Penny Wong is Australia’s new Minister for Foreign Affairs, freshly sworn into the role on Monday morning before heading to Tokyo to meet with the Quad leaders, alongside Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
So, what should you know about Penny Wong, the woman now in charge of Australia’s approach to foreign affairs?
Wong was born in the Malaysian state of Sabah in 1968, moving to Australia when she was eight years old, where her family settled in Adelaide, South Australia. She has a Malaysian father and an Australian mother.
Wong’s Malaysian background makes her Australia’s first foreign minister to have been born in a country outside of Australia.
Educated at Scotch College in Adelaide having won a scholarship to attend, Wong went onto the University of Adelaide where she attained degrees in arts and law. Wong has said she experienced bullying and racism as a child growing up in South Australia, with her and her brother the only Asian faces at their primary school.
She spent her early career in the trade union movement, before moving to Sydney, where she became a ministerial advisor in the then NSW Labor government.
Eventually returning to Adelaide in 1997, she was first elected to the federal parliament in 2001, becoming a senator representing South Australia with the Labor party. She has since been re-elected three more times, in 2007, 2013 and 2022.
She was a member of the Labor government elected under the leadership of Kevin Rudd in 2007, serving as Minister for Climate Change and Water. She later served as Minister for Finance and Deregulation, and as Leader of the Government in the Senate.
Following the 2013 election, Wong served as Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, and in 2016, became Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Wong lives in Adelaide with her partner, Sophie Allouache and their two children. She was a supporter of the legalisation of same sex marriage, memorably shedding tears in parliament when the ‘Yes’ result of the plebiscite was revealed.
During her time in politics, Wong has developed a reputation for being a highly capable politician of fierce intellect, with a cool head and biting sense of humour.
Penny Wong’s approach to foreign affairs
Wong has advocated for Australia to play a greater role in the Pacific region in light of the changing strategic circumstances around the globe. She labelled the Morrison government’s failure to prevent China’s security deal with the Solomon Islands as “the worst failure for Australian foreign policy in the Pacific since the end of World War II”.
On her first day in the job as Minister for Foreign Affairs, Wong addressed a video message to Australia’s neighbours in the Pacific, saying we will face the coming international challenges together. She also acknowledged the impact of climate change in the Pacific region, and that Australia will step up its contribution in this space.
“I’ve become Foreign Minister at a time when our region faces unprecedented challenges, but we will face these challenges together. We will achieve our shared aspirations together. We want to help build a stronger Pacific family. That is why we will do more, but we will also do it better,” Wong said in the message.
“We will listen because we care what the pacific has to say.
“The Australian government knows that nothing is more central to the security and wellbeing of the Pacific than climate change. We’ve heard the Pacific and we will act, standing shoulder to shoulder with you as we address the climate crisis.”
Wong also mentioned Australia would boost its assistance to the Pacific’s recovery from the pandemic, deepen Australia’s defence and maritime cooperation in the region, and expand opportunities for Pacific workers in Australia and improve their working conditions.
She backs Australia’s delivery of a First Nations foreign policy that weaves the voices and practices of First Nations peoples into Australia’s diplomacy.
“We will be a generous, respectful and reliable member of the Pacific family.”