SKY NEWS FIRST EDITION
MONDAY, 25 NOVEMBER 2019
LAURA JAYES: Joining me now is Labor MP Andrew Leigh. He joins us live from Canberra. Did you see this last night? How concerned are you?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Laura, very concerned. I think both the stories you're talking about, concerning Mr Wang and Mr Zhao, raise issues of the first order importance for Australia. It's not unusual for Australia to provide asylum status to people who say that they might be harmed if they go back home. Chen Yonglin was the Chinese official granted asylum a number of years back. Before that of course you think of Vladimir Petrov. What's most important is that Mr Wang’s safety is looked after in the interim, while the government carefully works through the details of his application.
JAYES: Do you think the government as well though needs to consider concerns like copycat approaches by lower level operatives, and also the backlash that we could see from China both economically and politically?
LEIGH: There's no scenario in which Australia's relationship with China isn't of first order importance to Australia. It's important that we maintain those strong economic ties, which improve prosperity in both countries. But at the same time, we need to recognise we have different political systems, different sets of values when it comes to issues around democracy and human rights. We should never hold back from staying true to those values.
JAYES: Sure. But is that always the reality in practice when it comes to China? Do we need to be realistic here and say that if we do grant asylum to this individual, we may see some of those taps turned off in China, if you like?
LEIGH: We should apply the asylum laws to Mr Wang exactly as we would apply them to anyone else. That's a fundamental principle of how Australia ought to operate in this. If you start compromising on human rights in order to gain an economic edge, ultimately it's a slippery slope. But we need to be respectful and dealings with China. Our economic relationship with China could be much stronger. We see regular high level visits by officials from Germany and France to China. We don't see those sorts of visits from Australia, and that's in part because of the way in which the government has handled this critical bilateral relationship.
JAYES: Has this exposed weaknesses in party structure, if you like, party structures? Both major parties, perhaps even independents. Are they robust enough?
LEIGH: It's important that the Victorian Liberal Party, in particular, takes a careful look at itself-
JAYES: Why just the Victorian Liberal Party?
LEIGH: We know that Malcolm Turnbull was warned by ASIO not to attend a fundraiser for the seat of Chisholm. These latest allegations relate again to the seat of Chisholm. It's vital that the Liberal Party is doing its vetting based on the talents that a candidate brings, not the amount of money that they bring forward. And this is, as you say, an issue that is going to arise in the future. We're seeing it in State Parliaments, we’ve seen it in overseas parliaments. We've always got to make sure that representatives for elected office have the interests of Australia.
JAYES: Isn't that the problem though, Dr Leigh? It is left up to the party structures, whether it be the Liberal Party or the Labor Party or minor parties. Is that good enough for you? Or should all candidates be subject to national security vetting?
LEIGH: You make a good point, Laura, but I'm not sure that ASIO is best placed to do the kind of vetting that we need in this instance-
JAYES: Why not?
LEIGH: ASIO’s skill is in finding foreign spies. It has less ability to find somebody whose interest is in pushing a barrow for another country. But certainly, party-
JAYES: Why would it be ok now for ASIO to look into it, but not prior to an election?
LEIGH: I have no qualms with ASIO looking into it Laura, but I'm making a slightly more subtle point in that I think is the chief concern for Australia over coming decades is in identifying people who are not fully behind the interests of Australia and may be pursuing the interests of other countries. And that’s distinct from being a spy-
JAYES: So who is best placed to identify such people?
LEIGH: I would welcome any work that ASIO wants to do. But I think we need to go further than that. I think we need a careful conversation about the party structures, how they engage in vetting and ensuring that we're getting representatives of the communities. Our parliament is not sufficiently ethnically diverse right now. I want to see more Chinese-Australians, more Indian-Australians, more Fijian-Australians, more Vietnamese-Australians in the Parliament. And so it’s vital that we do the appropriate vetting, at the same time as we're ensuring parliament is more porous - as it endeavours to become a place that looks more like the people it serves-
JAYES: But you sit there confident this morning that Labor has those processes, those structures, the information available to it in place to prevent such infiltration?
LEIGH: All parties can do better on this, Laura. I think you're pointing to what's going to be a significant challenge for Australia in the future, and this doesn't just go to any one country. It's vital that we get this right across the board. It's also critical too that we deepen the relationship with China. Our relationship with China, our collaboration on issues like climate change and development assistance, is going to be fundamental to rising living standards, alleviating poverty and improving the environment over decades to come. So there's no scenario in which we're going to turn China into an enemy. We need to ensure we’re collaborating as much as possible with China, and that we're engaging respectfully with Chinese-Australians, who of course are very different to the Chinese Communist Party.
JAYES: Dr Leigh, I know you have a private member's bill looking at incarceration rates this morning, but we have run out of time. We will get you back to talk about that. Thank you.
LEIGH: Thanks, Laura.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.