Federal election 2022: Marise Payne, Penny Wong face off over China, foreign policy

Headshot of Kimberley Caines
Kimberley CainesThe West Australian
Marise Payne and Penny Wong have debated each other at the National Press Club.
Camera IconMarise Payne and Penny Wong have debated each other at the National Press Club. Credit: AAP

The two women competing to lead Australia’s foreign policy after the Federal election have revealed how they would manage the nation’s relationship with China.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and her Labor counterpart Penny Wong faced off at the National Press Club on Friday ahead of the May 21 poll — promising not to take a “backwards step” in protecting Australia’s interests with Beijing.

The Foreign Affairs Debate wrapped up in Canberra as Defence Minister Peter Dutton held a press conference in Perth, announcing that a Chinese spy ship had been tracked off the WA coast over the past week.

Asked if he believed the upcoming election had anything to do with the vessel in Australians waters, Mr Dutton said it did.

“It is strange timing... (and) is not a usual practice. We are monitoring it very closely,” he said.

“I think it is an act of aggression. I think particularly because it has come so far south.”

Senator Payne and Senator Wong agreed the country had a tense relationship with China and that Australia would not back down.

“We will continue to seek a constructive relationship with China but it has to be a relationship in which our sovereignty and our interests are respected and in which no party is coerced or subjected to pressures that breach international rules,” Senator Payne said.

“Australians know the world has changed and that China has changed. The bad blood implies in a way that I don’t necessarily accept that Australia has not done the right thing in terms of protecting our national interests and our national security.

“We will always put forward first and foremost for our nation.”

Penny Wong and Marise Payne for National Press Club.
Camera IconForeign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and her Labor counterpart Penny Wong have faced off at the National Press Club on Friday. Credit: NCA NewsWire

Senator Wong said Australia should not only be focusing on its relationship with China, as it ”misses the central point” of the region being reshaped.

“Whilst we might not be able to change China and how it chooses to engage with us, what we can do is focus on building the sort of region we want,” she said.

“We want a region which is peaceful, prosperous, stable, and in which sovereignty is respected.

“An Albanese Labor Government would not take a backwards step when it comes to standing up for Australia’s interests.”

The Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister said Australia had not known such “a vexing convergence of circumstances since the end of World War II”.

“From Mr Putin’s illegal and immoral war against the people of Ukraine to a more expansionist and aggressive China in our region, the world has changed,” Senator Wong said.

“Our region is being reshaped. This generation of political leaders has a responsibility in this reshaping to secure Australia’s interest today and in the future.”

PAYNE WONG PRESS CLUB DEBATE
Camera IconMarise Payne and Penny Wong have debated each other at the National Press Club. Credit: AAP

In her closing statement, Senator Wong said the nation would have a foreign minister “with clout” if it elected a Labor Government.

“If you elect Labor on 21 May, you will have a leader in Anthony Albanese who will always put Australia’s national interests first,” she said.

“You will have a foreign minister with clout. You will have a cabinet that works together to maximise Australia’s influence in the world and to secure our region.”

Meanwhile, Senator Payne finished off by saying Australians were “living in a time of great change and uncertainty”.

“There will be many tough foreign policy decisions ahead. The Morrison Government has shown that we can make those tough decisions and keep Australians safe,” she said.

“Whether it is on AUKUS or resisting economic coercion, or providing the significant support that was necessary for our region to recover together from the COVID pandemic, we have a clear plan focused on promoting the security and the prosperity of the Australian people.”

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