ABC News Breakfast with Michael Rowland - 29/01/2021

29 January 2021

SUBJECTS: Labor’s Shadow Ministry reshuffle; Britain-UAE border closure; almost 40,000 Australians stranded overseas.

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Let's go back to Penny Wong in Adelaide. Penny Wong, can you hear me now?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well, I could hear you, but I'm afraid you couldn't hear me, which would have been a little bit one-sided.

ROWLAND: Little bit one-sided, we don't want that.

WONG: It's good to be with you.

ROWLAND: It's good to hear you too. Joel Fitzgibbon, a former frontbencher, now backbencher, who argues Labor needs to reconnect more with its blue-collar roots, is quite happy that Mark Butler, your fellow South Australian, has been removed from the climate change portfolio. Mark Butler was very ambitious when it came to climate change targets. Joel Fitzgibbon says his removal sends a good message to Labor's base. Does it?

WONG: Look, as you said in your opening, you know, Joel is a backbencher, just like Barnaby Joyce. And just like Barnaby Joyce he engages in a bit of commentary. That's up to him. But I'm not going to respond to all of his commentary. The facts are, Labor's got a very clear position on climate. It's a position that aligns with that of the newly elected President Biden, of net zero emissions by 2050. I think that what we have is a reshuffle which is all about Australian jobs. It has Australian jobs front and centre, recognises what the pandemic has demonstrated - that we have too much insecure work. We have too many people unemployed, or who need more work, and this is a reshuffle that is very much focused on the issues that matter to

ROWLAND: OK. I know you say he's a backbencher, but he makes a very good point, that there were big swings against the Labor Party in areas where he lives, like the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. Do you run the risk, in doing what you've done with the climate change, change of personnel, of perhaps winning some votes back in those areas but exposing yourself to losing votes to the Greens and Independents in metropolitan seats?

WONG: There has been no shift in our climate policy. What you have is a person going into the climate portfolio who is committed to action, who recognises the economic challenge that is climate and recognises - this is obviously Chris Bowen - who recognises that the future security of the Australian economy, future security of work does demand that we responsibly respond to climate. Now, you know, people can throw forward all they like. The facts are our policy is the same as it was last week. And, as Anthony Albanese said, there is zero possibility of a party he leads not having a very clear and ambitious plan on climate.

ROWLAND: OK and on that front, talking about ambitious plans, will Labor take to the next election medium-term targets for 2030 or 2035?

WONG: We have made clear our 2050 target and we will make our position clear on the pathway to that, prior to the next election.

ROWLAND: But will that involve a target in 2030 or 2035...

WONG: What I would say - I've given you my answer. We'll make our position on that clear. But I would say this to you, Michael, and to the many people who watch and listen to this program; if you want action on climate, you need to elect a Labor government. I was Australia's first Climate Minister. I have watched, for over a decade, the way in which Mr Morrison, and those he runs with, prevent action on climate, prevent this country moving forward, prevent this country moving forward when it comes to climate, and so we can have a whole heap of discussion about the Labor Party's position, the commentary that you've referred to. The Greens can have their own debate in the seats that they care about, but ultimately, if you want to change the country's course on this - and I do, and I'm very committed to action on climate - you have to change the government.

ROWLAND: OK, now, this has been aimed by Anthony Albanese, as he would argue, putting Labor's best foot forward. But it comes amid chatter about leadership. We have the likes of Bill Shorten arguing against what he describes as a tiny policy agenda for the next election. Tanya Plibersek, some would argue, openly campaigning for the leadership, with front pages in The Australian. She signed up to regular talkback on 2GB. Penny Wong, going back to your previous portfolio in government, you've lived through this movie in the Rudd-Gillard years. This sort of stuff never ends well for the leader, does it?

WONG: Well, I have lived through division and I know that way ensures that not only do we not have electoral success, but the people we represent, the ideas we give voice to, don't succeed in a world where there is not unity. I would say this to you, though; Anthony will lead us to the next election and beyond. And I know there's a lot of chatter. I know there's a lot of commentary. We had six years with Bill and Tanya. Regrettably, we lost both elections. We are now looking to the next election, and this reshuffle is all about that. It is about Australian jobs and it is also about making sure that we demonstrate to the Australian people that we recognise the challenges they face, the importance of making sure that we don't leave anyone behind, and don't hold anyone back when it comes to the future of this nation.

ROWLAND: And finally, we're just getting some breaking news and it goes to your shadow portfolio. There's a fresh flight ban, we're learning, on direct passenger flights from Dubai and Abu Dhabi to places like Australia, effective from tomorrow at 1:00. We're showing our viewers the tweet from the Australian High Commission in London now. Penny Wong, the Australian Government is working with Emirates and Etihad airlines and to understand the impact on outbound travel from the UK but on face value, this is far from good news for Australians stranded in the UK wanting to get home, is it?

WONG: We have nearly 40,000 Australians stranded overseas. We have a Prime Minister who told people that he would get them home by Christmas last year. He did not do so. We have a Government led by Mr Morrison, which has refused to step up to ensure a safe national quarantine system and, until he does that, we will continue to see these sorts of events, which prevent Australian citizens from coming home. Some people are in dire circumstances. Mr Morrison should do the right thing. He should step up and take responsibility, instead of doing what he so often does, which is when the going gets tough, he goes missing.

ROWLAND: Penny Wong in Adelaide, thank you so much and apologies for the technical gremlins at the start there.

WONG: No worries. Good to be with you.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.