Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide Breakfast with David Bevan 

Topics: Senator Hanson-Young travel, representation of country Liberals, Tony Abbott, North Korea
05 July 2017

David Bevan: Senator Penny Wong has just walked in, Labor Senator. Good morning.

Penny Wong: Morning. Look, the empty chair, mate.

David Bevan: There is. There is.

Penny Wong: Matt, Matt, where are ya?

David Bevan: Why, are you not applying for the job?

Penny Wong: Yeah, I think that’d be good, wouldn’t it? You definitely want me.

Sarah Hanson-Young: I think you guys would be a great team actually.

David Bevan: I think we could get along.

Penny Wong: I don’t think so.

David Bevan: Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator. Good morning.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Good morning.

David Bevan: And on the phone line, couldn’t make it into the studio today Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia and Federal Education Minister. Good morning to you.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, David, and everybody.

David Bevan: Let’s begin with Sarah Hanson-Young, a bit of focus this week on your travel arrangements. You took a trip to whale watch in the Great Australian Bight and you took your daughter and it cost $4000. Now when you were questioned about this on Sky News, you are quoted in The Australian today as saying – of course I don’t regret it. There have been some grumpy old white men deciding what is best for my family in the last 24 hours. What’s important about them being white?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Well look, let me just be really clear from the beginning here, I wasn’t on a whale watching holiday. I was visiting the communities in Ceduna, Fowlers Bay and up through the head of the Bight, talking to the local council, their various different businesses, the fishing industry, the tourism industry about their concerns about proposals for oil drilling in the Bight. I did see the whales at the head of the Bight – invited on there by the local Indigenous people. They were lobbying me for money to build a new eco-tourism hub up there because they are, (a) concerned about what’s going to happen to this whale sanctuary if there’s an oil spill, but (b) they’re also wanting to see how they can get more support for boosting tourism in that area. So there was no whale watching holiday. What I …

David Bevan: [Interrupts] What’s with the language though? Why are you talking about old- grumpy old white men?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Well because, David, I’m not going to resile from doing my job as a Senator, representing my constituents, standing up for the projection of the Bight and hearing men like Cory Bernardi tell me how to be a mother, how to manage my family affairs, and …

David Bevan: [Interrupts] You wouldn’t put up with that language if somebody talked about an old grumpy black man, would you? You’d say hang on, what are you going on about here? And you hear this language a lot. Matt and I heard it when we went to a conference in Sydney, in the ABC, where they were talking about old pale males. Now this sort of racism, it’s a reverse racism from what we’re used to, but it’s getting around isn’t it?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Cry me a river, David. I mean seriously …

David Bevan: [Talks over] So that’s the issue is it? It’s about time some of it flowed back to the old white men.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Let me be really clear here. When you’ve got some of these blokes standing up, telling people how to be a mother, what’s good for my daughter, I’m not going to stand there and take it and I’m going to hit back and that’s what I did.

David Bevan: And you hit back using racial terms.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Oh look, these people who want to complain about- and tell me what is good for my daughter, how to look after her, what my job is as a mother and how I manage that as a Senator, I’m not going to take it.

David Bevan: Penny Wong?

Penny Wong: Well look I think first in terms of expenditure of public monies all of us have to be careful in making sure that we spend it wisely and appropriately and recognising that there’ll be scrutiny. Secondly, I understand, you know, Sarah’s said publicly the reasons why she had to take her daughter, I’m not criticising her for that, and …

David Bevan: I’m not asking about that. We can get on to that in a moment but …

Penny Wong: [Interrupts] Well, it’s probably not language I’d use.

David Bevan: Why not?

Penny Wong: Well, it’s just probably not language I’d use and you need to talk to Sarah about that …

David Bevan: [Interrupts] No I’ll talk to you about why you wouldn’t use it.

Penny Wong: Well because, just simply, I don’t think in public, as a public figure would seek to use that language.

David Bevan: But why? But why wouldn’t you?

Penny Wong: Look, I don’t think to be fair – you want to focus on that, maybe you should also be focusing on why the criticism was made and I think the criticism was made obviously for political purposes and I think the criticism did involve a member of Sarah’s family. Now I think we all recognise as politicians we have more resources, we’re more financially able to manage work and family than most people, but I don’t think it was reasonable for Sarah’s daughter to be part of the criticism that was made.

David Bevan: Why wouldn’t you use that language?

Penny Wong: Because I don’t think that’s language I want to use.

David Bevan: Yeah but why wouldn’t you- why don’t you…

Penny Wong: Well, it’s a personal decision.

David Bevan: I know it’s a personal decision. I’m asking you to unpack this for me, it’s a reasonable question.

