E&OE - PROOF ONLY
PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY IN THE SENATE: Thank you very much for coming. There were two issues I wanted to start with and the first is Hong Kong. I think all of us have been deeply distressed and shocked by some of the images we’ve seen out of Hong Kong. The world has been distressed by the images that we have seen. We are deeply concerned by the situation in Hong Kong.
Now, I want to make a few points. The first is Labor – Australia – believes in the right of people everywhere to express their views through peaceful assembly, freedom of assembly. The right to peacefully demonstrate about the things in which you believe is a human right that we support. We don’t accept the suggestion that some have made that this is some engagement in terrorism. I agree with Scott Morrison on that. We do say this to the authorities – we urge you to show maximum restraint, we urge you to de-escalate and we urge you to work through a peaceful resolution. The promise was made to the people of Hong Kong of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and we believe that should be honoured.
I do again reiterate what I’ve said previously, that what happens in Hong Kong matters to people all over the world. I’ve made some comments previously about Australians traveling to and living in Hong Kong and I would urge all Australians to ensure they keep themselves informed by keeping track of the advice on Smartraveller.
I also want to make some comments about the Prime Minister’s visit to the Pacific Islands Forum. The government did engage in a “step-up” in the Pacific. It did so after Labor called for it and we welcomed it. But I’d say this to Mr Morrison – your step-up will falter unless you act on climate change. The reality is that Pacific Island nations, Pacific leaders have made it clear they don’t trust the Morrison Government when it comes to climate change. They don’t trust them because the Morrison Government has failed to act on climate change. They don’t trust them because the Morrison Government continues to deny the reality of climate change and Pacific Island leaders live with the reality. They live with the reality. It’s the biggest threat they face.
I would say this to Mr Morrison – as long as you preside over an increase in Australia’s emissions, you’ll undermine our vital relationships. As long as you preside over an increase in Australia’s emissions, you undermine our influence and make us more vulnerable in the region. And as long as you preside over an increase in Australia’s emissions, your Pacific step-up will falter; it will fall short.
Now the Prime Minister has made a $500 million announcement. I’ll wait and see the details of where that’s come from, but I suspect he’s cut other programs to our region in order to fund it. But that money is only dealing with the symptoms of climate change, it’s not dealing with the cause. Pacific Island leaders know that and that affects our standing in the region. It affects Australia’s influence. I’m happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Senator, on that, Australia is being asked by Pacific Island leaders not to open any more coal mines. Do you agree with Pacific Island leaders on this?
WONG: I’ve always taken the view that our key job is to reduce Australia’s emissions and that means you need to have a national energy policy that does that. Now, I was part of a government that sought to do that. We didn’t take the approach that you described, we took a whole-of-economy approach to reduce emissions and that is the way we need to deal with it.
JOURNALIST: If there were a ban on coal mines, what effect do you think that would have?
WONG: Well that’s not our policy, our policy position is to reduce Australia’s emissions and I think it’s very important that is the policy goal. I’ve spent 10 years or more arguing for that; that Australia should be part of the solution when it comes to climate change. We should be part of solving the problem, not part of increasing the problem and under this government emissions are rising.
JOURNALIST: On Hong Kong briefly again, what can Australia be doing in this situation?
WONG: Well ultimately these are decisions for the people of Hong Kong. I think what we can do, what I hope the government is doing and certainly what the Labor Party is doing is to assert positions of principle which matter; and they matter to us all. They matter to Australia, they matter to the people of Hong Kong and they matter across the world.
JOURNALIST: On another matter, what’s your view of the association with Gladys Liu and the World Trade United Foundation (WTUF)?
WONG: I’ve seen those reports and I’d make some points of principle which matter here. We’ve had a lot of debate in this country in recent years about foreign influence, foreign interference and I was on the intelligence committee which essentially signed off on those laws. We all have a responsibility – political leaders, political representatives, members of the media, community leaders – to ensure that Australia’s sovereignty is protected, that the integrity of our democracy is protected and all of us have a responsibility to do so. I would say to Ms Liu, it’s a matter for her to explain, as it is a matter for all of us to ensure in the work that we do, that we protect the nation’s sovereignty and our democratic processes.
JOURNALIST: Do you think associations like that should be disclosed to the party, to the public?
WONG: I support transparency and disclosure. I think that the disclosure of memberships and associations through your senators’ or members’ interests is appropriate. It’s a pity Mr Taylor perhaps didn’t understand that but these are matters parliamentarians should attend to. Again I reiterate the point, we all have a responsibility to protect Australia’s sovereignty.
I’ll just make one other comment about some economic data. I’m sure that my colleagues will say something further about this, but I would make a point about some wages data, which I understand will be released or is being released today. The economy is not working for Australians under this government. We’ve got the slowest economic growth since the global financial crisis. We’ve been in a per capita recession for years. When Labor lost government in 2013, we were the eighth fastest growing economy, we’ve now dropped to the 20th. Living standards have declined. Wages are stagnant and you’ll see from the wages data – which is being released today – that has continued. Consumer confidence is down and business investment is down. So I would say to Mr Morrison, it’s time to ensure that you do the right thing when it comes to the economy. It’s time to ensure you do the right thing when it comes to infrastructure because Australians do need an economy that’s doing far better than the one you’re presiding over.
Thank you very much.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.