ABC RN Breakfast with Fran Kelly - 21/10/2021

21 October 2021

SUBJECTS: Government voting to protect Christian Porter from scrutiny; Barnaby Joyce holding Scott Morrison to ransom over climate; execution of an Afghan translator.

FRAN KELLY, HOST: Senator Penny Wong is the Shadow Foreign Minister and Labor Leader in the Senate. Penny Wong, welcome back to Breakfast.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: It's good to be with you, Fran, and are we allowed to talk about you for a minute?

KELLY: Well, sure.

WONG: I just wanted to say, I understand your announcement this morning. Very sad news for the country and for the listeners, but I'm pretty sure happy news for you and Marion. Can I just say, I want to acknowledge your lifelong contribution to the democracy. Journalism matters. Facts matter. You've always sought to find the facts and to seek the truth. You've been tough but fair and that is so important in our democracy, actually having people who focus on facts and discern those from the spin, so thank you.

KELLY: Senator, thank you very much for those comments and let's see if we can keep up the good work right through until December. Thank you, I appreciate it. Senator Wong, the Government voted down the Speaker's ruling - we were just discussing it there with the Treasurer - the ruling that there's a prima facie case for the former minister, Christian Porter, to be referred to the Privileges Committee, over a blind trust set up to pay his legal fees. Now that that's occurred, is this the end of the matter?

WONG: Well, the House can obviously, through the Privileges Committee, seek to take this matter further. But I think we just should pause and understand what this says about Scott Morrison's character. I think Australians do deserve a Prime Minister who uses their power for the good of the nation. This bloke uses his power to protect his mates and to avoid accountability. We had the Government voting, yesterday, against an inquiry, at Mr Morrison's instructions, into who gave Mr Porter an anonymous donation totalling a million dollars. I think people just should consider whether or not, in any universe that is acceptable. It clearly is not.

KELLY: I think it's unclear just how much of the cost of legal fees was wound up in this blind trust and that's part of, I suppose, of the concern around it - the lack of transparency. Peter Dutton revealed in the House yesterday, that he's written to the Privileges Committee asking for a broader investigation, with the practice of crowdfunding to raise donations. Senator Hanson-Young, for instance, used a GoFundMe page to raise money for her defamation action against David Leyonhjelm. That's a comparison the Treasurer made this morning. Is it a fair comparison, do you think?

WONG: I'm fine with there being a broader assessment of accountability and transparency. I think we should be - and Labor does - declare at a lower threshold than the Coalition did for many years. That's all fine, to ensure that we have a broader look at how we make these donations more transparent. But let's not get distracted. The Government is under pressure. They have a former cabinet minister who is seeking to hide a million-dollar donation. And so, what do they do? They go out and try and create another argument, try and attack someone else, try and distract. Let's keep focused on the main issue; the Prime Minister of the country, who should be using his position, his power, his authority for the good of the country, uses it to protect his mates and to avoid accountability in the Parliament, breaking with 120 years of precedence to do it. In our democracy, we need Prime Ministers and Ministers to behave within more principle than that.

KELLY: We've got a bit to get through, Senator. On climate. The Libs and the Nationals are edging closer to a deal on net zero emissions by 2050.

WONG: The hostage negotiations are ending, I think.

KELLY: Will this be enough to reassure the international community at Glasgow, do you think? And neutralise the issue for the Coalition, ahead of the election?

WONG: No, I don't think anybody who has watched what has occurred over these last years, and these last months would think that what is happening is anything other than a political deal. It will be nothing more than spin. Put simply, Barnaby Joyce, Scott Morrison have stood in the way of climate action for nearly a decade, for more than a decade for Mr Joyce's part. Mr Morrison has ridiculed renewable energy, has ridiculed electric vehicles. Now, he wants the international community and the Australian people to believe he's had a change of heart. All that has happened is he has realised it's a political problem for him. And that is all this deal will be about; trying to deal with a political problem that Mr Morrison has identified.

KELLY: Talking about political problems, you're a former Climate Change Minister. You've lived through the highs and lows of this debate.

WONG: Mainly lows I reckon.

KELLY: Well perhaps, yeah. Is there a danger, do you think, that Labor could get wedged again on an emissions cut? The Prime Minister is already attacking Labor, saying Labor won't protect jobs and industries because your 2030 target will be too high. On the other flank, the Greens will go hard in Labor seats on the claim your targets are too low. Are you worried there's one more scare campaign perhaps, left in Australia's climate wars, at that the next election?

WONG: I'm sure that there will be a big scare campaign from both sides. I just say to your listeners this; it is right that you press the Labor Party to do what needs to be done on climate, but ultimately, the bigger fight is to change the government because nothing will happen in this country on climate, unless the government is changed. And the evidence of that, is everything that's happened since the Coalition was elected eight long years ago.

KELLY: On another issue, one directly affecting your portfolio, yesterday here on Breakfast we covered the terrible news of a former interpreter, Afghan interpreter, who had worked for the Australian Army in Afghanistan has been executed by the Taliban. He was explicitly on the Taliban's notorious kill list because of his links with the Australian Defence Forces. What obligation did Australia have to get this man and his family out of Afghanistan?

WONG: We had an overriding ethical obligation. And I want to thank you for raising this story yesterday and making sure this doesn't go away. I want to express my sympathy to the man’s family, and his friends and all those who have been working to get him out. It is really tragic. The requirement, or the obligation, that Australia has to help those who helped us is something that we've been talking about for months. And not just Labor - this issue was raised after the announcement of withdrawal by veterans groups, by advocates, by former Prime Ministers, and the Government kept telling us that they were dealing with it. They kept telling us that it was happening. Well demonstrably we didn't do enough earlier, and I wish we had.

KELLY: This man's wife and his children are apparently in hiding in Afghanistan in fear for their lives, obviously. The Immigration Minister, Alex Hawke, told us here on Breakfast yesterday the Government is still committed to rescuing Afghans but it's such "a dangerous and difficult situation" since the fall of Kabul.

WONG: It is.

KELLY: Realistically what more can Australia do now to help the family of this man, and the 300 other Australian citizens and visa holders that the Government says are still stuck, not to mention the many thousands who've applied for humanitarian visas.

WONG: Well, the first thing the Government should do is to be upfront with the Australian people about how many people are left. They've told us the Australian citizens and permanent residents. They haven't told us how many Australian visa holders are still remaining in Afghanistan. They've promised to do that but have failed to do so. So, I look forward to Minister Payne doing that. It is really tough now. I mean that is why we went so hard, as did so many others, prior to the fall of Kabul because we could see that this was going to get more difficult. I don't think anybody anticipated it would happen as fast as it did. But the Government, we closed our embassy earlier this year. We knew the security situation in Afghanistan and regrettably, the Government did not act with sufficient haste, in the lead up to the fall of Kabul. They did in the last few days but by then it was very, very dangerous,

KELLY: Senator Wong, thank you very much for joining us.

WONG: Good to be with you, always.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.