outstanding people in our intelligence agencies. So this will be looked at, I’m sure, with that same sort of professionalism that we see from those men and women.

MAIDEN: And yet we now see this unseemly political game of pass the parcel between the Commonwealth and the States on this issue of parole. We have the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews suggesting that the ASIO watch list, which, of course, does not exist, there is no watch list, should be involved in determining parole. We have the Federal Government essentially trying to say that the states should play a greater role. Why doesn’t someone just step in to sort this out? Surely this is not the time for one of these games of pass the parcel?

WONG: You are right, Sam. I think Australians look pretty dimly on political games generally, but that takes on a whole new resonance, doesn’t it, when you are talking about these sorts of security-related issues? We do need to not be partisan about this. I think it has been disappointing some of the partisan commentary, including, frankly, from the Prime Minister.

I understand that this is a matter that is going to COAG tomorrow. It is clear that we have had issues in terms of who is on parole. We have seen two incidents involving people on parole where there may have been, it would have been appropriate, to have better liaison between federal and state, one in New South Wales and one in Victoria.

What I would urge the Prime Minister to do at COAG tomorrow is set aside trying to blame state governments and let’s try to work through a national approach to this to maximise the security of Australians.

MAIDEN: Speaking of political games, let’s talk about the Finkel Report and the climate change debate.

Today we have had the Labor Leader Bill Shorten out trying to present his actions as doing the Prime Minister some sort of favour where he is saying that he is going to take a bipartisan approach on climate change but doing that also to stand up to Tony Abbott – I think there might be a bit of politics in that. But you described an alternative program in 2009, not dissimilar to what is being proposed now in terms of an emissions target, as a mongrel.

WONG: (2009) It is not a hybrid. It’s a mongrel. It is not a credible alternative, it is a smokescreen.

MAIDEN: Do you still think this one is a mongrel?

WONG: We haven’t even seen what the chief scientist has proposed, what the Finkel Review has proposed.

I’m happy to talk about 2009. Obviously we had a different policy which was ultimately legislated and then defeated and life’s moved on.

But can I say this: What we have seen since 2009 where I did get agreement with Malcolm Turnbull about what to do about climate, about an Emissions Trading Scheme, which would have provided investment certainty.

What we have seen since that time is the children leading the debate. We have seen a childish debate which was led by Tony Abbott and those in the right wing of the Liberal Party who don’t want to do anything about climate. It is now time, I think, for the adults to lead the debate.

What Bill has said to Malcolm Turnbull is this: we know we have a crisis in terms of energy in Australia. That’s a crisis which is primarily driven by a lack of policy certainty. We have an investment strike, we have two-thirds of our thermal generating capacity – so coal and gas – which is operating beyond its design life. We have seen wholesale prices double. I could go on. The first thing we need to do to resolve that is to give the market certainty. The best way to do that is to get bipartisan support.

MAIDEN: Can I back to the mongrel comments? In 2009, you have a forensic memory, what did you mean in 2009 when you described this as a mongrel of a scheme?

WONG: Sam, that’s a nice thing to say, I don’t always have a forensic memory. When you have children, I reckon your memory gets worse. I’ve tried to work out why that is but anyway, probably lack of sleep.

I was referencing an alternative arrangement that Andrew Robb and Nick Xenophon had sought to put up and I was advocating for the position that we had gone to the election with in 2007. Of course, you would expect me to do that.

We are now a long way beyond that. We are now a decade beyond when Prime Minister Rudd was elected with a commitment to a carbon price and look at what’s happened. Wholesale prices doubling…

MAIDEN: Okay, but it’s the same scheme. The mongrel is now a beautiful baby?

WONG: It is not, actually. I think what Malcolm’s proposing, as I understand it – and it has only been reported and obviously the review hasn’t reported – is a Low Emissions Target which is a different scheme again. All of these are policies which are trying to drive a transition to clean energy and trying to give the market certainty.

I do think it is time for the children to not lead the debate. I think it is time for the adults to lead the debate. That’s what the business community want and what Australians want. People are tired of climate and energy policy being a political football and being something that parties just fight about. They actually want solutions, In terms of stability, energy security and they want a transition to clean energy. We are up for a conversation with Malcolm. I hope he is too.

MAIDEN: Just before we go Penny Wong, how concerned are you about the influence of China in Australian democracy in the wake of those revelations in the Four Corners program, the involvement of Sam Dastyari and the suggestion that ASIO warned both of the major political parties they shouldn’t be accepting donations from the billionaires that were mentioned in the program?

WONG: First in relation to donations, we have had a longstanding position that foreign donations should be banned.

We have also had a longstanding position that we should increase transparency of political donations. As you might recall, Sam, I think you have covered it previously, we say donations over $1,000 should be disclosed. The Government has said no to that, they want the existing threshold which is I think $13,000. So it’s clearly a difference in terms of transparency and transparency is one of the ways in which you ensure influence can be dealt with.

On Sam, he did the wrong thing and he’s has paid the price. I think it is unfair to continue to focus on him when he did what he obviously needed to do which is to resign from the frontbench.

More broadly, we have to ensure both parties of government work together to safeguard the democracy and Australia’s sovereignty against any nation who seeks to influence our democracy or our sovereignty. That’s a principle I’m prepared to work with the government on and Labor is prepared to work with the government on and a good start would be to ban foreign donations.

MAIDEN: Penny Wong from Adelaide there, thank you very much for your time today, we appreciate it.

WONG Great to be with you, Sam.