Australia

'Disturbingly lightweight': Penny Wong takes aim at Scott Morrison's foreign policy agenda

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Penny Wong has taken aim at Scott Morrison’s foreign policy agenda in a speech in Canberra rueing his "disturbingly lightweight" approach.

Penny Wong has rued Prime Minister Scott Morrison's foreign policy agenda and cautioned against his warnings over “negative globalism” as holding right-wing nationalist sentiment.

In a speech to the Australian Institute of International Affairs, the Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman targeted Scott Morrison's approach to foreign policy since becoming prime minister.

Senator Wong lashed out at Mr Morrison's recent address to the Lowy Institute as a "disturbingly lightweight speech", which included his criticism of "unaccountable internationalist" systems.

Foreign Affairs spokewoman Penny Wong has taken aim at Scott Morrison's foreign policy agenda.
Foreign Affairs spokewoman Penny Wong has taken aim at Scott Morrison's foreign policy agenda.
AAP

In her speech, Senator Wong accused the Prime Minister's foreign policy approach as using “short-term political tactics" at the expense of Australia’s national interests.

“We must not succumb to sacrificing the national interest for short-term political gain,” she said.

“Is it enough to play ... political tactics on something so profoundly important as the integrity of our political system or the assertion of our national interests?”

Senator Wong's wide-ranging speech warned of “increasing assertiveness” from China and the need to delicately balance this relationship with the United States.

On this front, she said Labor was committed to a bipartisan approach, but said this did not mean it would offer "uncritical support" for all decisions. 

In her address laying out a series of perceived foreign policy missteps, she accused the Prime Minister of playing into Beijing’s rhetoric of Australia being a ‘pawn’ during his recent trip to the US.

She described his call for China to be redefined as a "developed" economy, as a "reckless handling" of the relationship. 

“The assertion of China being a “newly developed economy” … is both one-sided and unfair. And it basically an echo of what the US has claimed.”

US President Donald J. Trump and Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison.
US President Donald J. Trump and Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison.
EPA

During the state visit, Mr Morrison lauded the close ties of Australia and the United States and how his relationship with Donald Trump had only bolstered this strength.

But Senator Wong said, in reality, the state visit had been a distraction that failed to “achieve anything much of substance”.

“Especially on how he deals with Australia’s interests in the trade war,” she said.  

“It is important now for Scott Morrison to demonstrate that Australian farmers won’t be worse off under the deal struck between the US and China.”  

She accused Mr Morrison of repeating talking points "reminiscent of the right-wing nationalism" seen in the US, as an attempt to "distract and divert."

“We are better than this,” she said.

“Our national interests are not this.”

“Scott Morrison knows the nationalist agenda in the US is an anti-immigration agenda – but it is equally an anti-trade agenda,” she says.

“You can’t be pro-free trade and anti-globalist – and we all need to call Scott Morrison’s bluff on this."

Mr Morrison has defended his government's approach to managing intentional tensions, saying the government is balancing their relationship with close allies the United States and strategic trading partner's China. 

In her speech, Senator Wong acknowledged Mr Morrison’s threat as a political rival.  

“There’s no doubt Scott Morrison is the best political tactician in Australia right now,” Senator Wong said.

“He is the master of the political manoeuvre, but he hasn’t delivered anything of substance, because that is not who he is.”

“Is it enough to be a clever political tactician, when key relationships with our nearest neighbours are at stake?’

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