27 June 2019




DAVID SPEERS: I’m joined by the Shadow Foreign Minister and Labor Senate Leader Penny Wong from Adelaide this afternoon. Thanks very much for joining us Senator. Just on this issue, will Labor be seeking to refer Peter Dutton to the High Court?

PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY IN THE SENATE: They were pretty extraordinary allegations weren’t they? On this channel and in the newspaper this morning very serious allegations which not only go to the extraordinary division inside the Coalition but go to, as you have pointed out, real questions about Mr Dutton’s eligibility.

He should refer himself. I think it’s pretty clear that there is a question about his eligibility and the Government really does need to resolve this issue. It doesn’t appear that it has been resolved. In fact I hadn’t seen Mr Turnbull’s Tweets that you just referenced but it’s quite clear that this is still a live issue and Peter Dutton really does need to resolve it.

SPEERS: Well I don’t think the Government or Peter Dutton is about to refer himself. Will Labor seek to do so in the Parliament?

WONG: That’s an issue we would look at. I think, obviously, it doesn’t need the Parliament to do the right thing here Mr Dutton should do the right thing. He can assure himself and he can assure the Australian people and the Parliament of his eligibility or he can refer himself.

SPEERS: Let’s move on to some other matters. North Korea, of course, the concern over this Australian man who has reportedly been detained in North Korea. From what you have heard from the Government are they handling this appropriately so far?

WONG: We did contact the Foreign Minister’s office as soon as we became aware of these public reports and I understand they were making urgent inquiries. Since I had a press conference earlier today I can see that a spokesperson for the family of a person named in some of the reports has put out a statement. I think there are still inquiries underway and we offer our full support for the Government and whatever action it is taking, whatever inquiries it is making, whatever consular assistance it is providing. Our first objective should be to ensure any Australian is safe and secure.

SPEERS: I appreciate that in most of these cases you do back in the Government, can I ask though do you expect the Government to raise this with President Trump given his connection with Kim Jong-un in North Korea?

WONG: I think that’s a judgement the Government needs to make having ascertained what the facts on the ground actually are. I see there are public reports in relation to which there are some differences as to the actual state of affairs.

My view about the sorts of issues is that rather than engage in a public megaphone about what the Government should or shouldn’t do, we do try to ensure we work with the Government to ensure the safety and security of Australians. If those sorts of conversations privately are helpful to the safety and security of this Australian then they should be had. But that’s a judgement the Government will need to make.

SPEERS: Alright can I turn to Iran. Later today Iran has warned it will breach the international nuclear agreement. It will increase its stockpile of enriched uranium to 300kg or more. Australia isn’t party to this agreement but it has been a supporter of it. Do you think we have reached the point where Australia should withdraw that support?

WONG: We, and the Government – well, certainly Julie Bishop and others – were supportive of the JCPOA and the reason is, as I think I’ve said on this program and certainly others, it might not be the perfect agreement but we saw it as the only available path to ensure that we did avert the path that Iran was on. We saw it as an important aspect of multilateral or plurilateral arrangements.

If the agreement is breached then the agreement is breached and that is a very serious consequence. Our support has been for an agreement that we urged be retained in full. That is position that, not just Julie Bishop agreed with, but also the European Union and other parties to the agreement.

The Iranian regime has been a destabilising force in the region for some time and that is of great concern.

SPEERS: The Trump Administration has walked away from the deal, and now, if Iran itself is generating more enriched uranium then the deal allows, it’s pretty much over isn’t it, this agreement, and a new course will have to be found?

WONG: We would encourage a new course to be found and that’s always harder obviously. It’s one of the reasons why we were prepared in the last term to back the agreement. If you’ve got something actually on the table that’s easier than something not at all on the table and it is in the world’s interest to try to ensure that this continued nuclear agenda does not progress.

SPEERS: What do you think of the suggestion that Australia should join some sort of international effort to provide military escorts for oil tankers in the Persian Gulf amid concern this is where this is going to go, this conflict?

