Bill's Transcripts





SUBJECT/S: Trip to South Korea and Japan; North Korea; Labor’s Asia engagement strategy; marriage equality; energy crisis.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: [audio begins] the Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga this morning and we look forward to our meeting with Foreign Minister Kōno and other members of the Government. And we appreciate that, even though in an election has been called, so many senior leaders of the Japanese Government have found time to meet with Senator Wong and myself.

These are important meetings. Penny and I are here in Japan, just as we have been in the Republic of Korea, to stress Australia's bipartisan support for Japan and indeed the Republic of Korea, as they face escalating threats and military tests and nuclear missile tests by the North Korean regime. It is most important that our friends in North Asia understand that both sides of Australian politics are completely committed to security in the region. Japan, after all, is a very longstanding friend of Australia. We have deep economic and financial interests in the wellbeing of each of our nations. Japan is our third largest trading partner. 

And what has reminded me most forcefully in the last three days is that Australia's future is inextricably linked with Asia's future. What I've been reminded of again is that this is truly the Asian Century. And therefore the message which we will be taking back to Australia is that Australia needs to take full advantage of the rise of the Asian middle class, or we will be left behind. 

I'm pleased to announce that on Friday, as part of the development of our Asia policies, [Shadow] Treasurer Chris Bowen will be outlining Labor's Future Asia strategy. It will be a clear statement of direction and commitment that in the event, if Labor forms a government next year, that we are prioritising as part of our economic growth plans, Future Asia, engaging in Asia. 

Now, Chris will have a lot more to say about the detail on Friday, but let me just state simply what I mean by a Future Asia strategy. What we mean is step change in our relationships with Japan, and indeed with all the Asian societies. We want a deeper engagement. No longer just trade and just security. We have thousands upon thousands of Australians working right throughout Asia, not just for Australian companies but for local companies and other American and European companies. We have a marvellous skill bank of Australians with Asia capability. And we need to work with our diaspora, and we need to work more with Asian-Australians in Australia to help use their knowledge and familial links and their backgrounds to deepen our Asia capability.

And of course, no discussion about a future Asia strategy can be serious unless it involves, how do we further invest in education and building our Asia capability? I'm really pleased with the fact that two of my daughters are studying Japanese, but we need to encourage more kids to pick up Asian languages. 

But one thing that should be very clear and been reinforced to us during this visit – that the fortunes of North Asia, of Japan and Korea, are inextricably linked to our success and prosperity, and we need to certainly improve our Asia capability. Our concern is that under this government, they've set the Asia plans on cruise control, when Australia needs to press the accelerator to make sure we take benefit of the rise of our North Asian friends. 

Over to Senator Wong now.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well, I just want to make some brief comments, if I may. First, obviously Bill and I are here to show the bipartisan commitment to our relationship with Japan, our close strategic partner in Asia, our bipartisan commitment to our relationship, our close friendship with South Korea, and our deep understanding that the current crisis with North Korea demands strong bipartisan support, which they have. 

But moving beyond the current issues of the day, can I just pick up very briefly what Bill said. Labor has always understood that Australia's economic security, our strategic security, our future, lies in our region. We have always understood that. And successive Labor governments have always built our relationships with this region. We've built them architecturally, we've built them economically, we've built them people to people.

If we are to be elected in the period to come, a Shorten Labor Government will continue that tradition, with its Future Asia strategy. And it is a strategy that recognises that our economic prosperity into the future, our strategic security into the future, the prosperity of our people, lies in our region. And to do that, we need to increase our Asia capability, and we need to be serious about that, and a Shorten Labor Government would be. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, can I ask about your visit to the DMZ. What reflections do you have on that visit?

SHORTEN: I think in Australia we're very fortunate, because we are a long way away from the rest of the world, we are the only nation who is fortunate enough to occupy a continent and we are an island. But what you realise when you visit the DMZ is the depth of the historical tensions on the Korean Peninsula. For Australians, it was 65 and 70 years ago that 17,000 Australian servicemen served in the Korean conflict. 340 Australians gave up their life in defence of Korea and democratic values.

But we've moved on. When you go to the DMZ, you realise that the most heavily fortified border in the world, that the Korean Peninsula is now still trapped in the arguments of an unfinished conflict 64 years ago. So when we talk about the North Korean threats to regional security, you see that the North Korean regime is isolated. You see that the North Korean regime is determined to give itself nuclear capacity which is destabilising to the region and the broader world.

