PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: My next guest this afternoon is the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.
Penny Wong, welcome.
SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Good to be with you, Patricia.
KARVELAS: I understand there were technical issues. I'm very sorry for the delay. Thank you for being very patient with us.
WONG: No worries. We have put it together here.
KARVELAS: You've worked it out somehow. I want to start on the breaking news this hour; that the Victorian Government has withdrawn its request for help from the Defence Force to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak.
Do you think, what do you make of that decision given the Defence Force was called in and there's some kind of revision?
WONG: I think that's really a matter for the Victorian Government. I saw that news breaking as I was waiting for your call, as it were, but these are ultimately decisions the Victorian Government has to make.
I don't know what has led to either the initial call or the change in position.
I would make this point; we're obviously seeing levels of transmission at the moment in Victoria that we wouldn't want to see and it just reminds us that we've done a lot of hard work to get where we are as a country, all of us, and we need to continue to be vigilant and to heed the advice of the authorities.
KARVELAS: Do you think there's an argument for localised lockdowns in parts of Melbourne, given we're seeing these really fresh outbreaks?
WONG: Look, I think this is a situation where the Premier and public health authorities really have to make judgements about how best to deal with what we are seeing, which is higher levels of transmission, clusters of outbreaks which we don't want to see - and what is the best way to try and deal with this, in circumstances where not only Victoria, but the country, has done extremely well in terms of Australians responding to the advice that health authorities are giving.
KARVELAS: Are states justified in keeping their closed or at least restricting entry from people from Victoria?
WONG: You know, I'm a bit bemused by the way the Federal Government seems to want to have a political fight about this.
It was quite interesting to observe in the Senate Chamber in the last fortnight the extent to which the Coalition senators want to line up to yell a lot about borders not being open.
I would have thought on these issues just as per my previous answer, you want to take the advice of your health authorities.
Rather than people engaging in political conflict over it, at a time Mr Morrison tells us we should all be pulling together, why don't we let people make the best judgements that they can for their states, on the best advice they have from their public health authorities, recognising there is an economic effect, or impact of this.
We've seen that today with the jobs figures and obviously with the very sad announcement in Qantas.
KARVELAS: Let's talk about that Qantas announcement. It is very significant. What's your reaction to that restructure and the loss of these 6,000 jobs?
WONG: First, can I say; 6,000 jobs, that's a lot of families, a lot of people who are going to be devastated. And my thoughts are with all of those workers and all of the work force.
I would make this point though; we've had some 800,000 jobs lost since March.
We've seen jobs data out today, on top of the Qantas figures, which shows the largest single drop in job vacancies that we've seen.
And we've got more jobs lost, higher unemployment, a deeper recession and a recovery that's harder because of decisions the Morrison Government has made. And I think that's clear. And it really is time for the Government to rethink what it's doing on JobKeeper. And stop hiding what it wants to do in September from the Australian people.
KARVELAS: Is it that it's hiding what it wants to do or is it a case that it's reviewing it and making a decision? This is their argument, about the economic circumstances at the time.
Just to be clear, there's a reason for that. The economic circumstances seem to change quite a lot given this is an unprecedented situation.
WONG: And that's true. It is an unprecedented situation which is why we should approach it, recognising what needs to be done.
And I think what we do know is that there are more people who have lost their jobs because of the Government's stubborn refusal to reconsider its JobKeeper design.
We know that they're refusing to provide certainty to employers and to employees down the track and that is having an effect on confidence and it's having an effect on the jobs data. That is the point I am making.
We are in unprecedented circumstance. And as you know Patricia, youve had me on the program before, the Opposition sought to be constructive around these policies.
We argued for a wage subsidy in the face of Mr Morrison saying it wasn't required. Now we know JobKeeper was critically necessary.
But we also know that we are seeing unprecedented job losses. We're seeing job vacancies fall.
And we don't want either unemployment to be higher, the recession to be deeper, and the recovery to be harder than it needs to be because of policy decisions the Government doesn't want to make.
KARVELAS: Penny Wong, given international borders are not expected to reopen until at least mid next year, obviously that could change, but that's conservative in some ways, is it inevitable that airlines will have to cut jobs?
WONG: Look, there has been a huge impact on the airline industry. But I do think that the aviation sector was needing a much more structured approach. A much earlier and clearer plan for the sector, whether it's Qantas or Virgin, where we have seen a very large number of job losses as well and the airline in the very precarious position that it is.
Catherine King came out very early and called for a comprehensive plan for the aviation sector.
There's no doubt the pandemic is having an effect across industries and the airline industry is one of them.