WONG: I’d make a few comments. The first is there’s no doubt the Iranian regime has been destabilising for the region. There’s been sponsorship of terrorism, obviously the nuclear agenda, a whole range of destabilising behaviours. But as Mr Albanese said a couple of days ago, we do want cool heads to prevail. We know the price of military conflict in the region. We know the price of escalation. We would urge there not to be further escalation in the region.

Leaving those issues aside in relation to the transit of civilian ships that’s obviously an issue we are all concerned about and that would have to be considered. I see this is actually a proposition former Senator Molan put. If the Government wishes to consider that we do obviously seek a briefing on that. We have sought a briefing in relation to the broader issue of Iran.

SPEERS: But on all of this, it sounds like you’re not closed to the idea? You don’t see it as an escalation if we were to be involved in military escorts?

WONG: We need to be very clear as to the difference between ensuring that civilian ships, for example, are safe, which is something I’ve expressed concern about.

But on the broader issue of military conflict there’s been a lot of rhetoric, shall we say, a lot of discussion and I think the UK Foreign Secretary was very sensible when he pointed out, when asked questions about military conflict in the region, he said he couldn’t envisage a situation where the UK would be asked, nor would agree, to engage in an escalation of military conflict.

SPEERS: On the G20 Summit – it’s about to get underway in Japan – do you think the Morrison Government has done enough to state Australia’s position strongly that we want this trade dispute between the US and China resolved?

WONG: It is important that Mr Morrison use not only the G20 meeting but also the well-publicised dinner with the President of the United States to advocate Australia’s interests.

There is a broader proposition which is as a trading nation we have an interest in fair, transparent and open trading arrangements and there is a case for reform of multilateral trading arrangements. But it is also important that we make clear – as a staunch ally and friend of the United States – that we don’t want Australia’s interest to be ignored or damaged in the context of this trade dispute and we should make the same argument in advocacy to China.

SPEERS: When you say there is a case for reform of the World Trade Organisation, does that mean listing China as a developed, rather than a developing country?

WONG: That is one aspect. Mr Morrison has spoken about that aspect as have others, the US Administration as well. I think there is also a question of intellectual property. There are questions of subsidies, there are a range of questions about existing multilateral arrangements. They should be up for discussion to ensure that those rules are fit for purpose and reflect the fact that not only China has developed further, but that China has substantial weight in the global economy and we ought respect that and reflect that.

But in terms of Australia’s position we have an interest in multilateral arrangements. What we don’t want, and I’ve said many times, is a trade war where, not just Australia, but many other economies lose. No one does win from the trade war. That’s the lesson of history and we have an added interest in averting that because of being a middle sized economy, a substantial economy that is very open in terms of its trade to the world.

SPEERS: Just a final one before I let you go, John Setka yesterday convicted of harassing a woman. You did, a long time ago, work for the CFMEU. Do you now think he should go, not only from the Labor Party, but also from his union position?

WONG: Well I certainly put my view about his membership of the Labor Party and as someone in the leadership of the Labor Party that’s a view that I can express and Anthony Albanese has expressed as to Mr Setka’s membership.

His position in the union is ultimately a matter for his members but I do note that the ACTU and Sally McManus have asked him to step aside. The point that has been made is that there is no individual that is bigger than the collective and there is no individual that is bigger than the movement. But I’ve had a fair bit to say previously about Mr Setka. I don’t have anything to add.

SPEERS: You’re not one of those members any more, of that union?

WONG: I’m not a member of his division.

SPEERS: You are South Australian division?

WONG: I was actually in what you call the furnishing division. That’s where I started my career, so, people who made furniture. I’m not a member.

SPEERS: But you’re a member of the South Australian CFMMEU division?

WONG: Yes I still have membership historically. I think I have membership of the ASU as well.

SPEERS: Okay, but essentially it’s not your decision as a member of the South Australian division to make a call on John Setka?

WONG: Correct and it’s also a different division but I have a role as a member of the Labor Party and the leadership of the Labor Party. You might recall I pointed out quite some time ago that I thought Mr Setka should consider his position. You might also recall that I and others talked about values.

SPEERS: Penny Wong indeed you did. Shadow Foreign Minister and Labor Senate Leader, thank you very much. Appreciate your time.

WONG: Good to speak with you.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.