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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House Canberra: 26 November 2019: China relationship; foreign interference; Ensuring Integrity Bill; Xinjiang



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SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

TUESDAY, 26 NOVEMBER 2019

SUBJECTS: China relationship; foreign interference; Ensuring Integrity Bill;

Xinjiang.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY IN

THE SENATE: First, obviously we’ve seen a lot of reports over the last few days

about our relationship with China and some very disturbing allegations. I’d make a

couple of points. The first is those allegations are being, and should be, considered

and investigated by the security agencies and that is occurring as we’ve seen from

public statements. The second point I make is this: our relationship with China is a

complex and consequential one and it is getting more so. We need to, as a

country, work out how we engage best with China in a way that furthers our

interests and safeguards our sovereignty and our democracy.

I’d encourage the Government to lead this discussion and to engage the

Parliament, the Opposition, the community on this discussion. As you know, I have

sought briefings for the Parliament from DFAT and the Office of National

Intelligence and those have been refused by the Government. Is incumbent upon

the Government, it is their job, to lead this discussion with the Australian

community and I’d encourage them to do so.

Before I go to questions, can I just make the point about this week in the Senate.

The bills in the Senate will be proceeded with today, or tomorrow, include the

Ensuring Integrity Bill. This is a bill that is about attacking the trade union

movement. It is about undermining the capacity of nurses and teachers and

midwives, to organise in their unions and I’d say to the crossbench: understand

that this is a fundamental attack on the conditions of working Australians. Happy to

take questions.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the denial of briefings is damaging the national

interest?

WONG: Look, I think the China relationship should be above partisan politics and

I’d encourage Marise Payne and Scott Morrison to act in that way.

JOURNALIST: What about the backbench, the Liberal backbench?

WONG: Well my point is precisely that. We shouldn’t have a discussion about how

best to manage the China relationship which is being led by members only of the

backbench. We should have a broader discussion that ensures the Parliament is

properly briefed.

JOURNALIST: Should there be vetting of candidates before the election? And do

you think Gladys Liu owes the Parliament an explanation?

WONG: Well in relation to the second part, Gladys Liu has refused to give a

statement to the Parliament. She has been protected from doing so by Mr

Morrison. I do believe that in circumstances where discrepancies have been raised

on the public record, where issues have been raised, Parliamentarians should

make a statement to the Parliament. Mr Morrison has never explained why he

refuses to do so.

JOURNALIST: And in terms of potential vetting of candidates?

WONG: Look, I think all political parties, particularly parties of government, do

have to ensure that our processes are robust and that Australian sovereignty is

safeguarded. You might recall that in the last Parliament, Labor sought for a

number of years - and the Government finally reluctantly agreed - to the banning

of foreign donations.

JOURNALIST: Did you say that you’ve sought briefings on these particular

allegations?

WONG: Sorry, there are two sets of briefings. You might recall earlier this year I

called for briefings for the Parliament because I believed it was better for the

Parliament to be better engaged and better resourced to understand how to

manage the China relationship. Mr Albanese has also requested a briefing in

relation to the current allegations.

JOURNALIST: Senator, you talked about how to manage the China relationship.

In your view what does that look like? How does Australia manage a relationship

with a country where we have allegations of such high levels of foreign

interference?

WONG: Well, we have to be very clear that we want to engage but our

engagement is on the basis that we safeguard our sovereignty and our democracy.

Now there are various ways in which that occurs, obviously foreign interference

laws has been one, I think ensuring that we have appropriate guidelines around

research engagement and so forth are another. Fundamentally, the challenge

before the country, and that the Government needs to grapple with - that we all

need to grapple with - is that this is a nation that is not a democracy which is

important for Australia now and into the future, important to the region and to the

world. We have to work out as a nation how we best engage in a way that

safeguards Australian sovereignty.

JOURNALIST: There is a New York Times report that says that 23 Australian

citizens are in detention in Xinjiang. I think the number is disputed because there’s

not clarity about who is in those camps, but do you have any information about that

and any view on that situation?

WONG: I assume from the public reports that we are talking about dual citizens.

Obviously the Government should continue, or should be, advocating strongly for

Australian citizens. In relation to the situation in Xinjiang, on this there is a clear

bipartisan position: both the Government and the Opposition have made clear our

deep concerns about the arbitrary detention and what is occurring in respect of the

human rights of the population in Xinjiang, particularly the Uighurs.

ENDS

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