15 May 2018




ASHLEIGH GILLON: Returning now to our top story, the Israeli air strikes targeting Hamas after mass protests overnight led to the deaths of nearly 60 Palestinians who are furious after the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem. Joining us live now from Adelaide is the Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong. Senator, the Israeli Defence Force has conducted air strikes targeting the terrorist organisation Hamas in northern Gaza, is that action justified, do you think?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: I’d wait to be further briefed on the details of that. We’ve seen a large number of Palestinians killed, a large number of casualties, not just in the last 24 hours but we have seen issues over the last six weeks.

We would urge Israel to demonstrate restraint in responding to these protests. We obviously respect Israel’s right to secure its borders but we do believe it is important that they demonstrate restraint in this and we would call on both sides to de-escalate the conflict.

GILLON: Was it a mistake to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem? Tony Abbott has said this morning Australia should consider following Mr Trump’s move. The Prime Minister has already ruled that out. Will Labor?

WONG: I agree with Malcolm Turnbull on this, and I just make this point, Jerusalem is contested territory. I think that is demonstrated and self-evident and regardless of the views people take it is not helpful to a two-state solution for there to be unilateral declarations in respect of that contested territory ahead of progress in the negotiations for a peaceful two-state solution. So we agree with the Government on this. Australia retains its embassy in Tel Aviv and that is the sensible thing to do.

GILLON: The Palestinian Leader Mahmoud Abbas has said this week that essentially the Jewish people were responsible for the Holocaust, it wasn’t anti-Semitism to blame them. Despite these sorts of comments we know that there is a lot of sympathy for Palestine within the Labor Party. Do you think it will be likely the Labor Party National Conference will support recognising Palestine after we saw the NSW Labor Party support that change last year?

WONG: If I could just make a couple of comments, first on President Abbas’ comments. I think they were offensive and they are historically inaccurate and they were widely condemned and rightly so.

Separately to that is the issue of how we best progress a two-state solution. Labor’s position is that we should be doing what is required, in Opposition and in Government, to contribute to that peaceful, just two-state solution. And that is how we should judge any particular diplomatic suggestion, both from within the party and more generally.

GILLON: So would you urge your colleagues at the upcoming National Conference not to go down that path of urging the Labor Party to recognise Palestine?

WONG: That’s an issue Labor will consider at the conference. I think the question always needs to be, is this conducive to, and assists in, achieving a two-state solution? I think that is the question.

GILLON: What is the answer to that question?

WONG: My view about that is there is a lot of symbolic meaning associated with many actions, including this issue, and I think there are a range of things Labor can do, in opposition and in government, to contribute to a two-state solution.


GILLON: The Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong is still with us from Adelaide. Senator, does Labor support those airport rules that Malcolm Turnbull announced this morning which allow police to walk up to anyone in an airport for whatever reason or no reason, and ask for ID? Is that really necessary to keep Australians safe?

WONG: Can I just respond, very briefly, to Simon Birmingham and Michaelia Cash, I wonder if whilst they are at the university, they might want to announce that they’re reversing their $2.2 billion worth of cuts which have remained in their Budget that was handed down. It’s all very good to talk about excellence but when you’re taking resources away from universities, I’m not sure how they achieve it.

On this latest proposal which has been floated by the Prime Minister, I understand there is an announcement which is due to be made, or perhaps is being made. We certainly will wait to see the detail of that. I would make these two points though, Ashleigh. The first is that, we have in opposition and in government, done what is required to keep Australians safe, including substantive changes and strengthening to Australia’s national security laws. We’ve taken a bipartisan approach to those.

The second point I’d make, is the way in which we’ve dealt with that primarily has been through the intelligence committee of which I am a member. This hasn’t been flagged, as far as I am aware, with members of that committee and I hope it would be because the changes, and there have been a number of changes to our national security legislation including powers of security agencies, have gone through the process of being properly referred to that committee and then have passed through the Parliament generally with amendment and bipartisan support. So I hope the Government will take that approach in relation to this suggestion and ensure that there can be bipartisan support if these laws are indeed in the national interest and are required to keep Australians safe.

GILLON: Now, I acknowledge this might be a bit of a free kick, the former Ambassador to China…

WONG: You never do that, do you?

GILLON: .. Geoff Raby, this is a story we’ve seen today. Some negative press surrounding Julie Bishop the Foreign Minister. The former Ambassador to China, Geoff Raby, says that Malcolm Turnbull should replace Julie Bishop as Foreign Minister. He’s suggesting that China relations have soured as a result of the Foreign Minister’s diplomacy efforts in recent years. Would you agree with that or is Geoff Raby’s analysis wrong? I mean, he cites strong comments on the South China Sea for example as a real blunder by the Foreign Minister but Labor is pretty much on the same page on that front?

WONG: I’d make a couple of points. I think there are two things which have occurred over the last period on the Foreign Minister’s watch, on Julie Bishop’s watch. One of them is, I think, a diminution of our presence and our relationship with the Pacific. And the second is obviously challenges in our relationship with China.

What I’d say is I understand that she has been undermined by her cabinet colleagues; we’ve seen Peter Dutton openly undermining her. I think Malcolm Turnbull has failed to support her sufficiently in what she is doing and I would say she needs to focus very much on those two sets of relationships: our relationship with the Pacific and the challenges in our relationship with China and she should be supported by her Prime Minister and her cabinet colleagues in doing so.

GILLON: It’s an overreach, though isn’t it, to suggest our China ties are broken?

WONG: Look, there are certainly challenges in the relationship and I think the commentary today reflects what has been a building concern about the relationship and I would urge the Foreign Minister to focus on that relationship as well as our relationship with the Pacific. But I’d also urge Malcolm Turnbull to support her in doing that. I think we’ve seen a lengthy period where she has been openly undermined by colleagues and I don’t think that is helpful to her capacity to do this work.

GILLON: Just finally, it has been a devastating few days in Surabaya in Indonesia. Are those attacks a sign, do you think, that ISIS is actually gaining strength in Southeast Asia?

WONG: We know that we have challenges; we have real concerns in our near region as a result of both home grown radicalism but also returning foreign fighters and there has been a bipartisan support for measures and engagement to address those.

I think it is very important that we support strongly President Jokowi’s call for a war against radicalism that is counter to religious values and to pluralistic values. His words are very strong and they really do reflect an important message about both religious values and pluralistic values in Indonesia that Australia should strongly back and strongly support.

But we extend our deepest sympathies to the victims of, I think there were two attacks, firstly on the churches and also on a police station. They really are horrific and tragic and we extend our deepest sympathies to all of those affected and to the people of Indonesia, and our solidarity with the President and all who fight for pluralism and for religious values against this sort of radicalism.