ABC News Breakfast - 30/08/2021

30 August 2021

SUBJECTS: Afghanistan; Newspoll; YouGov poll showing support for climate action.

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Penny Wong is the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister and she joins us now from Adelaide. Senator Wong, Good morning to you.


ROWLAND: It's increasingly incredibly volatile on ground there in Kabul. What more, if anything, can the Australian Government do to help people get out?

WONG: Look, this is a very perilous situation. We've seen one strike. We've seen more terror attacks discussed and planned. This is a very risky situation. We thank the ADF personnel and the other personnel, Australian personnel and the US and the UK forces for assisting in the evacuation of many Australian visa holders. Regrettably, we have left hundreds behind, and the Government will need to focus on how it deals with the Australian citizens, permanent residents and visa holders who have been left in Afghanistan.

ROWLAND: OK, how do they do that realistically?

WONG: Well, this will be something that will be negotiated over time with the international community, and obviously, with whomever ends up in control, or largely in control of Kabul and Afghanistan.

But I would say this, Michael; I do think that it is disappointing that the Government did not listen to the many calls to get people out earlier. We saw the veteran community, very vocal, calling on the Government to act, to bring out those who have helped us. And it is, I think, deeply regrettable, that the Government failed to act earlier, as I said. All our thanks to the brave Australians and our friends and allies who helped evacuate people in these last two weeks. But for months now, the Government has been called upon to act and failed to do so.

ROWLAND: There was a report over the weekend in the Daily Telegraph, I think it was, about the Prime Minister personally ordering the last flight out of Kabul to stay on the tarmac while a search was on for a mum and her daughter. You've been in Government, is that how it works? Can a Prime Minister do that?

WONG: Look, that was a good thing. And I think all of us reading that story would think that that is a good thing. But the Prime Minister has to take responsibility for things good and things bad. And I think that he needs to take responsibility also for the fact that I outlined, that is that veterans, former prime ministers, the Opposition, have been calling for months to get those out who helped us. And we did leave it later than we ought have and as a consequence, we have hundreds of people left behind.

ROWLAND: Do you see any scope at all, and I know it is very hard to predict at the moment, given as you say there are so many citizens, permanent residents, Afghans with Australian visas, still on the ground there, of flights going back in. Some sort of even short-term military presence to try to get these people out, try to get them here to Australia?

WONG: Look, I think that it's a very, very difficult situation and obviously, the US, which has been the primary security presence on the ground, along with the United Kingdom, but the US withdrawal is imminent. So, we're looking at a much more difficult situation going forward and the Government will have to work with other members of the international community and international organisations dealing
with refugees and migration to work out how it can secure, if possible, passage for any Australians.

ROWLAND: OK. Let's come back home to domestic politics. We are getting ever closer to the election, whenever it is going to be held. Newspoll out today shows the Labor Party ahead of the Coalition, 54-46 on preference votes and for the first time in a long time, the Labor Party's primary vote has a "four" in front of it at 40%. You would have to say that that is looking pretty good for Labor at the moment?

WONG: I'm not really interested in looking at the polls. I'm interested in looking at what we have to do, what we have to do to present a credible alternative at the next election, and what we also have to do to hold the Prime Minister to account. And there's a lot to hold him to account for. This is a bloke who is more interested in picking a fight with the Premiers than he is about leading the country safely out of lockdown. So what I would say to you and to those watching is that we have to get out of lockdown safely, and that means that the Prime Minister should focus less on fighting with various Premiers and more on how we do that.

ROWLAND: One of the issues likely to loom large at the election is climate change. There's a poll out today by YouGov, commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation, showing pretty strong support Penny Wong, for stronger action on climate change. The Federal Government has that 26% to 28% medium term target by 2030. The Labor Party doesn't have one. Will Labor set a medium-term emissions reduction target ahead of the next election?

WONG: You know, Michael - the only way we're going to get strong action on climate change is if we change the government. Full stop. That is the only way we'll get strong action on climate change.

ROWLAND: But does the alternative Government... Will the alternative Government have a medium term target?

WONG: Michael, we have made clear our position on net zero by 2050 and the importance of a strong pathway to get there. But let's be really clear - the Government wants you to have a discussion about medium term targets. The reality is with Barnaby Joyce as the Deputy Prime Minister - remember the bloke who has campaigned over the last 20 years, or 15 years, against action on climate change - this Coalition Government led by Scott Morrison and Barnaby Joyce will never act on climate. And what that poll shows is what we already know - the community wants action, the business community wants action. The only people who don't are Scott Morrison and Barnaby Joyce. You have to change the Government if you want action on climate change.

ROWLAND: You still haven't answered the question. Will the Labor Party bring in a medium term target so voters can consider that before the next election.

WONG: I'm not in Government.

ROWLAND: I'm talking about leading up to the election.

WONG: Michael - we're not in Government. Chris Bowen gave a speech very recently about the importance of a strong pathway to 2050. He also called on the Government to go with a better target, a stronger target to Glasgow. I think that it is very clear from that the approach we're taking. I was Australia's climate minister. We worked very hard to have strong action on climate change. But I will say this again to you and to everybody who wants action - the only way you'll get a government that acts on climate is if you change the government.

ROWLAND: Penny Wong, we'll leave it there. Appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

WONG: Good to speak with you.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.