ABC Radio Melbourne Drive with Rafael Epstein - 25/02/2022

25 February 2022

SUBJECTS: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; implications for our region; politicisation of national security.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN, HOST: Senator Penny Wong joins you. She's Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, and also the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, in the Australian Parliament. Thanks for giving us some of your time.
EPSTEIN: Just off the back of our caller, does, I mean, does Russia care what we do?
WONG: Well, it's important we do do what we do. It's important that we are clear that we stand with the people of Ukraine. We are united in our condemnation of Russia's shameful act of aggression. I mean, this invasion marks a grave moment for humanity. And we should stand with other nations of the world in defence of the principles that were established after the end of World War II. Principles which have enabled a relatively peaceful and prosperous period in human history; that states refrain from the use of or threat of force against the territorial integrity of other states. So, I think it's very important that Australia and all nations are very clear in their condemnation of Russia's and Mr Putin’s unprovoked, unjustified attack.
EPSTEIN: Do you think Australia's doing enough?
WONG: I would encourage the Government to impose the most comprehensive sanctions available. And I understand from the briefings we've had and from what Mr Morrison has said publicly that the Government understands the importance of making sure that we are part of a much larger and coordinated effort. That we leave Russia with no place to hide, and that the international community, in the face of these terrible acts and some of the tragic images we've seen over last couple of days, continue to put pressure on Russia and to continue to impose costs on those who are participating in this.
EPSTEIN: When you say most comprehensive is that you saying that you'd like us to do more, but we need to do it only if the other nations do it as well?
WONG: No, I'm encouraging the Government to do that. And I think from what they are saying they intend to do so. I think everyone in this nation understands the importance of us making sure we send the strongest economic and diplomatic message possible to Russia, in concert with other nations - with obviously the United States, and the European Union - we all have a stake. And Australia is a substantial middle power. We have a stake. We might be a long way from Europe, but the international system, which is being attacked here is a system that has been important for countries like Australia and important for peace and prosperity in the world.
EPSTEIN: We've got a federal election in May. I'd love to know as the proposed Shadow Minister, should Labor win, do you genuinely believe that whatever sanctions are being imposed right now, that they will impact on what Russia does with its military?
WONG: This is moving fast, at this stage, but at the same time there's probably a long way to play out. What I do know is this; that continuing to impose economic and political costs on Russia matters. And that may yield a response in the near term, or it may take a long period of time. But it is important that we do so, because we cannot simply walk away from the post-World War II settlement, which was struck after the devastation of World War II, which recognised - both in the UN Charter and as a principle of international law - that compromising, or using force, or threatening force to compromise the territorial integrity, or the independence of other states, was potentially catastrophic for humanity. So we have to continue to assert those principles. And we have to continue to do all that we can, in concert with other nations.
EPSTEIN: It's not the only invasion, of course, since World War II, but do you do you think it's that significant, that it's enough that a threat to what we've gotten used to post World War II?
WONG: I think it is an abrogation, an attack on those principles. Absolutely. And it should be named as such.
EPSTEIN: China's announced that they are now going to start buying Russian wheat. Russia exports a quarter of the world's wheat exports. So it's a lot. There's a lot of wheat. It's a huge bit of support to Russia. What do you make of that move from China?
WONG: I'd make three points about China. The first is, what I would say, is that China has an obligation to defend the principles of international law and the UN Charter which safeguards sovereignty. And I'd make the point, so far, it has not done so. Second, it has implied there was a justification for Russia's invasion and there is not. And third, it has wound back trade restrictions, as you have pointed out, on Russian wheat. I would say that is rightly seen as enabling Russia's actions, enabling Russia's aggression at a time when the world should be united in imposing a cost on Russia. And that's just wrong.
EPSTEIN: China's Foreign Ministry Spokesman actually said we can't even call it an invasion. 
WONG: I think that is untrue in fact and in law. And China itself has said that it respects - in the past - it said it respects the principle of sovereignty and non-interference. In fact, that has been the basis on which China has expressed its opposition to other governments making comments about, for example, the treatment of the Uyghurs. China has, for many years, expressed its view that sovereignty and non-interference are important principles of foreign policy. I think the world will be watching how Beijing gives effect to this when it comes to Russia's actions in Ukraine.
EPSTEIN: Do you think this all makes an attack on Taiwan more likely?
WONG: Taiwan is often a topic that comes up. I'd make a broader point, which is there are implications for the world, including our region, of simply standing by and not responding in the way we are, to a state which seeks to disrupt, through violent force, the status quo. And that principle should be that there isn't the abrogation of international law and there isn't use of force to disrupt the status quo.
EPSTEIN: When you say there are implications, what does that mean? 
WONG: Exactly what I mean. I think that the principle that nations do not use force to disrupt the status quo, nations do not use force to compromise others’ sovereignty, such as Russia is doing, is an important principle. 
EPSTEIN: Do you think the Government has politicised the issues around Ukraine this week?
WONG: We've offered full bipartisan support on Ukraine we think it's important to do so. As Anthony said, we all stand with the people of Ukraine and we are all united, all Australians are united in condemnation of this act of aggression. And I also want to take this opportunity to reach out again publicly to the Australian-Ukrainian community. I've spoken to a couple of community leaders. Obviously, it's a very, very difficult time for this community, many of whom still have family and friends in Ukraine and engage in communication with them and it's obviously a very distressing time.
EPSTEIN: I'll take that as a no for now, but I appreciate your time. Thank you.
WONG: Thank you.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.