6PR Mornings with Liam Bartlett - 01/11/2021

01 November 2021

SUBJECT: Scott Morrison accused of lying to the French President.

LIAM BARTLETT, HOST: Joining us this morning is the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Penny Wong. Senator Wong, good morning.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Good morning. Good to speak with you, Liam.

BARTLETT: Yeah, you too. Regardless of what do you think of Scott Morrison's performance, I mean, the US President saying it was not done with a lot of grace and that he was under the impression that France had been informed long before that the deal was not going through and saying to Macron, 'I didn't know you knew that'. I mean, Joe Biden and the US are an integral part of the AUKUS deal. It's a bit rich, isn't it?

WONG: I think what's a bit rich is that Mr Morrison, by being loose with the truth has managed to undermine two key relationships and to undermine our standing on the world stage. I think this says everything about Mr Morrison's character. I mean, he is loose with the truth and when he makes mistakes, he simply doesn't take responsibility. He just denies making them. We all remember him telling us we were at the front of the queue on vaccines and we weren't. But the problem is here not just for him, it is that it is hurting Australia's interests. You see, Liam, we have a reputation around the world for being straight shooters. People know that we do what we say and we pull our weight. That gets us a certain respect, a seat at the table. That's been our international reputation for generations, under governments of both parties. And Mr Morrison is trashing that. He is demonstrating to world leaders that he can't be trusted. That is bad for him but much more importantly, it's bad for Australia.

BARTLETT: But Senator, you know very well when you're talking big deals, when you're negotiating - whether that's negotiating your way into them or out of them - when you're talking about $90 billion contracts, sometimes it's very, very difficult to be incredibly clear.
WONG: There has to be a judgment doesn't there, by the leader about the country, about how to best protect Australia's national interests in difficult circumstances. And you're right it's a difficult circumstance - the Government has walked away from its second submarine contract. Remember we had the Japanese deal and now we've got the French deal which we walked away from and eight years later, we're still 18 months off making decision at least. But the problem I think for Scott Morrison is he so often looks to what the announcement is. Well, you've got to focus not only on the announcement but the substance. You need to take responsibility for doing the whole job not just getting the splashy headlines. And you need to be trusted and demonstrably how he's handled it has not lived up to that.

BARTLETT: It gets pretty bad at diplomatic level, doesn't it, when leader to leader you say straight out that the other person lied?

WONG: It's almost unprecedented. And given President Macron's standing - and remember he is a long serving French President, he is an extremely important leader in terms of the European Union, France itself is a very important partner of Australia's in our region. Remember they are an Indo Pacific power. They have territories in both Pacific and Indian Oceans. But also, they are a very important player inside the European Union, who are an important entity in terms of our support for a world order that is rules-based. You would not want to trash that relationship. And yet it appears that Mr Morrison's failure to at least prepare the ground - which was part of the job - because he was so focused on a flashy announcement, has left us in this position where, as I said, it is unprecedented to have the Australian Prime Minister's trustworthiness openly queried by one world leader and the US President - our closest strategic ally - making it clear that he had a different assessment, or a different understanding, of what has occurred.

BARTLETT: Can we excuse Scott Morrison on the basis that Australia's interests were at stake?

WONG: No, because I think Australia's interests are a whole range of things. Yes, we understand the capability arguments for the submarines. I think there's a big capability gap that appears to have opened up, without a solution, between our best estimate of when we might first get a nuclear-powered submarine and the Collins retirement, but we understand the capability argument. But that's only one part of our interests. Our interests in a world where we are increasingly facing challenges - and we've seen some of them over the last few years - are to ensure that we have strong partnerships, that we are not alone, and we are not isolated. And by his actions he has made us more isolated. That is not in Australia's interests.

BARTLETT: Senator, thanks for your time this morning. We'll leave it there.

WONG: Great to speak with you.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.