2GB Drive with Jim Wilson - 01/12/2020

01 December 2020

SUBJECTS: Australia’s relationship with China; Australians stranded overseas.

JIM WILSON, HOST: I want to bring in the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Senator Penny Wong. Senator, welcome back to Drive.


WILSON: Can you believe Twitter still has this photo up? I mean surely, they should have taken it down by now.

WONG: They should take it down and I know Scott Morrison said yesterday that he was going to ask them to take it down. I don't understand if the Prime Minister of the country has said that, why it would still be up. But I think, you know, we all understand and are unified in our response to an image that was deliberately provocative, inflammatory and deeply offensive.

WILSON: What's your reaction to that Chinese Embassy spokesperson that I just read out some of the statement?

WONG: I listened to you very carefully as you read that out. And I suppose I'd say a few things. I would invite those who say Australia is overreacting to consider what they would say if they were the ones who are subject to this sort of inflammatory remark, and false image. I would also ask why they believe that it is the action of a mature responsible international power to have a doctored photograph used to make a political point. Now, all of us, we are Australians who are deeply proud of the men and women of the ADF. We know they serve the nation with honour. We have also been horrified by the allegations in the Brereton report and I think our response has been transparent, dignified and accountable - as it should be. And I think some of the assertions which were made in the statement you read are simply not correct.

WILSON: How do you think Australia then, what's the next move? Senator, do you think we should impose tariffs on Chinese goods?

WONG: Look, I understand why people go to that. People do feel very strongly about what has occurred. I think the issue is, frankly that trade wars don't really have a winner. And certainly, Australia doesn't win out of a trade war and we have many Australians, across many industries whose livelihoods depend on trade, including trade with China. There are rules which have been committed to so that trading arrangements are more fair for everybody and China has agreed to these rules and I think in the interests of making sure we support those Australians who do rely on export industries, we should be holding to the rules and we should be making sure we do everything we can to make others hold to the rules, including China.

WILSON: A number of our listeners have also said they'd like to see Chinese interests in Australia to be disbanded, like the lease on the Darwin Port. Is that reasonable?

WONG: I think your listeners are right to be concerned about the Port of Darwin. Anthony Albanese raised concerns about it at the time and we have continued to do so. As an island nation that's a pretty important piece of infrastructure isn't it, in our port systems certainly, the Port of Darwin in the north. Right now, in the Senate we've got legislation the Federal Government's brought forward, which is supposed to deal with these sorts of arrangements. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get Senator Payne, the Foreign Minister to be clear about whether or not that legislation would apply to the Port of Darwin. Maybe you can invite her on she can tell you.

WILSON: Well, I'll do that. The Minister has been on the program a number of times. You say the community is united in condemnation of this social media post, but you also say a careful response is needed.

WONG: I said a calm response.

WILSON: A calm response, I beg your pardon. Why shouldn't we stand up strong and tell China, we won't be bullied or walked over?

WONG: Well, we should stand firm. No, I absolutely agree with that. We should be very clear, and I think what has been important has been that this has been such a unified response across the Australian community. I said, others said, it was gratuitous, inflammatory and deeply offensive and these actions weren't the actions of a responsible, mature international power and I maintain that. My only point is when people are being deliberately provocative - and I think the post was deliberately provocative - I think it's always best to respond firmly but calmly and be very clear about how you want to deal with it and the way you're going to respond.

WILSON: Do you think they'll back down over the photo? And do expect them to apologise?

WONG: That hasn't been the approach China has taken, particularly recently, but that's obviously a matter for them. I think they should. Whether or not they do is ultimately a matter for China. I think this is the point, we can focus on what we can do. And one of the things we should be doing is working with other countries including the incoming Biden Administration to support the sorts of behaviours, rules about how we behave internationally as nations, that are consistent with Australia's interests and I think with the interests of the broader international community.

WILSON: I'm speaking to Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Senator Penny Wong. Just before I let you go, I want to ask you about these international flights and getting Aussies home for Christmas. There's obviously 25 days until Christmas. What are the latest figures that you're hearing as far as Australians that are still overseas and in particular those that are vulnerable trying to get home?

WONG: Good question, and let's remember we're only talking a small proportion of the number of Australians overseas. I mean before the pandemic at any one time we've probably got about a million Australians overseas. Now, a lot of them have come home, let's say half of them. What we're talking about are the people who've registered as 'I really need to get home'. And many of them really need to get home because they've run out of money, they've lost their job, their contracts run out, etc etc. And of those we've got 37,000 Australians still stranded - so that's more than when Scott Morrison promised to bring people home by Christmas. And what's really concerning is the question you asked, which is those who are vulnerable, that are people who are judged to really, really be vulnerable if they stay overseas - that's doubled, so we've got 8000 people, our own citizens, who want to come home and can't.

WILSON: It's frustrating and it's also heartbreaking for their families.

WONG: Yes, some of the saddest stories I've heard you know this year have been from the parents and partners and husbands and wives and kids of people who are trying to get home. And some of the stories are extraordinary. I mean these are, I remember one woman who was a nurse in the United Kingdom. She didn't come home when she was first told to, you know why? Because she was a nurse and a pandemic was hitting London and she thought it was the right thing to do to stay. Well her job's finished, and she was trying to get back. That's the sort of person we're talking about. And the fact that, you know, Scott Morrison, unfortunately, he's made a promise which he's not going to keep and no matter of pointing to the states, I think, gets away from the fact that he as Prime Minister could set up, stand up a federal quarantine facility, which is really what we need to do and that's what he's been advised to do. I'd like to get these people home by Christmas and if not as soon thereafter as we can.

WILSON: Do you think it's realistic for those families listening to the program this afternoon?

WONG: Oh look I hope so. I think it was an announcement from Scott Morrison that, unfortunately, isn't going to be delivered, unless something dramatic happens between now and the 11th which is you know the 14 days quarantine period. And I'm really disappointed that Mr Morrison and his cabinet didn't listen to the recommendations of the report they commissioned because that report said stand up a federal quarantine facility and that really would help more people get home.

WILSON: We just want some common sense and compassion, don’t we, across the board?

WONG: Yeah, absolutely.

WILSON: Senator thanks for your time this afternoon.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.