It is why it is so important that when both sides of Australian politics talk to the Australian people about the need to support sanctions and encouraging, amongst other nations, China and Russia, to enforce sanctions, we don't do it because it is an idle argument somewhere else in the world. The conflict and the risk to conflict is serious and it is real. And we need to do everything we can diplomatically to make sure that the United Nations Security Council resolutions have their effect, are focusing the North Korean regime to step back from the risks of tension and escalating conflict that it is inflicting on the region.

JOURNALIST: Is Australia having enough of a say in that diplomatic conversation? Should we have diplomatic representation again in Pyongyang?

SHORTEN: I think Australia has been doing good work. And this is not a time for Labor versus Liberals, I think the Government has been doing work to help encourage an international response. The United Nations Security Council resolutions should not be underestimated. The fact that all the players on the Security Council, including China and Russia, supported the resolutions is a positive sign that the whole world is taking North Korea's actions seriously.

The next step, I would suggest, is to make sure that the resolutions actually have some meaning. If we can stop the export of North Korean textiles into China, and stop the movement of guest labourers from North Korea to near countries, and make sure that there's sanctions around oil and petrol, I think that will focus the North Korean regime to understand there are consequences from simply snubbing your nose at the standards of the rest of the world. I think that is the priority at this stage, as opposed to any other developments. 

JOURNALIST: Mr Trump has said that a military option would be devastating for North Korea, is that language helpful? 

SHORTEN: Listen, I get asked on a regular basis about President Trump's language. I've just got to make clear, the language is not the key issue. The key issue is unified action to encourage China, Russia and all the nations to put pressure on the North Korean regime to peacefully step back from the course of events that they've embarked upon. I think if you've got a runaway train, the first thing to do to stop it you know, hitting an obstacle, is to slow that train down and to stop it. What we need to do is to get the North Korean regime to understand that the rest of the world does not support its unilateral nuclear tests and missile development. And it is gravely destabilising, and the rest of the world does not support this, and will not stand by and let this behaviour go on without any consequences and disapproval of the rest of the world.

JOURNALIST: Can you tell us about your meeting with Mr Suga was the – is the Japanese Government on board with [inaudible]

SHORTEN: I think that it's fair to say that both the Republic of Korea and the Japanese Government are greatly, are grateful for the support that Australia is giving. And I think that they appreciate that that message is coming from both sides of Australian politics. 

Japan takes Australia very seriously. Obviously they have their American alliance, their regional neighbour relationships are very important. But it is, without doubt, the case that Japan views Australia as a very strategic partner in terms of its foreign policy, and I think that that only means good things in the future for the development of Australian prosperity and indeed Japanese prosperity.

JOURNALIST: I've just got one more thing about matters a little further afield and that is gas. The Prime Minister is meeting gas exporters today, what would you like to see come out of that meeting?

SHORTEN: Every time Malcolm Turnbull meets with the gas companies, all that happens is that the gas bills of ordinary Australians go up and up. The problem with Mr Turnbull on gas is that he's all talk and no action. He needs to take steps right now, not to talk about a power station in five years’ time, not to have picture opportunities in helicopters over the Snowy Mountains. What he needs to do is sort out gas supply to put downward pressure on energy prices. He needs to, one, pull the trigger on export controls on the eastern Australian gas export facility. He, two, needs to encourage and work with the states to develop new supplies of gas. And, three, we need a Clean Energy Target.

There is not going to be the sort of business investment in new energy generation until the rules are clear. And unless we've got business spending money on creating new sources of energy, then prices are going to keep going up. But as for today, from Mr Turnbull's talkfest with the major gas companies, he's held them twice before. Every time he comes out and says the problem's solved. Every time the Australian people have higher gas bills. He's all talk and no action. 

JOURNALIST: And what about Victorian gas output? Can you do anything on that front?

SHORTEN: We certainly think that conventional gas exploration should be back on the agenda. That's not an issue about a particular state administration, we think New South Wales needs to do more, and hopefully the Northern Territory will do some good work there too. 

But one of the reasons why we have got this crazy situation where we're exporting gas and people in other parts of the world can buy Australian gas cheaper than Australian business can buy Australian gas, we need to have those export controls put in place right now. But we know that Mr Turnbull won't put the export controls in place right now, because of the cloud over the Constitutional eligibility of his Deputy Prime Minister to make the decisions. He should stand Joyce aside, make the decision, and let's get some sanity back into the gas debate. Because, at the moment, we're not seeing any constructive action from the Federal Government, just a lot of blame. 

Thank you very much. 


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