29 July 2020
SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I just wanted to make some comments about the AUSMIN meeting which occurred in the United States overnight, Australian time.
First to start with, AUSMIN is the single most important opportunity in which Australia can express our interests within our alliance with the United States, which of course remains our principal security relationship and has strong bipartisan support.
Beyond the alliance, of course, we have always made clear that Australia needs to work closely with aligned nations; so we work both with our allies and with aligned nations to protect and promote Australia's national interests in a world that has become more unstable and in which the strategic outlook for Australia has become more challenging.
The key focus for Australia must always be our national interest and our national interests lie in shaping the sort of region we want to be in; a region that is stable and prosperous, but in which sovereignty is respected, in which international law is respected, where disputes are dealt with in a way that does not escalate and consistent with international norms.
We welcome Minister Payne's acknowledgement that Australia needs new groupings of nations with aligned interests and we look forward to her plan to deliver on this core national priority.
We also note a range of announcements, including the statement of principles on force posture and we will be seeking a briefing as the Opposition on that front.
There has also been an announcement in relation to a military fuel reserve here in Australia. Whilst Labor welcomes that initiative, we would make the point that we have been saying for some time there is a clear need for a domestic fuel security policy which not only stores fuel in Australia, but ensures that we are in compliance with International Energy Agency obligations.
Finally, I would make one point; I noticed this morning that Defence Minister Reynolds was asked about the trade deal between the US and China and the growing concerns about Australian farmers and exporters being disadvantaged by this bilateral trading arrangement. The Minister didn't answer that question and I understand neither did Mr Morrison when he's been asked about it.
I would make this point; we have an arrangement between President Trump and President Xi which commits to $40 billion worth of US agricultural product going into China for two years – $40 billion a year. That is a very large amount of product. We have already seen expressions of concern that Australian farmers and exporters could be negatively affected by this and I would welcome the Government making clear that they are advocating to the US that Australian farmers are not collateral in that trade agreement.
So, more broadly, we welcome the fact that AUSMIN has occurred. We welcome the continued deep engagement with the United States, in our shared interest to ensure that we have a region with the attributes I have described – stable, prosperous, peaceful and which observes international law.
And finally I'd make this point; a core priority for Australia is making sure that we not only work with the United States, but with other regional partners to shape the region we want. It is critical that we have the region at the forefront of shaping the sort of norms and rules that we want to live by and to ensure there is stability and peace. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Overall, were you happy with the outcomes?
WONG: Look, I think that they do reflect Australia's national interests. I think we should always act in Australia's national interests and I note Marise Payne's comments on that front. I would say that I would have liked to have seen some response from the Ministers on the trade issue that I have outlined and we certainly will continue to press that.
JOURNALIST: Did they need to go given the rates of COVID-19 in America? Did they have to be there in person?
WONG: Well that is a judgement for the Ministers to make. We think a face-to-face meeting with our principal security ally is important and I understand the reasons the Ministers gave for taking the trip.
JOURNALIST: Do you think Australia is hedging its bets in terms of who it thinks may be in administration in America later this year?
WONG: You would have to ask Mr Morrison that. The alliance transcends whoever is in office.
The alliance exists between two nations. It is an alliance that works at multiple levels institutionally, we have deep engagement obviously with the institutions of government in the United States.
It is an alliance which has remained strong regardless of who is in power in Australia or the United States - and that is how it should be.
Of course, we should always be cautious about ensuring that we are not drawn into any domestic political debate in the United States. I think all Australian leaders of either political persuasion should be careful of that.
JOURNALIST: Australia made a far stronger statement in support of Taiwan than it has previously done. Do you welcome that?
WONG: Look, we have said for some time that Taiwan's engagement in the response to the pandemic matters. They obviously have responded well. The evidence is their public health response has been effective.
And you know, we have common cause – humanity has a common cause here – and that is to fight the pandemic. All players who have something to offer in that collective challenge should be engaged.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.