Doorstop - ALP Special Platform Conference, Revesby - 30/03/2021

30 March 2021

SUBJECTS: ALP Special Platform Conference; Uyghurs; Australia’s relationship with China; Labor policy on two state solution in the Middle East.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thanks very much for coming. The first point I'd make is I think Australians watching this Special Platform Conference of the Australian Labor Party will see the contrast – the contrast between a leader and a party that is on your side and a Government, a tired old Government that is mired in political crisis.

Now we've just had a debate about Australia's place in the world; and a reminder that it is Labor governments and Labor leaders who have steered Australia through its toughest times. Whether it was Curtin's turn to America, whether it was Paul Keating and Gareth Evans seeking security in Asia, it is Labor governments which have demonstrated leadership on foreign policy.

And I would make this comment: that we face the most challenging circumstances externally since World War Two and what we need is a government that is prepared to show discipline, vision and courage, not a Government led by a man who puts his domestic political interest above the national interest over and over again. And regrettably, that is what Australians have in Scott Morrison. I'm happy to take questions on Chapter Seven and then I think my colleague Senator Keneally will be speaking to you as well.

JOURNALIST: Senator, did you debate the term 'genocide' to describe the treatment of Uyghurs and if it's not genocide, how would you describe it?

WONG: Look, this is an issue where we have seen credible, distressing reports of systemic and serious violations of human rights in Xinjiang and I have made public comment about this time and again. Obviously, there are jurisdictions which have made an assessment, such as you describe. What I've said, including in Senate Estimates last week, is the Australian Government should come forward with its public assessment of what is occurring.

But whatever we call this, there are serious, credible reports of egregious violations of human rights. I would say this, and I've said this previously – publicly and about China – these are not the actions of a responsible global power.

JOURNALIST: Are you comfortable using that term at all to describe China's treatment of Uyghurs?

WONG: Look, I recognise that that is an assessment some parliaments have made. Obviously, one of the answers in Senate Estimates was "that's a matter for international tribunals". I think what is more important though is for us to say this: these are systemic and serious violations of human rights and they are not the actions of a responsible global power. And we would say to the Chinese Government: having great power, with that comes some great responsibilities, including to respect the human rights provisions to which you have previously committed.

JOURNALIST: Given these comments, if Labor were to be elected at the next election, how would you go about trying to get (inaudible) diplomatic (inaudible) going with China given the strength of the language in this platform?

WONG: I think our relationship with China is one we have to approach with discipline, with a great clarity about our national interest; with a willingness to recognise where we can engage but also where we will have differences. And I think this platform recognises that we will never walk away from those issues where it is clearly in Australia's national interest to keep prosecuting, whether it's on the South China Sea, on the principles of international law – which are reflected in the platform – whether they are on human rights or the Law of the Sea. These are matters in our national interest.

We also recognise the importance of continuing to engage with China notwithstanding those differences and the approach the Australian Labor Party will take were we elected is one that would be characterised by maturity and by discipline.

JOURNALIST: China generally doesn't like to be told what it's doing or how it's doing it and Labor has been very critical of the fact that the Morison Government can't actually get a phone call with their Chinese counterparts. Doesn't that show that there is – even in your position and promising to try to improve that relationship by including messages like this in your policy platform, you are casting that judgement, which would put them offside?

WONG: There's a lot of assumptions in that question, a lot of points but should we just come back to this? We engage with China on the basis of Australia's national interest. That is what we would do. Our primary criticism of Mr Morrison is that he has too often allowed domestic political interests to take precedent and I don't think that's a sensible approach. But we would engage with China on the basis of our national interest and that would mean on many issues we will disagree – and we should not walk away from that. We should be clear about that and our platform is.

JOURNALIST: You also in the platform talked about Palestinian statehood as the goal for a future Labor government. Is that something that you're actively committed to?

WONG: Look, there's been a lot written and a bit said about this provision for platform and I want to make this crystal clear. The platform now reflects precisely the same position as the Labor Party National Conference reached under Bill Shorten in 2018. There's no lesser or greater weight and the position is replicated. It is a position which recognises the views of the conference in relation to statehood. It's a position which recognises that any such decision would be made by a future Labor government. And it's a position which reinforces our collective commitment to a just and fair two-state solution.

JOURNALIST: What would you take of the criticism that a lot of this debate was all being done behind closed doors ahead conference? There wasn't really – there was a 30-minute debate about foreign policy, not a lot of disagreement...

WONG: Well, I've got to say to you. There is no political party, and I include the Australian Greens in that – there is no political party in this nation that has a more open process of developing its policy than the Australian Labor Party. The fact that you're asking me this question is a testament to that. Anything further otherwise I'll hand over to Senator Keneally?

Thank you very much.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.