5 June 2017




JIM MIDDLETON: Bipartisanship has been the order of the day today. Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten saying that this was not a time for politics, this was a time for unity. That was the message too from Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong when I spoke to her a short while ago.


Penny Wong, good afternoon, another bleak day for the UK. They are having a very bad time of it, are they not? Four terrorist attacks in less than 3 months?


SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Jim, shocking news out of Britain today. And as you say, we have seen another incident in just a matter of a very short time after Manchester. People being targeted who were enjoying the very freedoms that we cherish. So I know all Australians woke today to really shocking news. London is a place dear to us. It’s a place that many have been to. It’s a place that many of us have friends and family in.


MIDDLETON: The Prime Minister we understand has been briefed by security and counter-terrorism agencies. Has Labor been brought up-to-date about what the Australian authorities know about what did happen in London?


WONG: Just before coming here, we did seek a briefing. As yet that hasn’t occurred but I am sure it will occur very soon.


Meanwhile, obviously, our response to these events are shock, sorrow, but of course, solidarity and a recognition that we must stay vigilant and united in our response to this and in our defence of our values and our freedoms.


MIDDLETON: I’m going to come to that question of unity in a moment. But after the Manchester attack the threat level in the United States was elevated also, Australia’s travel advisory to the UK too. You would expect the same thing to occur at least in the immediate aftermath of this attack too?


WONG: What I would say to you is that I am sure that government will act on the advice of our agencies and we will support that. We have outstanding men and woman working in our security and intelligence agencies who give us the best advice possible in relation to matters such as those you raise and they will be responded to on a bipartisan and united basis.


MIDDLETON: Bipartisan, united, you have mentioned the word unity a couple of times. Your leader Bill Shorten was talking today of the need to put politics aside. I wonder then what you make of the tweet by Pauline Hanson this morning where she first of all used the Metropolitan Police’s warning to people but also then said “Stop Islamic immigration before it’s too late. Stop Islamic immigration before it hits 5% like England”. What do you make of that?.


WONG: It is both irresponsible and crass. I say it’s irresponsible for very good reasons. We know from the advice of the head of ASIO, both past and current who have said this publicly, that one of our best defences against this sort of violent extremism is the Muslim community here in Australia.


We also know that making sure we continue to have an inclusive and respectful society is part of what keeps us safe. What the terrorists want, what those who are attacking us want, is division. What they want is division and fear. And we cannot countenance that, we cannot respond in that way and in fact responding in the way she does is both irresponsible, as well as crass.


And it does not make Australians safer because we are more divided. We know that not just as a matter of our values, we know that also from the advice that the security agencies give us.


MIDDLETON: As we speak, we don’t even know whether this was an Islamic terrorist act or who in fact was behind what happened in London just a few hours ago. But in the broader sense, do you understand why some Australians do feel unsettled about incidents like this when they see the behaviour of IS for example in Syria?


WONG: It’s more than unsettling, it’s deeply shocking and it is at times horrific. What we must do is work together to make sure that we keep Australians safe and we do. We must make sure we work together, as we do, to stand up for our values and our freedoms and we must recognise that responding to these risks and these threats by dividing ourselves, by being fearful, does not make us more safe. We must always remember that, it doesn’t make us more safe to divide ourselves. Our job must be to be vigilant but be united.


MIDDLETON: Speaking about terrorism more broadly, the Prime Minister has just returned from the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore where the question of terrorism and the threat of it within the region was one of the topics of discussion. As we speak in the southern Philippines, there is an IS type insurrection with the desire to build something like a Caliphate there. There are 500 returning soldiers or foreign fighters into Indonesia. There are concerns in Malaysia and Singapore as well. These are worrying developments in our region?


WONG: They are concerning but they are also anticipated. In relation to the return of foreign fighters this has been anticipated for some time. That’s why on a bipartisan basis the parliament has enacted legislation to deal with foreign fighters returning and we will always ensure, from the Labor Party’s perspective, that we work on a bipartisan basis with the government to ensure we have the most appropriate and strongest legislation as required.


We have also been working with our region. I know the government and also the opposition has been engaging with our region on this issue and we will need to continue to do so.


So we support the Prime Minister in what he had to say around the need for cooperation. Certainly, that’s been something when I have visited, for example, Indonesia, that has been the subject of discussion – the need for ongoing cooperation in our region to deal with this collective threat.


We all have an interest, all nations of this region have an interest, in security and stability. Both because it is about the safety of our people, but also because this is the basis on which our shared prosperity has been grounded.


MIDDLETON: You spoke several times this afternoon of the need for unity. Do you think that the government could, should be doing more both in terms of rhetoric and in terms of policy to ensure that that unity of the Australian population is sustained, it’s nourished?


WONG: Look, I don’t think this is a time for me to get into any criticism of the government. I think what I would say is there has been, certainly at the leadership level and at the senior minister level, a recognition of the importance of continuing to ensure we stay unified as a nation. There’s certainly been a rejection of the politics of fear by Senator Hanson and others.


There are some in the coalition who haven’t been as responsible but that’s a matter for them. I think what we can say is that the opposition and the government on these issues have worked closely and in a bipartisan way. We will continue to do so because keeping Australians safe is obviously the national priority.


MIDDLETON: Senator Wong, thank you very much.


WONG: Good to speak with you.