Doorstop - Parliament House, Canberra - 29/10/2020

29 October 2020

SUBJECTS: Treatment of Australian women at Qatar airport; Senate estimates; Kevin Rudd; energy policy.

JOURNALIST: What should the Australian Government be doing at the moment in relation to the incident in Qatar?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well, I simply cannot fathom why our Foreign Minister didn't pick up the phone when she heard about this and express the strongest possible protest, both to demonstrate how important it was for us, for it to have a reasonable response but also to register a protest.

The Foreign Minister still hasn't spoken to her counterpart. She made no public comment until this week and didn't speak to the Qatari Ambassador until this week. Ministers have a role, so does the Prime Minister and part of that when it comes to foreign relations is to make sure you are very clear about expectations and you're very keen about communicating how the country is likely to respond to something.

JOURNALIST: Senator, does the statement from the Qatari Government go far enough, expressing regret?

WONG: I think it is only just a start. It's only just a start. I think the women deserve a proper apology. And they certainly deserve full transparency – how this happened; and proper accountability – that is people held responsible. And they deserve a government who is prepared to pick up the phone.

JOURNALIST: Senator Wong, did Jeffrey Epstein's financial links to a think tank chaired by Kevin Rudd surprise you?

WONG: This was the story from this morning? Yes, I think Mr Rudd has commented on that and expressed his shock and outrage.

JOURNALIST: Beyond registering the strongest possible protest, is there specific action that the Australian Government could be taking here in relation to Qatar? Anthony Albanese, a couple of days ago, hinted that there could be particular action that the Government took?

WONG: Well, the Government needs to consider what action it should take – they're the Government. But it should have started with a phone call. It should have started with the Foreign Minister setting expectations and making clear the response of the country. I mean, people are outraged that Australian citizens were treated in this way.

JOURNALIST: What type of action, though, should government be considering?

WONG: I'm not going to speculate about what government should do going forward, but they should do more than wait for a report. And they should, as I said, have picked up the phone.

JOURNALIST: Should transport workers boycott Qatar Airways?

WONG: I saw that the union was talking about work bans. I think it's an expression of the response Australia has had to this incident. We don't expect our citizens to be treated like that. We don't expect that anybody should be treated like this.

JOURNALIST: Senator Wong, you mentioned Estimates. It's been a long fortnight – we've heard details of $20,000 watches, the Leppington Triangle, high paid bureaucrats paid too much, there's been issues of government underspend. How does Labor now convince the Australian public that it can potentially (inaudible).

WONG: And let's add to that the Government reducing funding to the Auditor-General who has been a whistleblower on many of the things you've just described. The reality is this; we've seen a lot of very shifty things being done under the Morrison Government, and what are they doing when it comes to their commission against corruption, their integrity commission? They're dragging their feet. It's very clear they don't want to do it, and they should.

JOURNALIST: I think a lot of people are very sceptical about politics, so they'll be asking the question what makes Labor any better?

WONG: Really? Well, we're not in government, we're not the ones responsible for spending $30 million on a $3 million piece of land. It's not under our watch that Australia Post has behaved like this. We're not subsidising Clive Palmer's private jet. These are all actions of the Morrison Government.

We are committed to an integrity commission. We know what Mr Morrison is doing, which is dragging his feet.

JOURNALIST: Should Labor MPs be toning down their attacks on coal and gas as suggested by a couple of unions?

WONG: I saw those reports and I saw that the PowerPoint presentation was entitled something like 'a sensible pathway to net zero emissions'. What it demonstrates is from the unions to the Japanese Government and the South Korean Government – all of whom have backed in a net zero emissions strategy by 2050 – it demonstrates yet again how isolated Mr Morrison is.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.