Doorstop - Parliament House, Canberra - 24/11/2021

24 November 2021

SUBJECTS: Peter Dutton amping up the threat of war, Senator Rennick’s bid to recast his vote on the ABC inquiry; religious discrimination bill; Mr Morrison’s failure to act on a federal anti-corruption commission; Chinese President Xi Jinping’s comments; One Nation posting Jacqui Lambie’s mobile number online; atmosphere in Parliament.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Good morning. Yesterday Mr Dutton proved my point about the extent to which he’s playing politics with national security by lying about what I said, lying about Labor's position on AUKUS and lying about Labor's position on the US Alliance, proving yet again, he's much more interested in playing politics than doing his job, which is actually to ensure we have the capability, the strategic capability that we need. So, I'd suggest to Mr Dutton rather than trading in these sorts of personal insults, why don't you focus on the capability gap that we know has opened up in Australian submarine capability and for which you have not articulated any plan. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Senator, just on the ABC inquiry, Senator Rennick wants to have his vote recommitted. What are your thoughts on that?

WONG: Well, I'd like to hear why. Senator Rennick, despite talking very tough, was actually paired for that vote. In other words, his vote was counted as a Liberal Party vote and paired against a Labor person who wasn't attending. So, his vote was counted, which is contrary to what he said about withholding his vote because his vote was counted. So, if he wants to stand up in the Senate this morning, we'll be listening to his arguments as to why the vote should be recommitted.

JOURNALIST: What do you think it says about the Government's priorities at the moment that they've pushed ahead with introducing or releasing the religious discrimination legislation, yet we're still waiting to see the integrity commission proposal?

WONG: It says everything about the Government’s priorities, doesn't it? And it was pretty extraordinary when we voted, we sought in the Senate - as people might know - to bring on the integrity commission bill, Government senators voted against it. This Government has been saying for over 1000 days that they will support an Anti- Corruption Commission. We've never seen it. We know they're not serious when it comes to integrity.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that there's been a deal done with One Nation in the lead up to the election and that's why we're seeing them being particularly…

WONG: Helpful to the Government…

JOURNALIST: …particularly passive when it comes to these issues?

WONG: Well, actually, it's disappointing that Senator Hanson and Senator Roberts voted against the debate on a bill that would deliver an integrity commission when that's actually what Mr Morrison himself said he would do.

JOURNALIST: Have you had a chance to read any of the religious discrimination bill?

WONG: I have briefly looked over it, but obviously it's a very complex bill. Like I said, earlier today, these are these are sensitive issues. These have to be worked through respectfully. That is not the way the Prime Minister and the Government have done so. We offered a bipartisan process and that would have been better for the country. I suspect Mr Morrison didn't actually want a bipartisan process. We will look at it. Religious freedom is a human right. Freedom to practice your faith is a human right. But it ought not come at the expense of protections against other forms of discrimination for Australians and that is the balance that has to be struck.

JOURNALIST: So, you're happy for this, for the religious discrimination to be dealt with next year rather than these two weeks of parliament?

WONG: Labor will go through its own process about that. I do think, given the bill was only released was it yesterday afternoon - is that right? I was obviously doing other things - but for there to be sufficient time to consider those sorts of sensitive issues.

JOURNALIST: Penny, Chinese President Xi Jinping last night criticised the AUKUS arrangement and said China would never bully smaller countries. What do you make of those comments?

WONG: I would make this point; Australia and other countries have been subjected to what can only be described as economic coercion and China's non-observance or flouting of agreements that it has made, through the World Trade Organization or the China Free Trade Agreement. And those are not the behaviours of a responsible global power.

JOURNALIST: So, they do bully smaller countries?

WONG: They have not behaved towards Australia, in the imposition of economic coercion, as a responsible global power.

JOURNALIST: Watching Question Time yesterday, I think it’s safe to say you were getting fairly frustrated with how things were playing out with your colleague across the bench, Senator Birmingham. Do you think something's changed in the tenor of parliamentary debate in the last couple of months?

WONG: Yes. I do.

JOURNALIST: What is it?

WONG: Well, when Senator Lambie before Question Time, made a statement about her phone number being published by One Nation to those people who are very aggressively opposed to her position on vaccination - so that's the context of the publication - I reminded people that when Senator Cormann left I talked about one of the important things that he and I shared was understanding that you have to contain conflict. There’s a lot of contest in this place. But you’ve got to understand where the debate is and what are the boundaries of that debate. And the problem at the moment - and we see this in the Government, but we also see it in the community – is that that conflict is not sufficiently contained. And we have to do that in a democracy because you start these fires, you don't know where they end. And that starts with leaders. It starts with leaders unequivocally condemning people who either have made violent threats or used violent language. It is, I think, to his great shame that the Prime Minister equivocated on that, or qualified that earlier this week. So I do think the tenor has changed and I think all of us have a responsibility to understand the boundaries of the contest.

JOURNALIST: Just on that, Senator Lambie said it crossed the line.

WONG: It did cross the line, I agree with that.

JOURNALIST: She mentioned things around the AFP briefing politicians on their safety. Do you consider it, in that context?

WONG: I'm not going to comment on security. But I would say that I think the environment is much more febrile, and that creates on all of us, political leaders, and I would suggest the media as well, an obligation to try and ensure that the tenor of the debate is not one that can fuel violent aggression.

JOURNALIST: As the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, do you have those sort of chats with your own colleagues saying, let's be mindful of these sort of things?

WONG: Yes, and I think we do. I don't think you've seen Labor people doing anything other than, not only condemn people who speak about violence in the context of vaccines but try to be constructive about that debate. I think the people who are really making this febrile are those in the Coalition, perhaps who share some of the views against vaccinations. I’ve got to go now, thank you.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.