And it does require the Government to look at what it can do and give clarity to the sector.
But as I said, my first thought is with the many employees who must be very worried about their economic circumstances going forward.
KARVELAS: The Federal Government has flagged additional support for the aviation sector. So clearly they're working on this package. We know their preference is for sector-wide support, what do you think it should include?
WONG: Well, we've been waiting some time, haven't we?
Youve just told me they're working on it. And weve seen, look what has happened to Virgin, look at the precarious position that company is in.
We've had ad hoc measures for the sector. It is well beyond time for a comprehensive and clear plan from the Government for aviation. Just as, weve seen today, finally after a very long time, 100 days, we have finally seen the Government say something about the arts sector.
This is a problem with the Government. They're so focused on slogans, not focused on delivery.
We finally and belatedly get something in the arts sector, just as we're belatedly getting advice about a more comprehensive plan for the aviation sector.
Really, the Government needs to stop worrying about announcements and worry about delivery.
KARVELAS: There's been criticism of Labor's decision to invite Allan Gyngell, who is a former senior intelligence official, and a board member of the China Matters think tank to address Shadow Cabinet. What's your response to that criticism?
WONG: First on China Matters, if the Government has an issue with China Matters, it needs to come out and tell people, rather than having background and innuendo.
Allan Gyngell was invited because he's one of Australias preeminent foreign policy experts. This was a man who was our head intelligence analyst. He headed up the Office of National Assessments. He is somebody who is extraordinarily well regarded by both sides of politics, and has served governments and served in the public service at the most senior levels.
He was invited because obviously one of the issues we need to deal with is foreign policy in a world post the pandemic, that includes the relationship with China but it is a much broader discussion than that.
I would make this point; everyone's entitled to their free speech. We all enjoy free speech. It's a question of how we use it. What I would say is, we should use it for the national interest. And we shouldn't be using it to somehow suggest that people who might have a different view aren't loyal Australians.
That's been the tenor of some of the discussion. I hope we can be a bit more mature than that.
KARVELAS: The Government has though made a decision not to continue funding China Matters. Do you have a view on that? Why do you think that decision has been reached?
WONG: Well, that's a matter for the Government.
They should explain to people why that's the case why they don't think an organisation that they've been funding now no longer deserves funding.
I think the Government should talk about that.
KARVELAS: What's your analysis on why that's happened?
WONG: I don't know why that's happened. The Government hasn't explained why that's happened.
KARVELAS: And is it concerning to you?
WONG: What I think is more concerning to me is the tenor of some of the debate.
I've made this point, certainly on this program and other programs; we have a very complex and challenging relationship with China.
It's complex and challenging because we have a very strong trading relationship, very strong economic relationship, which actually we have become more reliant on trade with China since the Coalition has been in Government.
China is also increasingly assertive and it has a range of interests which we don't share.
Now, managing that is a key national interest. That's a complex discussion and its a discussion that I don't think is helped by people escalating the domestic debate for domestic political purposes. By suggesting, its certain not helping the discussion, by suggesting people who have a different view somehow arent loyal Australians.
KARVELAS: Have Labor MPs been asked, or advised to limit their public criticism of China?
WONG: Look, people are entitled to free speech. But as I said, it's a question of whether, how you want to use that. Do I, and does anybody encourage, anybody in a senior position, should we all encourage people to use their free speech for the national interests? Of course we do. That will require a discussion - some of that public, some of that not.
I would set aside in to certain consular matters. There are times when there is bipartisan discussion about making sure we don't inflame particular consular cases and we're very careful about that, as you would expect.
KARVELAS: Just finally, former White House National Security Adviser, John Bolton is speaking to the ABC's 7.30 program tonight. The most explosive claim in his book is that President Trump asked China for help to boost his re-election chances. Do you think there are implications for Australia?
WONG: Well, that is a very substantial allegation and I'll leave that to Mr Bolton to comment on and to talk to Leigh Sales about tonight.
But I would make this point; the US-China trade deal is a very large deal. It is a deal which gives a lot of access to the Chinese market to American agriculture.
There is a very open question about whether or not Australian farmers, Australian exporters are disadvantaged by that deal because more market share will go to the US producers.
That's not a question that Mr Morrison has ever been prepared to answer and I think he should be prepared to answer that and should be prepared to be very clear about whether he has ensured that the US-China trade deal that Mr Trump, his friend, has engaged in, is not going to disadvantage Australian exporters.
KARVELAS: Penny Wong, thank you so much for joining us.
WONG: Good to speak with you.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.