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Transcript of interview with Fran Kelly: ABC RN: 11 October 2016: US Presidential election; South China Sea; George Brandis; marriage equality plebiscite



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SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG OPPOSITION LEADER IN THE SENATE SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

E&OE TRANSCRIPT RADIO INTERVIEW ABC RN TUESDAY, 11 OCTOBER 2016

SUBJECT/S: US Presidential Election; South China Sea; George Brandis; Marriage Equality Plebiscite

FRAN KELLY: Bill Shorten says Donald Trump is “entirely unsuitable to become President”. Is that your view as well?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: I think everyone is rightly appalled at what Mr Trump is reported to have said. None of us have a vote in the US election. That’s obviously a matter ultimately for the Americans, but we can have an opinion about what he said and what he said was appalling. He is essentially talking about sexual assault and I think men and women across the world were rightly disgusted by the comments.

KELLY: So this went further than just damning his comments though. Yes, of course, we can all have an opinion on what Donald Trump said, but it is unusual for a senior politician, as the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten certainly is, to give such open criticism of a US president. It is a bit of a breach of normal diplomatic niceties isn’t it?

WONG: It’s unusual for Republicans to come out against the Republican Presidential nominee and that’s what happened in this election as well. It’s unusual for a person who’s running for President to make those sorts of comments about women. There’s a lot about this election which is unusual. I’d note that Bill also said in his speech, and he’s absolutely right to say this, that the US Alliance is bigger, more long-standing than any individual, and that remains Labor’s position.

KELLY: Okay, but if something happened, and the polls were completely wrong, and we’ve had surprises of this kind before, I’m thinking Brexit most recently, and Donald

Trump is elected US President, have you thought through what would happen to Australia-US relations if that happens?

WONG: As I said, I agree with Bill. He said clearly in his speech, which I think he is giving this morning, that the American Alliance is bigger and stronger and longer-lasting than any single individual.

There have been periods where the Alliance has had to deal with, within the Alliance, where we have had differences of opinion. The Iraq War was the most notable example of that. Ultimately this is a relationship which has served our national interest and which has been in place for 75 years.

KELLY: The Brookings Institute is predicting that the US under a President Trump would become “a rogue superpower”. “In the biggest shake-up of the world order since the Second World War, Washington would effectively abandon its alliance with Australia. Donald Trump simply has no interest in the Asia region”.

WONG: That’s the view of some academics. Again what I’d say is, this is an alliance that I think has been important to both nations. It has managed to weather some differences of opinion and I have no doubt it will continue to be strong.

KELLY: We heard a little excerpt from that Presidential debate yesterday which went to foreign policy. Donald Trump says he doesn’t like Bashar al-Assad either, but Assad is killing ISIS, Russia is killing ISIS, Iran is killing ISIS.

WONG: There are also civilians being killed.

KELLY: What did you think when you heard that?

WONG: I probably was in the Chamber actually, so I wasn’t, unfortunately in a position to watch all of the debate. But those are comments that don’t recognise the appalling humanitarian disaster that we see, what is happening in Aleppo. What I’ve said previously on that is we do call on Russia, as the one country that could save lives, to act.

KELLY: Bill Shorten calls Donald Trump’s behaviour towards women disgusting and demeaning, as we’ve mentioned, Malcolm Turnbull called it loathsome. But, according to Pete Credlin, former Chief of Staff to Tony Abbott, this kind of sexism is alive and well in Australian politics. She said this last night on Sky

PETA CREDLIN: (RECORDING) "That stuff went on in Canberra and I would call it out and the gutless wonders would look at their feet. And they wonder why half the electorate, we are half the electorate, they wonder why half the electorate looks at politics with great derision."

KELLY: That’s Peta Credlin speaking on Sky. That stuff happened in Canberra she said and she’d call it out. Does it happen in Canberra? How common is it in your experience? I mean there’s various degree of sexism.

WONG: I think we’re talking about some different things here. We know we live in a world where some people are still sexist. We know that. We saw that in relation to the treatment of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the gendered nature of the insults that were thrown at her. Peta Credlin’s former boss stood in front of a sign that described her as a man’s bitch. That is a gendered insult. I think why the world is reacting to Mr Trump’s comments is they go beyond, they are talking about sexual assault, and in a way that suggests it is reasonable. That is what is so disgusting about them.