Penny Wong: No, as much as I like you I don’t [indistinct] …

David Bevan: I’m not asking you to like me. I’m just asking you to explain why …

Penny Wong: As much as I like you David I don’t want you to be in my head. I just told you that it would be as a matter of a personal decision that’s not language I would use.

David Bevan: Why would you make that decision?

Penny Wong: I’ve answered that question.

David Bevan: No you haven’t.

Penny Wong: Well because I’ve told you, it’s a personal decision.

David Bevan: Why would you make the personal decision not to use language like that.

Penny Wong: David, I’m not getting into this because I’ve made clear over many years in public life that I do not use language around race in the way you’ve just described.

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham.

Simon Birmingham: David Bevan.

David Bevan: What would you use? Would you use language like that?

Simon Birmingham: No. Look my approach as always has been to try to handle issues. I’m not somebody I think who’s known for using language that seeks to turn matters personal, but I do understand that we all react perhaps a little more severely when our families are brought into the debate and when our partners or our children are brought into the debate, and so that can sometimes perhaps prompt an approach that’s a little tougher. But look, my approach as always is to deal with the issues before us, do it in a straight way and I don’t really think that somebody’s age, or colour, or gender, or sex, or sexuality, or religion or any of those matters are ever really relevant points and particularly in these sorts of matters.

Matthew Abraham: Rowan Ramsey on another topic is quoted in The Australian today as saying that country Liberal MPs have been marginalised by the Turnbull Government and there are National MPs in his Cabinet from country areas but not Liberal MPs. And he says that Pauline Hanson is murdering us in the country. The votes are going to the Nationals and the One Nation. Simon Birmingham, have you noticed Sarah Hanson-Young …

Simon Birmingham: I think you are putting words in Rowan Ramsey’s mouth that aren’t actually quotes in The Australian today there, David.

David Bevan: There’s a quote there she’s murdering us in the country and apparently this meeting has been convened by Rowan Ramsey, so somebody’s saying it.

Simon Birmingham: They’re not quotes from Rowan Ramsey. Let’s just be fair and clear about that. The country Liberals have met as a group for a very long period of time. I’ve attended their meetings on occasions to talk through different policy issues. It’s an important opportunity for our country Liberal MPs and of course in this state we don’t have any National Party MPs, but elsewhere around the country there’s a mix and it’s a good opportunity for them to get together and address some of the particular regional issues that are really important to the Liberal Party. Now we have some strong voices in the Ministry from regional Australia. Anne Ruston of course in SA across the agriculture, fisheries, water portfolios and Rowan of course is one of the whips in the lower house. Dan Tehan is a really active and strong country member and we make sure that the voices of all our Members and Senators are heard and that’s something that – standing up for regional issues is critically important for both Coalition parties, but here in SA as the Liberal Party we well and truly know that we are the party of the voice for regional SA and we’ve got to take that seriously and Rowan does a great job convening this group [indistinct].

Penny Wong: [Talks over] I don’t know that Rowan agrees.

David Bevan: I’m not sure that Rowan agrees actually. I think that’s why he’s convening this meeting.

Simon Birmingham: This meeting, this group has existed for many, many years.

David Bevan: If he agreed with you he wouldn’t be convening the meeting.

Simon Birmingham: No, it’s existed for many, many years. Regional Liberal MPs have been getting together for many, many, many, many years. It happened under the Howard Government, it happened in opposition, this is not a new phenomena. It’s something that has been occurring for a long, long period of time for them to get together, discuss regional issues, get ministers like me in to talk specifically about education issues as they affect bush and to make sure that we’re acting on them.

Penny Wong: Well …

Simon Birmingham: It’s exactly what Members of Parliament should be doing.

Penny Wong: You know, I’ve been on this show a few times with Simon and I always feel that, you know, he gives this smooth answer to the questions, but whatever words he uses doesn’t detract from the reality. This is a government at war with itself. It’s not happy families. They’re riven with dysfunction and division. They’re not focusing on delivering for Australians; they’re focusing on their internal fight. We’ve seen day, after day, after day division; Turnbull, Abbott – Turnbull say he’s going to resign if he loses the leadership, then he says he’s going to be there forever, and Abbott taking potshots, and a whole range of other people coming out. Meanwhile their policy priorities are reducing penalty rates and giving tax cuts to millionaires, and then they wonder why people are a bit grumpy.

David Bevan: Well, another headline- let’s just work our way through the headlines, Simon Birmingham. I’m sure you do in the morning. I won’t be silenced says Tony Abbott. That must- oh, you must think oh, dear God, can’t we send him to Germany instead of Malcolm Turnbull.

