ABC News Breakfast - 20/04/2022

20 April 2022

SUBJECTS: China Solomon Islands Deal; Election

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Let's bring in the Shadow Foreign Minister, Penny Wong. She's in Adelaide Penny Wong, good morning. What in your view does the signing of this pact mean for regional security?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Good morning, Michael. Good to be with you. Well, this is the worst foreign policy blunder in the Pacific that Australia has seen since the end of WWII. It is going to make our region less secure. And this has all happened on Scott Morrison's watch. And what's important to recall, Michael is that he was warned. Back in August, we're told by the Opposition Leader in the Solomon Islands, the Prime Minister and the Australian Government was warned that this was in the offing. But what of what has happened? Well, we've seen it's come to fruition and as a consequence of Mr. Morrison going missing, just like he did on bushfires on vaccines and on rapid antigen tests, as a consequence of him going missing, our region is less secure and the risks Australia faces have got greater.

ROWLAND: Okay, we had the Pacific Minister Zed Seselja, going there last week, in what turns out to be a vain effort to lobby Solomon Islands against signing this deal. So what are you suggesting, that the Prime Minister himself should have been there on the ground?

WONG: Well, he's the leader of the country. This is our region. This goes directly to Australia's national security and he should have taken responsibility. The United States is sending their top Indo-Pacific National Security Adviser Kurt Campbell, we send the junior Minister at the last minute in a region that is critical to our security. Yet again, Mr. Morrison has gone missing. And he might talk a tough game, but what we are seeing on his watch is the worst Australian foreign policy blunder in the Pacific since the end of WWII.

ROWLAND: Okay, so if Labor wins Government at the election, is there anything casting ahead that the Labor Government could do I guess, to try to unpick this deal?

WONG: Well, look, I can tell you, what we will do is put more resources and more energy into ensuring that the Pacific family, which Mr. Morrison and Marise Payne like to talk about, but that the Pacific family is secure. And what we won't do is do things like mismanage the Pacific labour scheme, cut development assistance by $12 billion since they came to Government. And we won't make jokes about water lapping at the door at Pacific Island leaders meetings like we saw Mr. Morrison and Mr. Dutton doing. We would be serious on climate. And remember, climate change has been identified by Pacific leaders as their number one economic and national security priority.

ROWLAND: Okay, four weeks’ time bit more than four weeks, you're the new Foreign Minister Penny Wong if Labor wins. China and how to deal with China is still going to be a huge issue. What is the first step you would take as Foreign Minister to try to get relations between Australia and China back on track?

WONG: I think it's really critical we deal with the increasingly assertive and aggressive China first by ensuring that we secure our region. So, we understand that our interests on a range of issues are very different. And Labor will never take a backward step when it comes to standing up for Australia's interests. But our first priority must be to secure our region and that is why this failure of Mr. Morrison is so great because it goes directly to his failure to secure our region. When we needed him, when Australia needed him he went missing yet again.

ROWLAND: Okay, let's get back to domestic politics. So all eyes tonight on the first leaders debate between Anthony Albanese and Scott Morrison, how important in your view is this contest for Anthony Albanese?

WONG: I think it's important for the country and important for Australians who want a better future and what they will see is the difference between a leader in Anthony Albanese who seeks to bring the country together, and Mr. Morrison who seeks to divide. A leader in Anthony Albanese who's focused on a better future, securing Medicare better wages, cheaper childcare, cheaper power, and a Prime Minister, who's asking you for another decade, a second decade in office. So, it's an important debate not just for the leaders but actually for the country because it is about what sort of nation do you want to be in and whether or not you think Scott Morrison, after everything he's done, and all the times he's gone missing and let us down. Does he really deserve a second decade in office?

ROWLAND: Okay, just before we go some good news yesterday for the Australian Electoral Commission. There are a couple of hundred thousand people have signed up to enroll to vote, a record number of Australians will vote on May the 21st, which is wonderful. A lot of these new enrollees are young people aged between 18 and 24. But yet Penny Wong they're switching on to our show and other news platforms and hearing these childish games. Your side referring to the Prime Minister is a sneaky Scott, their side calling for instance, your colleague, Jim Chalmers, sneaky Jim. It's all getting a bit childish, isn't it?

WONG: What I'd say to every voter, including new voters, and I had the opportunity to chat to a couple of young women yesterday in Adelaide who were going to vote for the first time and they were really excited about it, and they were informing themselves. What I'd say to them is have a look at what the policies are have a look at where this country is, and have a think about whether we can do better. Can we do better on climate change? Of course we can. And that's what Labor is offering. Can we do better on childcare? Of course we can. That's what Labor is offering. You know, can we do better on strengthening Medicare? Of course we can and that's what Labor is offering. So there are a lot of issues that are important for the future of the country. Of course, there's always the media focus on the game. But beneath that, underneath that is actually something profoundly important, which is what sort of country are we.

ROWLAND: Should pollies back away from the name calling, though, to try to facilitate this, as you say, process of democracy?

WONG: Well, I think if you look at what Anthony has announced over this last week, whether it's assistance or expert care for kids with hearing loss, urgent care clinics and strengthening of Medicare, or today we're talking about industrial relations or the plans we put out on climate, these are all plans which are about the future of the country.

ROWLAND: Okay, Penny Wong in Adelaide. Appreciate your time. Thank you.

WONG: Good to be with you Michael.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.