ABC RN Breakfast with Patricia Karvelas - 22/02/22

22 February 2022

SUBJECTS: Russian aggression on Ukraine border; consequences for our region; Australia’s relationship with China, Antarctica. 


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Penny Wong is the Shadow Foreign Minister and our guest this morning. Good morning, Senator.


SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Good morning. Good to be with you, Patricia.


KARVELAS: Now Vladimir Putin has formally recognised these two regions as independent. Is all hope for peace now gone?


WONG: Let's start by responding very clearly to this so-called recognition. It is a blatant violation of international law. It is a blatant violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and it is a violation of the Minsk agreements. And this is why the international community have to be united and have to be clear, there is no justification, no matter what Mr Putin says, for a decision to engage in conflict, and a decision, such as that would be, as I think President Biden has pointed out, a decision to enter into and take responsibility for a catastrophic and needless war. So we would join with not only the Australian government, but the EU, many European governments and the United States in being very clear, in our view about this being a violation of international law and not providing any justification for conflict in eastern Ukraine.


KARVELAS: Has the West been too slow to act on Russian aggression, and not always spoken with a unified voice?


WONG: I think a unified voice is important. What I would say in relation to this most recent amping up of the rhetoric from Mr Putin and Russia is that there has been widespread and clear articulation from both the EU and the United States and other nations about why this is unacceptable. And we hoped never to see war in Europe in our lifetimes again, after the history of what past generations have gone through. And that history should be something that is front of mind, at this time.


KARVELAS: Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott says that if the West allows Vladimir Putin to seize control of Ukraine, then Poland and the Baltic states will be next. Is he right? Will we see a new Iron Curtain fall over Europe if Russia is not stopped at the Ukraine border?


WONG: Well, let's first focus our diplomatic efforts on deterring Russia from making the decision that has been discussed. That's what we should be doing. There are many consequences.


KARVELAS: Do you agree with Tony Abbott's analysis?


WONG: There are many consequences. I don't think it's useful to necessarily publicly traverse all of the, all of the consequences. But we know there are no good consequences from this sort of aggression from Russia, which is why you've seen the international community, particularly the NATO states, putting the position so clearly.


KARVELAS: Tony Abbott says China will use the distraction of Ukraine to invade Taiwan. Is that now more likely? Will Beijing be spurred into its own military aggression?


WONG: Well, one of the key drivers around why our position should be resolute in respect of Ukraine is because we understand, all countries, the potential of permitting, or being silent while a country engages in these sorts of actions, the potential for risk in our region. It does have implications for the world if a member of the international community simply violates international law and engages in unilateral changes to borders or to the status quo. An act of aggression against Ukraine would be a unilateral change to the status quo. One of the reasons we have had, since World War II, one of the most peaceful, prosperous periods in human history is, in general, there has been adherence to international law and a recognition that countries don't simply invade each other without justification.


KARVELAS: So, you're saying if this does occur, that you do think that it changes, it sets a precedent or it sets a new standard, and you think China may exploit it?


WONG: What I am saying is that peace is best kept by ensuring countries recognise and respect the status quo. And in respect of Ukraine, that is very clear what needs to occur, which is Russia needs to desist from the sorts of aggression we have seen.


KARVELAS: Peter Dutton has previously said that it's inconceivable that Australia wouldn't join a war to defend Taiwan. But the decision could be yours to make if you win the coming election. Would a Labor Government commit troops to defend Taiwan?


WONG: Well, Patricia, I gave quite a detailed speech about the lack of wisdom in Mr Dutton's words. I pointed out that our principal strategic partner and key ally, the United States, has taken a view about the importance of what's described as strategic ambiguity. So rather than talking up the drums of war, the adult and responsible thing to do is to continue to assert, as the Taiwanese have done to China, that any resolution across the Taiwan Straits must occur peacefully, and to speak very clearly, against any unilateral changes to the status quo. That is the way we can preserve peace.


KARVELAS: If you're just tuning in, this is RN Breakfast and my guest is Senator Penny Wong, Labor's Foreign Affairs spokeswoman. The Prime Minister was accused last week of weaponising our relationship with China. He claimed that Labor is appeasing Beijing, but he withdrew his comments about a Manchurian Candidate. Now voters will soon have to choose who will stand up to Chinese bullying. How worried are you that they'll now view Labor as softer on national security?


WONG: I think the first question voters and your listeners are entitled to have an answer to is why is Mr Morrison saying these things? He's saying them, Patricia, because he's desperate. He's saying them because he's desperate to ensure his political survival, particularly after the deadly summer of Omicron. He's saying these things because he is desperate to ensure he wins some political point scoring. I mean, the fact is, we all know, Australians have come to know the Prime Minister, Mr. Morrison, is a man who's prepared to tell lies, he's obsessed with political game playing rather than doing his job. Now, Labor will not take a backward step when it comes to standing up for our national interests. We will not take a backward step. And we have not. Which is why where it has been necessary, we have provided clear bipartisan support on key issues of national security. So people should be really clear about both Labor's position but also, I think people understand, Australians understand why Mr Morrison is choosing to do this.


KARVELAS: So, what will the relationship with China look like under an Albanese Government?


WONG: I've said for some years now, that the relationship with China has become much more difficult. And it's become much more difficult because under President Xi, China has become much more assertive and at times aggressive in our region. I have said our region is being reshaped. I have said that we have had many decades of the US being the world's really predominant superpower. We know that we are in a position now where there is much greater competition between the US and China. We know that has implications for our region. And that means we have to be very clear eyed about how we manage this next period in Australian foreign policy and international relations and national security. We have to ensure we engage very closely with the countries in our region. We have to understand the period we are living through. None of that is made easier by the sort of language and games we have seen from the man who calls himself Prime Minister, this last fortnight.


KARVELAS: Penny Wong, the Morrison Government will spend more than $800 million expanding Australia's strategic footprint in Antarctica. There will be high tech drones, helicopters, planes, snow vehicles. Is this a pushback against China's growing interest in the continent and do you support it?


WONG: There's been bipartisan support for the protection of Antarctica and Australia's interests in Antarctica for generations. In fact, I think the Chifley Government created the Antarctic division in DFAT in the late 1940s. The Menzies Government signed the Antarctic Treaty in the 1960s. The Hawke Government led the international effort to ban mining exploration in Antarctica. So there's been long standing bipartisan support for the importance of Antarctica. I've only seen what's been dropped to the papers. We'll certainly have a look at what the Government's putting out and we'll apply our best consideration to it.


KARVELAS: Penny Wong, many thanks for joining us.


WONG: Great to speak with you.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.