Sky News First Edition with Laura Jayes - 29/10/2020

29 October 2020

SUBJECTS: Treatment of Australian women at Qatar airport; 34,000 stranded Australians; stranded Australians told to go to homeless shelters; US election.

LAURA JAYES, HOST: Let’s go live now to Canberra, the Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong joins us. Penny Wong, thank you for your time.


JAYES: Qatar Airways has apologised. Does that apology go far enough?

WONG: Well, I think it's only just the beginning. We need to make sure there is proper transparency so that the women concerned know how this happened and proper accountability; that is someone needs to be held responsible. But there is a point here Laura, which is, I think, the failure of this Government to register a protest about these extraordinarily horrific events at the earliest possible opportunity. I was very disappointed yesterday to find out that Minister Payne hasn't even spoken to her counterpart.

JAYES: Do you think the nervousness goes to the fact that Qatar Airways is state owned?

WONG: Well, you'd have to ask her why she hasn't done it. The answer I got is that bureaucrats were doing it and whilst hardworking officials do their work, you and I both know there is a big difference for a protest to be registered by a Minister and a Prime Minister, as compared to an official. And this deserved, the women concerned deserved their Government standing up for them. She hasn't even spoken to her counterpart and neither has the Prime Minister – that should have happened, as soon as we became aware of these events.

JAYES: Are you aware how many women were actually searched in this way? And do you know if they are receiving adequate treatment now?

WONG: Well, I asked those questions yesterday in the Senate committee and I was told by officials from Foreign Affairs that there were services being provided to these women by the appropriate state services. I hope that is occurring. These women, I hope, are being looked after and our hearts certainly go out to them.

In terms of the numbers, we only heard yesterday that the numbers of planes that appear to have been searched were much higher than what we had been told. So, the facts in this are coming out slowly.

JAYES: Would you fly Qatar Airways at this point or is your advice to maybe steer clear?

WONG: Well, I think that is an issue the Foreign Minister needs to assure Australians about. As you probably know Laura, we have growing numbers of Australians stranded. Despite Scott Morrison's promise to bring people home by Christmas, we've had 2,000 more people join the queue in the last week, so there are now 34,000 people who are stranded. Qatar is one of the few commercial airlines which is still flying to Australia and allowing those Australians to come home. But these are issues really the Foreign Minister needs to provide some assurance about.

JAYES: I know you've been buried in Estimates all week.

WONG: I have.

JAYES: Is it true that Australians overseas have been advised by DFAT that if they no longer have accommodation, to try homeless shelters?

WONG: Yes, it is true. And what was extraordinary yesterday was that the Government doubled down on that advice. So, the Morrison Government is saying it is acceptable for us to deal with the many Australians stranded – despite the Prime Minister promising to bring people home – that it's an acceptable thing to tell people they can go to homeless shelters. Now, I think we can do better and we should have done better. The reality is, just like in relation to Qatar, where the Minister and the Prime Minister didn't act or expressed public outrage until it became public – I think when you look at stranded Australians, it is very clear that Mr Morrison only moved when the media started to focus on it.

JAYES: How many stranded Australians are we still talking about? And do you accept that states have these arbitrary caps, as well and it's not just a Federal Government issue?

WONG: Of course, there has to be proper quarantine and that has to be resolved, but the reality is the caps were announced by Mr Morrison. They did not put it in place plans to deal with what was an obvious consequence of the caps, which is people wouldn't be able to get home. And they only started to put those plans in place when things got bad. And the answer to your question is 34,000. So, when we first started raising these issues, it was 26,000. Mr Morrison said we'll get people home by Christmas. Well, X number of weeks later, and it's climbed to 34,000. I hope the Government can turn this around but it's not looking great.

JAYES: You’d have to think that that number might increase as well when you see countries like France and Germany, potentially even parts of the United Kingdom going into full lock down; so, Australians living overseas might find themselves in circumstances that they can no longer live in and therefore decide to come home.

Before I let you go Penny Wong, we are in full US election mode countdown here. I've got to ask you before you go, if Trump does win, what do you think this says about the state of progressive liberal politics?

WONG: There'll be plenty of time to analyse the consequences, the result of the election after. I'm happy to come on and do it with you Laura but I would say this; it's important that America remains a stable and credible democracy. It's also important that we remember our alliance is with the nation, not with the individual. I think it's also important to make sure, whatever people's personal views, we stay out of US domestic politics. I thought it was wildly inappropriate for Mr Morrison to go to a Trump rally. I'm certainly not going to similarly engage in US domestic politics.

JAYES: Perhaps learning from the previous leader in Bill Shorten who put all his eggs in the Hillary basket too?

WONG: Well, my view is, unlike Mr Morrison sort of going along to a political rally for Mr Trump, I'm not going to engage in US domestic politics.

JAYES: Are you talking about the one in Ohio?

WONG: That's right.

JAYES: Well, that was really for an Australian businessman as well and the opening of a factory. Was it the same thing?

WONG: I think people understand that Mr Morrison has a close friendship with President Trump. The only question, the only point I'd make about that Laura is, I hope that he's using that friendship to express how important it is that America remains a stable and credible democracy through this great exercise in democracy we're going to see in a few days.

JAYES: We will take you up on that offer to unpick it all after the result; and we might not see the result for a couple of weeks. Penny Wong, always a pleasure, thanks so much.

WONG: Great to be with you. Thank you.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.