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Labor and Coalition share 'very similar' approach to foreign policy: Penny Wong -

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MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And for more on this, I'm joined by the new shadow minister for foreign affairs Penny Wong.

Penny Wong, good morning.

PENNY WONG: Good morning. Good to be with you, Michael.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Firstly, I'll get to the South China Sea in a minute but congratulations on your appointment.

Shadow foreign affairs is a challenging role, to say the least, but it's generally focused not so much on partisan political interests, is it. Do you do think our policy settings in this area are broadly right at the moment?

PENNY WONG: Well, thank you for, you know, welcoming me to the role. And you're right, it is a big job. It's a challenging role. It's not just about, you know, our transactions and relationships with other nations. It's ultimately about Australia's place in the world and who we are.

You know, I will be throwing myself into the detail, and there's obviously a lot to get across but it's a great privilege to be appointed to this position. You're right, it is not a role in which partisanship is the first order, in fact, the first order is what is in Australia's national interest?

In general, I think, there's broadly a bipartisan approach to foreign policy. There has been differences over time and we will assert those when necessary. But broadly, I think, both major parties of government have had a very similar approach to foreign policy.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And much of the focus is obviously on our relationship with our two biggest players, China and the US. As we heard there, Julie Bishop and her US counterpart has issued a strong message aimed at China. Do you agree with that message?

PENNY WONG: Well look, let's start with first principles, and the first principles are the international rules-based system including in these circumstances the law of the seas, is a benefit to everybody. It benefits the nations in our region, it benefits Australia.

And Australia's national interest is in supporting that rules-based system, including the South China Sea.

We previously welcomed the decision of the arbitral tribunal in relation to the South China Sea, and we are joined with the Government in urging all nations to respect and abide by the tribunal's ruling.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So we should continue to exercise our right of freedom of navigation in the region?

PENNY WONG: Well I think in the context of the tribunal's ruling, there are a few principles which continue to be relevant. The first is, let's be clear, we urge all nations to resolve disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law.

We urge all nations to abide and respect by the tribunal's ruling. We don't take a position on competing territorial claims. Australia's focus is on support for the rules-based system and on the resolution of disputes in a manner consistent with international law.

We have said previously, Bill has made clear, that asserting freedom of navigation rights is consistent with those principles. It's consistent with our support for the international rules based system, including the law of the sea.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Is China listening to any of this criticism? I note Stephen Conroy and his role has shadow defence minister last year labelled the Chinese 'bullies'.

PENNY WONG: What I will say is where I started actually, when I think that all nations of the region have benefited from the international rules-based system whether it's in trade, whether it's in freedom of navigation, freedom of the skies.

These are principles which have benefited all nations, and I think all nations including Australia have an interest in maintaining that system. There are obviously competing territorial claims currently whilst we don't take a position on them, what we continue to say is that the rules-based system should continue to operate and disputes should be resolved in a manner consistent with that.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: China and the US, as I said at the beginning, obviously the two key powers that we have to deal with. What's your view of Donald Trump? Do you agree with Bill Shorten's description of him as barking mad?

PENNY WONG: Well, you know, he's certainly an interesting candidate. I think the US election and primaries have been, you know, a little demonstration of contest of ideas in the American democracy.

Today, we will see obviously Hillary Clinton will become the first nominee of a major political party that regardless of your politics, to have a woman nominated, I think is a good thing. Ultimately, these are decisions for the American people.


PENNY WONG: They'll make their decisions, and the Australian Government and the Australian Opposition will continue to be strong supporters of our relationship and our alliance of the US regardless of who wins.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Nevertheless, do you think the Trump presidency would be difficult for Australia?

PENNY WONG: Look yeah, I think, I don't have a vote in the US election, you know, I think these are matters ultimately for the American people, matters that I have and Labor has articulated in a range of issues.

People can see for themselves how they compare with the positions that Mr Trump has held.

But ultimately, our job is not to determine... we don't determine who the US president is. Our job is to make sure that the relationship regardless of who is supported by the American people and who is elected by the American people is strong.

I would say, you know, Hillary Clinton, I've met Hillary Clinton a couple of times. She's a very impressive woman, and as I said, it is a historic thing to have a woman nominated by a major party. That's a great thing regardless of politics.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: OK just quickly on a couple of other issues, Kevin Rudd's efforts to become the UN secretary-general, with what you all know about his leadership style, why would you recommend him to the job?

PENNY WONG: Well look, sometimes nation is more important than party and we should take a Team Australia approach to this issue, and I think it is regrettable that some elements of the Liberal party have chosen to put party before country.

My view is if you've an opportunity for an Australian to take such an important position internationally, why would you put partisan politics first? It is a really petty approach that's been expressed by Mr Morrison and others.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: OK. Penny Wong, thanks very much for joining us.

PENNY WONG: Good to speak with you.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: That's the new shadow minister foreign affairs Penny Wong.