TV Interview with Karl Stefanovic - Today Show - 27/06/2024

27 July 2024

SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG
LEADER OF THE GOVERNMENT IN THE SENATE
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

 

Subjects: Julian Assange’s return to Australia; inflation; Senate urgency motion.

KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is finally back home in Australia this morning, waking up as a free man after 14 years of legal limbo.

For more, we’re joined by Foreign Minister Penny Wong live in Canberra.

Penny, good morning to you. Nice to see you this morning.

PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Good morning Karl.

STEFANOVIC: Did you get to talk to him last night?

FOREIGN MINISTER: No, I didn’t. But I have to say I, like so many people, are pleased to see Mr Assange reunited with his family. We’ve been clear, as you know, for a long time that we think this case has dragged on too long and there’s been a lot of advocacy – full credit to the PM who has led that.

STEFANOVIC: There are those who believe you shouldn’t be celebrating a hacker.

FOREIGN MINISTER: There are a range of views about Mr Assange’s activities in the past. Our view was that his incarceration had dragged on for too long. We believed that nothing was to be served by his continued incarceration, and that’s why we’ve engaged in a very patient and deliberate strategy of advocacy, which has culminated in the plea agreement which has enabled him to be free.

STEFANOVIC: It was unusual – a little unusual, seeing a convicted felon being escorted by our Ambassador to the US.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, it’s not unusual for consular cases to have people with them. We obviously – for example, when Cheng Lei left Beijing we had our Ambassador travel with her.

STEFANOVIC: Kind of different, though.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, what I would say is whatever people’s views about what occurred, he – we have a plea arrangement which was agreed by the court. Whatever your views about what Mr Assange did, we believed it was – nothing was to be served by him continuing to be incarcerated, it had dragged on too long, and now he is reunited with his family. And I, like – as his wife said, you know, I hope he can enjoy some private time now.

STEFANOVIC: Do you believe his days of exposing government and military secrets are over?

FOREIGN MINISTER: What I would say is we have laws in this country about the protection of national security information. National security information should be protected. Those laws apply to everyone.

STEFANOVIC: Does it worry you?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Those laws apply to everyone, Karl.

STEFANOVIC: All right. Julian Assange actually stood for the Senate in 2013. Matt Canavan told us yesterday on our show that he’s welcome in the Nationals. I mean, it’s an unusual fit. Do you think Matty’s lost the plot?

FOREIGN MINISTER: You know, you’ve got Simon Birmingham having a go about it and Matt Canavan saying he should run for the Senate. So, go figure.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah, they’re siding with the Greens. That’s an unusual mix. Look, you’ve got a problem – a big problem – with inflation at the moment. It’s significant. The budget strategy was high risk. It’s not working.

FOREIGN MINISTER: What I’d say is, you know, the inflation figure is too high and, more importantly, Australians are doing it tough. We know cost of living is people’s number one priority. It’s our number one priority, and that’s why we’ve put a lot of effort into ensuring there was cost of living relief in the budget. And I’m pleased that in just four days every Australian will get a tax cut. That will obviously go some way to dealing with the cost of living.

Inflation is too high. It remains high in many countries in the world. Obviously, you know, some of those figures would have been higher but for things like our rent assistance. But it’s certainly less than it was at its peak and less than when we came to government.

STEFANOVIC: You’ve got more fuel adding to the fire, as you point out, on July 1. Interest rates can only go one way it seems. Isn’t part of that fuelling on your government?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, for example, you know, the rent assistance relief, the energy bill relief, these are matters that deal with cost of living without adding to inflation. And the tax cuts are about both cost of living but also adding to productivity and making sure people keep more of what they earn. We’ve sought to calibrate this assistance in the budget, and I think Australians know that it is important that government continues to provide relief.

STEFANOVIC: But, Penny, what you’re doing to control inflation is not working.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, you know, inflation does move around, Karl. And as you know, the inflation figure that we’ve received, obviously higher than we would like, all of us. But it is less than the peak and less than when we came to government.

STEFANOVIC: All right. You’ve got a – finally, you’ve got a precedent now with the Labor MP avoiding the party’s solemn principle of caucus solidarity. Your own party members say it’s a dangerous precedent to set, crossing the floor. Hard to see how it isn’t.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, first, I’d say that the Prime Minister has dealt with this matter with great restraint on this occasion. And what I would say is we understand the difficulty that the senator has felt. Caucus solidarity matters to us. I can understand why caucus members feel upset because, you know, we are a party of the collective and our expectation is Senator Payman will abide by caucus decisions.

STEFANOVIC: Penny, always good to talk to you.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Good to speak with you.

STEFANOVIC: Thanks for your time.

ENDS

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Authorised by Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.