Penny Wong and Cranlana

Seen in The Australian

Labor foreign affairs spokes­woman Penny Wong has delivered a strong endorsement of the US-Australia alliance, despite pressure from senior Labor figures led by Paul Keating to “cut the tag” with Washington.

Ahead of the release of the foreign policy white paper today, Senator Wong said Labor would back the government and not completely junk its policy if the opposition won the next election.

In a speech delivered to the Cranlana Program in Melbourne last night, Senator Wong declared her support for broadening the US alliance, one year on from the election of Donald Trump.

She said Australia needed an enhanced relationship with the US policy community. “This would be a priority of a Shorten Labor government,” she said.

Following the election of Mr Trump last November, Senator Wong called for “an independent foreign policy within an alliance framework” and said “the alliance has not and cannot mean reflexive agreement with all that is ­espoused by one individual”.

The comments, combined with statements of Labor elders including Mr Keating and Gareth Evans, were interpreted as suggesting the party could rethink its approach to the alliance. Mr Evans advised “less ­America, more Asia”, while Mr Keating said the alliance had taken on a “reverential sacramental quality”.

“It’s time to cut the tag. It’s time to get out of it,” he said last year.

In September, Mr Keating, prime minister from 1991 to 1996, told The Australian he had not called for the ANZUS alliance to be junked, noting his comments about not being a “tag-along” partner for foreign wars, including Iraq, had been misconstrued. “What I meant about cutting the tag was the ‘tag-along rights’. That was what I was referring to, not the alliance itself,” he said.

Last night, Senator Wong supported the US relationship and struck a positive tone about the ­future of the superpower.

“Our … policy approach is to work with the US as it is now, not as it might once have been, or, as some of its naysayers claim, it’s going to become,” she said. “The US is one of the most vibrant societies on earth, as energetic and full of potential as it has ever been.”

Senator Wong said the relationship was “deep, long-standing and institutional”. She pointed to the fact the US remained Australia’s top partner in terms of two-way investment and the influence of the US Constitution on Australia’s legal foundations, saying they laid the groundwork for deep ­intelligence and security links.

Senator Wong highlighted the personal links underpinning the alliance, with a reference to ­Republican senator John McCain.

“Senator John McCain, whose family relationship with Australia dates back to the visit of the Great White Fleet in 1908, captured this beautifully when he spoke in Sydney earlier this year,” she said.

“He said, ‘… the animating purpose of our alliance is that we are free societies, founded by immigrants and pioneers, who put our faith in the rule of law, and who believe that our destinies are inseparable from the character of the broader world order’.”

Senator Wong said the relationship could be broadened to increase engagement “between our national institutions, corporations, public and private sector ­decision-makers and, very importantly, our think tanks”.

There has been unease in Labor ranks over its approach to the US President. Defence spokesman Richard Marles, a supporter of the alliance, attacked Mr Trump, suggesting some of his policies were “clearly repugnant”.

China remains another divisive issues for Labor. Senator Wong, Treasury spokesman Chris Bowen and trade spokesman Jason Clare have been involved in launching Labor’s “future Asia” policy, which calls for a greater focus on China and Asia. Labor Right MPs outside NSW are concerned about the growing assertiveness of Chinese foreign policy.

In her speech, Senator Wong laid down markers for how Labor would approach the alliance. She said that, after Mr Trump’s ­aggressive “America First” speech at the APEC summit in Vietnam, Labor would have to lobby the White House to turn down its ­protectionism.

“A US emphasis on national economic sovereignty, or protection … is a significant development,” she said. “As a mature, reliable and contributing partner with the US, we need to voice these kinds of issues.”

In response, Australia should encourage the US to help Asian nations become more resilient and observe the framework of international law, which was increasingly under threat.

Senator Wong said the principles of the 1951 collective security agreement signed by the two nations to consult with each other and act against “common danger” should apply to all aspects of the bilateral relationship, not just in terms of defence.

Senator Wong, writing in The Australian today, declares Labor will not disregard the Turnbull government’s foreign policy white paper. “One of the very first acts of the Turnbull government was to bury its predecessor’s Australia in the Asian Century white paper. Labor won’t be doing the same with Julie Bishop’s foreign policy white paper,” she writes.

“We recognise that long-term planning is in the national interest, and that the nation is better off when changes of government don’t translate into the digital burning of months and years of the public service’s work.”