ABC News Breakfast with Michael Rowland - 20/01/2021

20 January 2021

SUBJECTS: Australia-US alliance; Scott Morrison’s relationship with Donald Trump; US-China competition.

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: The Shadow Foreign Minister, Senator Penny Wong joins us now from Adelaide. Penny Wong, good morning to you. Firstly as somebody who's keenly observed US politics over the last four years, as he prepares to leave the White House, how would you describe Donald Trump's presidency?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well, it was unpredictable and I think regrettably saw a decline in US influence and US power. Obviously, we have said consistently through the last four years, the alliance transcends any individual, it is the centrepiece of Australia's foreign policy, it's our most important relationship. But there is no doubt that this has been a tumultuous and challenging time for America's allies including Australia. And we look forward to President Biden's Administration delivering on the commitment he has made to invest more strongly in alliances and to recognise that alliances are a central aspect of US power.

ROWLAND: I want to talk more about that in just a moment. Anthony Albanese, your leader in a speech today, is calling for Australia to take a much more assertive role in the US-Australia relationship. How would that be achieved if Labor does win office?

WONG: Well, we recognise that the alliance has to be more than a serious of photo opportunities and a discussion about mateship. It is central to the sort of region we want to live in. It is so important, indispensable, to the region and the world we want to live in. What we want to see is the Morrison Government - and this is what we would do were we to be elected - to work within the alliance to show leadership, to ensure that we work with the Americans to have the most effective and strategic engagement within the Indo-Pacific and particularly with the Southeast Asian nations.

ROWLAND: Anthony Albanese will also use this big speech today in WA to accuse Scott Morrison of pandering to Donald Trump. Isn't that, though, what all Prime Ministers do - they seek to curry favour, Penny Wong, with the sitting US President?

WONG: Scott Morrison has corroded the alliance by the way in which he has approached his relationship with Donald Trump. He has put his political affinity with Mr Trump and his own political interests ahead of Australia's interests and the values in the alliance. It was Scott Morrison who attended effectively a campaign rally for President Trump and critically it is Scott Morrison who's failed to call out Mr Trump and defend democracy as other world leaders have. And he continues to indulge the conspiracy theorists in his own ranks instead of disavowing them, which would be an in our interest for him to do.

ROWLAND: How do you hope the new Administration's policies towards China will change in a way that possibly eases some of the tensions that the relationship between certainly the US and China, but also collaterally the Australia-China relationship?

WONG: I would anticipate the strategic competition with the US and China will continue. What matters most to Australia and to the region is the terms of that competition. We want a region where sovereignty is respected, where trade enables prosperity for all. I have been heartened by some of the comments of the incoming Administration about the current trade issues we have with China and we hope that we can have a much more constructive framework for coexistence in which the rules of the road are respected.

ROWLAND: And we certainly will be helped by the fact that there are friends of Australia to be part of the new administration including Kurt Campbell who will be the point-man for Asia in the Biden Administration, somebody with strong ties and deep affinity towards Australia.

WONG: That's right. We also have good relationships with Jake Sullivan and Ely Ratner, who has just been announced as a Pentagon appointment. We do have a lot of good relationships and a lot of friends in Washington which is one of the reasons why it was important for Mr Morrison to defend democracy at a time when democracy has been under attack. His failure to do so will not go unnoticed.

ROWLAND: Penny Wong in Adelaide, we’ll leave it there. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.

WONG: Good to speak with you.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.