Senator Says Australian Politicians ‘Overreached’ on Foreign Policy But Supports China Virus Inquiry

By Caden Pearson
Caden Pearson
Caden Pearson
Caden Pearson is a reporter based in Australia. Contact him on
April 28, 2020Updated: May 29, 2022

Australia’s shadow foreign affairs minister Senator Penny Wong (SA) said Labor supported the Coalition government’s calls for an independent inquiry into the early Wuhan outbreak of the CCP virus, in a piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald on April 27.

But she also criticised the government’s politicians and its supporters who she said had “overreached on Australia’s foreign policy” when they criticised China to “play to their own audience.”

Wong’s message was that Australia needs to rethink its relationship with China and the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but not disengage.

Wong started by saying Australia’s relationship with the Chinese regime wasn’t straightforward even before the pandemic, noting the crackdown on Hong Kong protestors, it’s actions in the South China Sea, its dams on the Mekong threatening water security in Laos and Vietnam, and the mass detention of Uyghurs.

Wong then said that for decades, policy makers in Australia have thought that trading with the Chinese regime would bring “greater freedom” to China, but the relationship has now “clearly entered a new phase” given the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, commonly known as novel coronavirus.

“As China’s weight has grown, it has asserted itself much more,” she said. “But our interests differ, as do our values: China is an authoritarian one-party state; Australia is a democracy,” she added.

Wong wants Australia to find a way to productively “manage differences” with the communist regime while standing up for Australia’s own “values, sovereignty, and democracy.”

“This has become more challenging as a result of COVID-19,” she said.

On April 27, Liberal Senator Eric Abetz (Tas) told The Epoch Times that he agreed with Wong’s assessment that Australia’s policies—including foreign affairs—should be guided by its values and its interests.

“Compromising your values is never in your long term interests and asserting our ‘values and our interests’ such as freedom and accountability will always be interpreted as ‘political’ by nations hostile to freedom and accountability,” he said via email.

If Australia stands firm by its values, Abetz said, it will give succour and encouragement to others who are “promoting those universal values in other countries.”

“That is why I’ve spoken out against an extradition treaty with China (as proposed by [former prime minister] Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop) and exposed the collaboration between medical institutions in Australia with communist China’s notorious organ transplant facilities costing the lives of prisoners of conscience.

“For too long, we’ve turned a blind eye to gross human rights abuses and aggressive military stances such as the continual encroachment in the South China Sea,” he said.

One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts (QLD) told The Epoch Times on April 27 that Wong’s piece “implicitly questioned Australia’s bilateral relationship” with the CCP.

Roberts said he also wants Australia to restore balance in its relationship with the CCP, noting that it’s important to maintain the trade relationships while holding the CCP accountable.

“Australian values include being fair, fair-dinkum, and forthright,” he said via email. “As a democratic nation whose citizens are losing many basic freedoms under [the] U.N. dictates now governing Australia, our values conflict with those of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Australia’s values are closely linked with its advocacy and promotion of fundamental values, Abetz said, “which are the universal values to which all humankind aspires—amongst them freedoms of speech, thought, religion, and political association.”

He added that Australia’s national interest should never come at the sacrifice of “our national soul and values.”

To advocate as such “is to advocate a false dichotomy, which is morally unacceptable and ultimately unsustainable,” he said.

‘Overreach’ Responses

Wong said that several politicians had “overreached on Australia’s foreign policy,” while accusing Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton of provoking China by airing the “conspiracy theory that the virus originated in a Chinese lab” to distract from the Ruby Princess “debacle.”

The Epoch Times reached out to Dutton’s office for a comment but did not receive a response.

Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker (QLD), Roberts, and Abetz have all voiced support for the Morrison Coalition government’s call for an independent investigation into the outbreak in Wuhan. They rejected any claim of overreach.

Abetz said that Wong’s piece demonstrated to him Labor’s “muddled thinking and internal conflicts” when it deals with left-wing dictatorships.

“Calling out dictatorships for what they are and do is never to be seen as ‘overreach.’ Dictatorships deny fundamental God-given individual human rights—rights for which our forebears fought and died leaving us a rich inheritance,” Abetz said.

Stoker told The Epoch Times on April 27 via an email that Wong’s article was an appeal to her own audience and described it as offering “little substance but plenty of barbs against the government.”

“Senator Wong’s suggestion that [the WHO] should be insulated from scrutiny is far more troubling,” she said.

Stoker appeared in an episode of 60 Minutes on April 24 in which she suggested that countries around the world could look to the International Court of Justice to hold the CCP to account through a tribunal much like the Nuremberg Trials.

“This was used, as a well-known historical example of a nation being held accountable for its actions.

“The international community has the power to establish a formal inquiry,” Stoker said, although she said there was the issue of the CCP’s “record of rejecting the jurisdiction of such tribunals.”

Roberts also rejected Wong’s claim of overreach.

“To the contrary, [the government] have not gone far enough in denouncing WHO nor in specifying the Chinese Communist Party’s dishonesty in covering up the COVID-19 outbreak,” he told The Epoch Times. “That cover-up resulted in needless deaths and economic devastation around the world.”

Stoker said the Morrison government’s calls for an independent investigation would serve to ensure that the U.N. and its subsidiary organisations provide meaningful service to the global community.

A previous version of this article misidentified Julie Bishop. The Epoch Times regrets the error.