ABC Radio Melbourne Mornings with Virginia Trioli - 01/11/2021

01 November 2021

SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison accused of lying to the French President; COP26.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI, HOST: Joining me now is Senator Penny Wong, Senator for South Australia and Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister. Senator Wong, good morning.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Good morning, Virginia. Good to be with you.

TRIOLI: Well, the Prime Minister being accused there directly of lying by the French President. What does this mean for us?

WONG: This says everything about Mr Morrison's character, doesn't it? I mean we know he's loose with the truth. We know when he makes mistakes, he simply doesn't take responsibility. He just denies making the mistake. We remember that when he told everyone we were at the front of the queue for vaccines. And it appears his dishonesty is catching up with him. But most importantly, Virginia it's hurting Australia's interests. It is not in our interest to undermine our relationship with France, who is an important international player and an important power in the Indo-Pacific. And it goes also to the comments that President Biden made over the weekend, where he made clear he was under the impression that France had been informed long before. I mean, this is Scott Morrison's character on display, on the international stage, at this time and that display unfortunately, is damaging our interests and our international standing.

TRIOLI: Well, we all sit in the middle of two sets of denials here that are both being forcefully given. The Prime Minister directly and on the record now denies this. So, is Emmanuel Macron lying? Is he the one making this up? It is hard to sit in the middle and decide which of these world leaders is outright lying.

WONG: People can make their own judgment about character and I think Mr Morrison's character has become increasingly on display. I remember him clearly saying when he spoke about the One China Policy applying to Hong Kong - which is not correct - and then denying that he had said it, despite footage very clearly demonstrating it. But look, there is another important issue here, Virginia, which is how do we get out of this? And we see two different leaders on display here. We see President Biden - and remember the French recalled their Ambassador from the US as a consequence of the AUKUS announcement, the first time that has ever happened in that very long alliance and relationship - what have the Americans done? President Biden showed leadership. He took responsibility. He accepted that the French felt deceived, and now their relationship is back on track.

TRIOLI: Well, let me just pick up something you said a moment ago, Senator Penny Wong, where you mentioned there that Joe Biden, who seemed here to really throw Australia under the bus over the weekend, but as you say, and it's true, he acknowledged in that conversation with Emmanuel Macron that he assumed that France had been told earlier, had been told before that we were backing away from the deal. Doesn't that actually shore up what Scott Morrison is asserting there, as he says, and his quote was that that the President should have been aware of Australia's shifting views because he'd raised it with him over dinner a number of months earlier. You could actually interpret what Joe Biden was saying there as backing that.

WONG: Except that Joe Biden was sitting down next to President Macron, having resolved the issues and accepting responsibility that the impression that he had had, that France had been informed clearly was not the French impression. And this goes to, I mean people can make their own judgments about who they trust. I think Scott Morrison has demonstrated that he has less trustworthiness than Australians would expect from their leader, across a whole range of domestic and international fronts. But leave that aside for the moment. You want to ask how we diplomatically resolve this; it really comes back to a simple proposition - if someone tells you that they feel misled, simply denying it, is not going to help is it? You have to try and deal with the fact that that was their impression. And Scott Morrison's character, his stubbornness, makes him unable to deal with this in a way that that progresses Australia's interests. I mean, we do not have an interest in conflict with the French. We do not have an interest in our Prime Minister having a reputation now, with at least one and I would suggest two world leaders, that what he says cannot be relied on. This is damaging to our international standings.

TRIOLI: Let’s go to that relationship; to be bluntly pragmatic Penny Wong, does it really matter that our relationship with France be at a low ebb at the moment?

WONG: Yes, it does.

TRIOLI: They're not a key strategic partner.

WONG: That is not true. That is incorrect. And I think there are two points about this; the first is the character point. In a world that is being reshaped in the way ours is, to navigate that world in a way that protects and asserts Australia's interests, you need leadership that is regarded as sound and trustworthy. And I think demonstrably our Prime Minister is falling short. Secondly, France is an Indo-Pacific power. And you don't need to ask many people that but how about you ask Malcolm Turnbull, and the Cabinet of which Scott Morrison was a part, which entered a strategic partnership with France, of which the submarines was one part, but recognising that France is a player in our region. They have territories in our region, and they are an important international player. They are an important player in the EU, particularly given Chancellor Merkel's retirement. So, I think it is wrong for us to arrogantly dismiss the importance of the relationship. We need more friends. We need more partners now, not fewer.

TRIOLI: Penny Wong, what if anything in your mind, does this mean going into discussions in Glasgow?

WONG: I think the problem with our position in Glasgow is no one believes Scott Morrison is sincere. Nobody, I think, watching the political charade that we've seen play out over the last two weeks where he sought to spin together an announcement that had Barnaby Joyce - a man who has fought against any action on climate for over a decade and denied the science - he's tried to get him into an announcement so he can go to Glasgow with a net zero qualified promise. So, I mean, I just think that the problem for Mr Morrison is his position at Glasgow is about as sincere as his conversations with the French President.

TRIOLI: Just before I let you go, Senator Wong, I did want to ask you why Labor is only sending the Assistant Shadow Minister Pat Conroy to Glasgow, rather than actually sending your Shadow Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen. It doesn't show a huge commitment on Labor's part. I just wonder why you made that decision?

WONG: I don't think anyone would doubt our commitment to climate change. We're in opposition - obviously you don't get the same sort of access and influence. We did want to be represented. Chris Bowen is obviously here working very hard on domestic policy. But look, I have a very simple message, as someone who was, you might recall, Australia's first Climate Change Minister and tried to put through policies to deal with climate change, including, we did actually get up a quadrupling of the renewable energy target - there is only one way you will get a government that will act on climate and that is if you change the government.

TRIOLI: And I understand Senator Wong, you're in quarantine at the moment in Adelaide. Is that right?

WONG: I am. 14 days by myself so looking forward to seeing the family but I've still got a week and a half to go.

TRIOLI: Okay, well, the talkback number here is one 1300 222 774 depending on how bored you get, okay?

WONG: Okay, thanks very much. If I'm really desperate, I'll call in!

TRIOLI: Well, thank you! Senator Penny Wong, thanks so much.

WONG: Great to speak with you, Virginia.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.