Penny Wong defends Kevin Rudd appointment and British colonialism speech

“I’m concerned about the long-term impact this has on Australian sovereignty on our own naval forces. Because there are times when we’ll disagree with the United States,” Rudd said at the time.

Wong said Rudd was an expert on Chinese affairs and had been sought by governments around the world to provide advice on the relationship between China and the US.

“It’s very important at this time that somebody that has that sort of knowledge and has taught about those issues is appointed in Washington,” she said. “We have chosen someone of substantial seniority for this role, as befits our most important strategic relationship.”

In a testy exchange, Birmingham also accused Wong of causing offence to a crucial ally and creating a distraction during her first visit to Britain as foreign minister, when she made a speech referencing the history of the British empire.

He asked Wong several times whether she would put more emphasis on Britain’s positive contribution to the world and the way it had transformed into a thriving multicultural nation if she were to deliver the speech again.

“I feel like you think you’re my counsellor,” Wong replied to Birmingham at one point as he grilled her about any regrets she may have about the speech.


She defended her speech, saying: “If we recognise our history and we recognise how we have changed, we find more common ground and we deal with some of the ways in which others seek to constrain us.

“And in the context of the AUKUS and the Quad [alliance between Australia, the US, India and Japan], that is about Australia’s influence and power in the region, and if you can’t see that I’m surprised. Because I would have thought you understand that, unlike some.”

In her speech at King’s College London last month, Wong evoked her own family’s experience of British colonialism and said: “Such stories can sometimes feel uncomfortable – for those whose stories they are and for those who hear them. But understanding the past enables us to better share the present and the future.”

Asked at a press conference after the speech whether Britain had faced up to its colonial past, UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “You’re asking the black foreign secretary?”

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