KELLY: Closer to your portfolio, some not so friendly fire from Paul Keating over Labor’s policy towards the South China Sea. He said a Labor Government would authorise Freedom of Navigation exercise within 12 nautical miles of the disputed islands. Paul Keating said you’ve become too compliant with US interests in the Pacific and he went on to say it doesn’t matter to Australia which country owns the islands.

WONG: What matters to Australia is that we continue to observe the international system of norms and rules which has served the world well. What matters to Australia is that we continue to have to ensure our trade transits freely. Paul is completely right. We have not taken a position, neither us nor the Government on the underlying disputes. What we have said is that they ought to be resolved peacefully. We’ve urged all parties to ensure that they don’t escalate the situation and we have continued to assert the right of all countries to engage in the Freedom of Navigation and the Freedom of Overflight.

KELLY: But Labor’s shadow spokespeople have said that the Government isn’t being tough enough, that the Australian Government should authorise our naval commanders, our Defence commanders to sail as part of some sort of convoy, to keep the pressure on China.

WONG: We have always said we should be prepared to demonstrate our right to Freedom of Navigation and Freedom of Overflight. That is Labor’s position and we’ve said that consistently. That is in our national interest. A great deal of Australian trade goes through the South China Sea and regardless of how the underlying territorial disputes are resolved, and we’d urge that they are resolved peacefully, we have an interest in ensuring we have Freedom of Navigation.

KELLY: So Paul Keating is wrong when he says it doesn’t matter to Australia which country owns the islands?

WONG: I think he is making the same point I’m making. We don’t take a position on the underlying disputes.

KELLY: On another issue you led the charge against the Attorney-General George Brandis in Question Time yesterday over his dispute with the Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson. The AG flatly rejects misleading the Senate, he won’t stand down. He says it’s a difference of opinion, he has one view, I have another. He will appear on Friday at the Senate Inquiry which suggests he’s pretty relaxed about his position here?

WONG: Well he shouldn’t be. This is the man who is the first law officer of the country. He has demonstrably misled the Senate and this man is frankly a serial offender. He demonstrates over and over again that he is not up to the job. This is a bloke who attacked Gillian Triggs, mercilessly and personally, and was censured by the Senate. This is a man who said people have a right to be bigots. This is a man who has delayed, on previous occasions, correcting the record in the Senate. He’s not behaving in a way a minister should and frankly Malcolm Turnbull should sack him.

KELLY: Senator Wong could I just ask you finally about the Same Sex Marriage Plebiscite. We’ve spoken about this a number of times on the program but now it is crunch time for Labor. It’s almost certain the Labor Caucus will vote against the plebiscite, there will be no public vote to legalise Same Sex Marriage next year. The Attorney-General said on AM, basically that he’s the first Attorney-General to ever prosecute this issue, not a Labor Attorney-General, and Labor is all talk and no action on Marriage Equality.

WONG: He’s the Attorney-General who’s rolled over to the right because Malcolm Turnbull needed the Nationals to stay in line when he became Prime Minister and knocked off Tony Abbott and this was the price of that. Four Corners last night on the ABC made that utterly clear. The only thing stopping a free vote is Malcolm Turnbull. And if the plebiscite doesn’t proceed, and I’ve made my views about that clear, then the Prime Minister should do a simple thing, the thing that Australians have asked for, which is to have a vote in the Parliament, a free vote in the Parliament.

KELLY: That is not going to happen.

WONG: Fran, I don’t think we should accept that. I don’t think we should accept, when you have got the majority of the Parliament, and the majority of Australians both wanting Marriage Equality and the majority of Australians wanting a free vote, I don’t think you should accept a deal that Mr Turnbull did to get the leadership and say, well for the next two years the Liberals are going to vote as a bloc to prevent a vote. Just think about it. The great Liberal Party of Australia, the people who believe in freedom of choice, voting to prevent a vote and prevent a free vote.

KELLY: Penny Wong thank you very much for joining us.

WONG: Good to speak with you

ENDS

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