SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG
LEADER OF THE GOVERNMENT IN THE SENATE
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Subjects: Voice to parliament; Australia-China trade; Taiwan; Prime Minister’s attendance at NATO summit.
LAURA JAYES, HOST: Well, let’s go live now to Adelaide, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Acting Prime Minister, Penny Wong, joins us live now. Penny Wong, thanks so much for your time.
We’ve seen a lot of discussion about the Voice in recent days, of course around the resignation of Julian Leeser from the frontbench. He is someone, I think you’d agree, has a long history here. Yes, he’s a constitutional conservative, but his heart has been in the right place in wanting to see a voice and wanting to see a constitutional change. The question is, will your side of politics, will you actively engage with him now to look at his concerns, or is this committee process we’re about to see just going to be a fait accompli?
PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: A couple – a number of questions are there. Firstly, hello, Laura; good to be with you. First, I want to say that I respect deeply the action that Julian Leeser has taken. I think it would have been a difficult thing to do. And as you said in the interview you’ve just done with Bridget Archer, which I thought was really very interesting and very insightful – you know, conviction politicians, we don’t have as many of them as perhaps people would like, and he’s demonstrated conviction, as has Bridget Archer as somebody who also disagrees with the position that the Coalition have taken to oppose the Voice.
I thought one of the things she said in the interview was really important, which is regardless of what issues of detail or issues of wording that Julian or others are putting, she urged us all to remember that ultimately there is a great many of us across the parliament and across the Australian community who want to ensure there is constitutional recognition, there is consultation and that there is a voice and will be campaigning for it.
Julian made the very point himself in his press conference that there is a process that the parliament will engage in. We want that to be a proper process. And I’m sure we would look forward to his engagement, and we’ll look forward to continue to engage with him, as we have. And as Linda Burney said I think yesterday publicly she looks forward to campaigning with him.
JAYES: So does that mean that you could – it would be a Voice to parliament, not executive government, or is that off the table?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, can I tell you why we want executive government and why Indigenous leaders, First Nations leaders want executive government? It’s because if we go with the – if we agree with the principle that this is about making sure that people have a say in the things which affect them, if we look to our history, much of what we would now say were some of the wrong decisions that governments took in relation to First Nations peoples and communities were taken by executive government. So you can understand why First Nations communities, why First Nations leaders are saying, “Look, we want to be able to have a say in relation to the work of executive government.” Now, how that will happen is obviously something that can be dealt with through the parliament, and this committee process will engage with that issue directly, I’m sure.
JAYES: What if it doesn’t work, Acting Prime Minister? What if – but, in all honesty, I mean, we’re looking at decades of failure when it comes to Indigenous policy. There are serious doubts about whether a Voice will actually change people’s lives. Now, look, I’m not one of those; I’m more hopeful, more glass half full. But what if it doesn’t work?
FOREIGN MINISTER: What we know won’t work is more of the same. Isn’t that the point? What we know will not work is more of the same. And I do come to this – I’m not usually the glass half full person, as you probably you know, Laura – but we had hundreds of people from around the country consulted, part of developing and articulating the Statement from the Heart. And what we do know is that we need to change in order to get the sorts of outcomes that we all want and First Nations leaders want for First Nations people in this country.
And to make sure people are engaged in that gives us the best opportunity of shifting the dial on that. Nothing will ever – we’re not seeking perfection, but we are seeking progress. And we know that progress comes much more – is much more likely if people are part of it.
JAYES: Okay. We look forward to that committee stage because this is so important. Let’s talk about the barley breakthrough. What has China actually agreed to here? Because it was effectively imposing an 80 per cent tax, wasn’t it?
FOREIGN MINISTER: That’s right. China imposed additional duties on a number of Australian products – obviously barley is the one we’re dealing with right now. We said that those additional impediments, those additional duties, are not justified. We took it to the WTO. What China has agreed to do is an expedited review of those tariffs and in return for that what we have said is, “All right, we will suspend our World Trade Organisation dispute while you look at reviewing these tariffs on barley.”