Simon Birmingham: I’m very happy that Malcolm Turnbull’s going to the G20 to represent Australia.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Tony Abbott is just being the classic wrecker here isn’t he? He always has been – and he wants to blow the joint up. I must say that plan that he put out last week – and I know we touched on it a little bit last week – his kind of six point plan of what he would do if he became Prime Minister again or if he had his way. I mean, it would be a disaster for Australia. Things like gutting the Senate. I mean, what would that mean for proper democracy? He talks about democracy in the Liberal Party, but doesn’t think the Australian people deserve the right to have representation in our Parliament. He talks about saying that you’re going to save housing crisis by banning immigration. This is a guy who has a screw lose and he’s running amuck in the Liberal Party; and the crazy thing is, and the dangerous thing is, is some of these ideas are becoming- they’re getting currency within some of his own Liberal ranks.

David Bevan: Moving on to North Korea – this is right in your patch Penny Wong, you’re shadow foreign affairs minister – the moment that North Korea showed that it had a missile which could reach our shores, and apparently it has now, did the debate over this,it moved up to another league at that point- it’s out of our control now. This is going to be sorted out by super powers. They’re not really going- if it can reach Alaska- if it can reach Australia, it can reach Alaska and it’s not going to be sorted out by Australia.

Penny Wong: Well I think there are a couple of points, first, you’re right. This is a new level of threat, and it appears – I’ve just looked at the statement by Secretary Tillerson that has been put out just a short while ago – it does appear that they are recognising it was the launch of an ICBM, that’s obviously a new level of threat for the reasons you’ve outlined. The question of course now is- whether or not North Korea can miniaturise nuclear weapons. The second point I would make is that no one country can resolve this. This is a global threat, it is a threat not just to the security of the United States, it is a threat to the security of all nations, obviously first and foremost South Korea and Japan – those in the near region – but it’s a global threat. And I agree with Secretary Tillerson where he says this – global action is required to stop a global threat. That’s what’s required.

David Bevan: Is the answer here China?

Penny Wong: China has a particular relationship with North Korea, and China has been, I think, demonstrably cooperating to try and put pressure on the regime. We would obviously urge them to do more. And we would also recognise, whilst they do have a particular relationship, ultimately containment of this threat to global peace has to be from multilateral action – has to be from all nations acting, not one only.

David Bevan: And is it important not to overestimate what China is capable of doing here? The idea that you have this gigantic superpower – or North Korea in comparison is quite small but it’s also very annoying and very powerful …

Penny Wong: And demonstrably not taking direction from anybody.

David Bevan: Exactly, so we should not overestimate what China is capable of doing.

Penny Wong: I think that it is reasonable to say that this is a rogue state we are dealing with. North Korea continues to act in, you know, completely contrary to international law to UN Security Council resolutions. China has cooperated through the UN Security Council in relation to action with North Korea. I think what we need and I think the United States, on the basis of Secretary of State’s statement today, has made clear that this is something that requires global action, so obviously China is part of that.

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, this is out of your portfolio – you’re Federal Education Minister, Penny Wong is shadow Foreign Affairs, but you’re Federal Education Minister – I’m not too sure how far you’re able to go on this front, this question:

Simon Birmingham: David, there’s nothing really that Penny had said that I would disagree with. This is something that goes beyond the day-to-day partisan politics. It’s a very serious global issue. We’ve seen the US take a changing position steadily in reassessing the approach of patience as such that had been shown previously in contemplating how this matter can be resolved. And obviously the urgency of resolution is getting greater as North Korea continues with its testing and appears to be making advances.

You’re right that China alone cannot solve it and that simply diplomatic pressure from China alone cannot solve the matter but absolutely China applying more pressure – more economic pressure as well – on North Korea, as well as working cooperatively with the rest of the world is a very important part of trying to get a peaceful solution, which of course is what we all ideally want.

David Bevan: Senators, thanks for coming in.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Thank you very much.

Penny Wong: Great to be with you.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you.

David Bevan: Senator Simon Birmingham, Federal Education Minister, on the phone line there, and Senators Wong and Hanson-Young

Penny Wong: Do you think Matt was listening?

David Bevan: Well, I don’t know.

Penny Wong: Morning Matt.


David Bevan: I always feel he’s never far away.

Penny Wong: Do you think he’s waving at us from the dinghy or something?

David Bevan: Well, I don’t think he’s got out in the dinghy too much in the last few days.

Penny Wong: No, that’s probably true.

David Bevan: Senator Wong and Hanson-Young, thank you for coming in.

Penny Wong: Thank you.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Thank you.