Subjects: 501 visa policy, Australia–New Zealand relations, Pacific engagement, Foreign Ministers meeting.
TOVA O’BRIEN, HOST: Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, since Labor was elected in Australia, has travelled her guts out around the Pacific, really showing up our Foreign Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, who has been notable for her near complete lack of travel, especially during such a critical time in the Pacific with China’s growing influence. Penny Wong’s latest stop – New Zealand. She’s here with us. The Foreign Ministers meet today. Plenty to discuss and for, hopefully, a sneak peek, we are joined by the Australian Foreign Minister, Senator Penny Wong. Good morning, Penny. Thank you – Senator. Thank you very much for being with us.
PENNY WONG, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Penny’s fine. Good to be with you.
O’BRIEN: Is it fair, Senator Wong, is it fair that New Zealand citizens who have lived in Australia for all of their lives, become criminals over there, commit crimes over there, and then are deported back to New Zealand?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Look, I understand this is a big issue for, you know, your community and for your Government and Prime Minister Ardern raised it very forcefully with Prime Minister Albanese when they met in Australia, and what he said at the press conference is: look, first, we will be maintaining that provision of the Act, which enables a Minister to make those decisions but we do understand that concerns have been raised. He’s flagged that we will consider those and we’ll work through that in an orderly way with New Zealand to consider what we can do.
O’BRIEN: What could that look like? Could it be, you know, if you’ve spent X years or a proportion of your life or were born in Australia, you are Australia’s cross to bear? Is that how the softening of the 501 policy could look?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well, I don’t think I’m going to kind of go through what it might look like, and I understand –
O’BRIEN: Feel free.
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I knew you’d say that, “feel free”, Tova, but there’s obviously issues here. This has been consistently raised. I know that Prime Minister Ardern raised it with the previous Government. She certainly raised it with our Prime Minister, and we will look at those concerns and we will work through those considerations with your Government.
O’BRIEN: The fact is we just – I mean, we’re kind of the poorer cousin here, aren’t we? And you guys pretty well dictate what we’re going to do. What would it take – if we start stripping Australians living in New Zealand of some of their rights here, if we started taking a much harder line, would you actually meaningfully change this policy?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well, I’ve already said to you, you know, we understand the concerns that have been raised. But what I would say, I don’t think about you in the way you described yourselves. We have a single economic market. We have got a very close, obviously, historical relationship, very close people to people relationship. That single economic market brings benefits to both Australia and New Zealand in investment, people flows. Now, all of us, obviously, are working through as we come out of the pandemic and open up our borders, some of the consequences of that, including for our labour market, but, you know, we think we have benefited by and New Zealand has benefited by 40 years of our close economic relationship as well as many more years than that with our historical connection.
O’BRIEN: I respect that you won’t get into that – won’t cut your Prime Minister’s lunch and tell us what the 501 policy changes could look like, but are you able to give us any sense as to when that could happen, when we might see those changes?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Look, no, I can’t. I mean, I think the Prime Minister has only met – it’s been a bit of a whirlwind since we were elected. Is that last weekend the Prime Minister was there? So, obviously that’s something that we’ll have to work through with you.
O’BRIEN: In that time, how many more Australian criminals, gang members, are going to be deported to New Zealand, shooting up our streets?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Look, I understand the concerns that have been raised and I think there was a good discussion between our Prime Ministers about how to try to deal with this issue.
O’BRIEN: In opposition, Senator Wong, you called the China–Solomons deal, and we’ve quoted this a lot on our program, you called it, “Australia’s biggest foreign policy blunder since World War II”. By extension, it would be New Zealand’s biggest foreign policy blunder since World War II as well, wouldn’t it?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well, I’m not going to comment on New Zealand’s domestic politics. Our view was during the election, and remains as a new Government, that we are best – Pacific security should be provided for by the Pacific family. That’s the approach Australia and New Zealand and other countries have taken for a very long time. We recognise that we have a responsibility as a new Government to bring more energy and more resources to the Pacific, and that’s what we’re doing.
O’BRIEN: Maybe I’ll put this way: How did Australia let the team down, the Pacific team down? Why was it the biggest foreign policy blunder?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I think it’s very clear that this is – we respect that it’s a Solomon Islands sovereign decision. It is the first time we’ve seen this sort of arrangement outside of the Pacific family. But rather than focusing on that, what we did during the election was to set out a Pacific package which included additional ODA. It included more maritime security cooperation. It included a Pacific broadcasting strategy. It included changes to the labour movement programs to enable people on longer term visas to bring their families, something which had been raised with us. We also included a Pacific Engagement Visa which is modelled on your Pacific Access Resident Visa. So, we had a look at that, and I think that has benefits in terms of economic and people to people links. So, our job as a new Government is to focus on what we can do, and one of the most important things we can do is to bring more ambition on climate change. As you know –
O’BRIEN: Would you like to see our Government pulling more of its weight as well as in this regard? Because you have travelled around the Pacific in the first two weeks of being Foreign Minister more than our Foreign Minister has in a year and a half. Do we need to be doing more in New Zealand?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: You’d anticipate a new Foreign Minister wants to get out and about for the first –
O’BRIEN: Not ours.
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Foreign Minister Mahuta is a very impressive leader. I think her work on indigenous foreign policy is really world leading and I look forward to talking with her about that. Obviously, all of us, including Australia’s Foreign Minister for a couple of years – COVID has meant people haven’t travelled and so there has had to be different sorts of engagement.
O’BRIEN: Well, you still managed in the last few weeks. Will there be a gentle nudge in that meeting, though? “Can you please do a bit more, New Zealand? We’re doing all the hard yards”? Australia – you just listed all the things that the Australian Labor Government is planning to do. Will you be asking us to do a little bit more?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Look, I think what I’d be expressing is the really powerful position, I think, New Zealand has. You know, you have both in terms of the reality of who you are – the identity that you bring to the Pacific, the people to people links and historical links. I think New Zealand really has such a powerful voice in the Pacific and I think that Foreign Minister Mahuta’s emphasis on indigenous foreign policy really speaks to the Pacific in such a powerful way.
O’BRIEN: We have such a powerful voice in the Pacific. We should stop squandering it. That is my reinterpretation of what you’ve just said.
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I think I can see the opportunities, and we’d welcome working with you in that.
O’BRIEN: Great. Well, we’ll try to pull a bit more of our weight. Thank you so much for your time. It was a pleasure speaking to you. That is Australia’s new Foreign Minister Senator Wong.
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Authorised by Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.