So, what the government is trying to do is to expedite the removal of those trade tariffs, those duties. Obviously, you know, there’s still a way to go so I’m not going to come on your show and say it’s all fixed because it isn’t. We’ve still got a way to go, but we are seeking to have a pathway to clear that impediment, and if that works we will work to apply that to other Australian products, probably the next one I would want to look at is wine.
JAYES: Okay, that’s important. That will be music to the ears of our listeners and absolutely coming from South Australia as well.
FOREIGN MINISTER: I was going to say, I’m in Adelaide, right? So you have to talk about wine.
JAYES: Exactly. Exactly.
FOREIGN MINISTER: People have been doing it really tough. But can I just make one point Laura: it is important, though, that we recognise that the sort of relationship we have with China and the world as it was 15 years ago when John Howard was in power – or more – where we separated our economic and our strategic relationships and perspectives, you know, that world has changed. And so making sure we do diversify our export markets is an important part of our national resilience. And so one of the difficult but important upsides of what we’ve been through in the last couple of years is that smart businesses have looked to diversify. And the government will continue to encourage that because we want to make sure we have diversified export markets.
JAYES: Yeah, right. So you’re saying we can’t, you know, rely on China wholly, and I think that’s conventional wisdom. So can you explain what’s going on at a more macro level, if you like? Because on the one hand, you know, the relationship with China absolutely has improved. China seems to be softening with Australia. But at the same time, you know, it’s closing up to Russia. There is increased military drills in Taiwan at the moment. What is your view of what’s going on there?
FOREIGN MINISTER: And, first, I’d just make the point in relation to Taiwan that we think those drills, as you described them, are destabilising and we would urge de-escalation. Australia’s position is very clearly, no unilateral change to the status quo. That is the best way to ensure peace and stability.
But what I would say in relation to your substantive question, Laura, look, China has made clear its intent. Its intent is to operate as a great power in the world. That will mean inevitably there are areas where we not going to have the same interests as China. And we need to ensure in our relationship we manage difference wisely. That’s why I say we will cooperate where we can, disagree where we must, and we will engage in our national interests.
So I don't see the relationship with China as one where we go back to where we might have been 20 years ago; I see us as in a mature and wise way trying to manage our inevitable differences of our interests and values but at the same time recognising we live in this region of the world and, therefore, we must continue to engage, and remembering that engagement with the rest of the region is equally important when it comes to stability in the region in which we live.
JAYES: It was a big deal for NATO to invite the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, to attend the upcoming summit, wasn’t it? What is the message we can take that he’s not going? And will you go in his place?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, first, of course he attended last year. It is important that we continue to work with partners even near and far, so geographically, you know, the countries of NATO may be a long way away but the principle is the same, which is we should work together for a world which is more stable, where sovereignty is respected, where the rules-based order continues to operate. And that’s why Australia has continued to support Ukraine against the illegal and immoral invasion of its country by Russia.
The Prime Minister attended NATO last year. This is an invitation that’s also been extended. Obviously, it will be a matter for the Prime Minister whether he determines he can attend or not and will certainly have more to say about that after he’s back from his leave.
JAYES: Okay. Before I let you go, Acting Prime Minister, has anything changed for you? I mean, you get to, you know, stand in Adelaide and kind of rule the country from there. That’s a nice change. But anything else different?
FOREIGN MINISTER: You just have a lot more police.
FOREIGN MINISTER: And then when the PM lands again, they all disappear so you go back to normal life like that. So, but, look, it’s a real privilege, and I’m also pleased that both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister are having a short break, because neither of them have taken much of a break.
JAYES: Okay, well, enjoy the security detail – or not – while you have them. I’m not sure.
FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you.
JAYES: Penny Wong, thanks so much for your time.
FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you.
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