PETER KHALIL MP
MEMBER FOR WILLS
ABC AFTERNOON BREIFING
TUESDAY 12 APRIL 2023
Subjects: US Pentagon leak, TikTok Ban, China-Australia trade relations
GREG JENNETT, HOST:
Alright, changing tack a little and Parliament’s Joint Intelligence and Security Committee has been taking evidence this week on a review of the powers and supervision of this country’s most powerful intelligence agencies. Keeping secrets is a big part of the review and it’s timely, I suppose, in light of sensitive leaks out of the US revealing intel and planning around the war in Ukraine. The Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, Labor MP Peter Khalil, joins us now and Peter, just to, I suppose, join the dots between the process that your committee is going through and the somewhat embarrassing leaks that have come out of Washington, what are your observations on just how secure documents at the Australian end are and should be, using even only the existing powers that we have?
PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS:
Yeah, good afternoon, Greg. Look, on the question of the leaks, the Pentagon leaks, of course the Government has been very clear that there’s a great deal of concern around the leak of those classified documents. Obviously, it’s clear that the Department of Justice and the US and the US system administration is looking into those leaks pretty carefully and seriously given the gravity of the leaks and it would be sort of, I think, it’s not appropriate to comment further about that investigation. From our end to your question about Australia’s classification system and the security of our documents, it’s a very robust system that we have in place. Obviously, there’s always room for improvement, areas that can be strengthened and also our committee, the committee that I chair, plays a really important role in the oversight of all the intelligence and security agencies and that includes their administration, the way they go about basically ensuring that classified material is kept safely and transmitted safely between departments and within the government system. So that’s an ongoing effort and an ongoing job that we take very seriously at the committee level.
Would it be fair to say, based on recent experience, and there’s the current round of what they’re calling the Pentagon leaks in Washington, but Snowden and WikiLeaks before it, that the greatest point of vulnerability to Australian intelligence leaks is not onshore in our society here, but through processes that share that intelligence with other countries, Five Eyes is the most common expression, that that is a more vulnerable point of leakage?
Well, you raise an interesting point because when information is transmitted from country to country, from agency to agency, there are always systems in place to ensure the safe transmission of that information and making sure that that is carefully looked at and constantly reviewed to ensure that there’s no leaks that come from that particular point in time. But these things are really hard to predict, Greg, you know, because human beings are individuals, and sometimes they make certain decisions that are unpredictable. It’s important, though, to have the structures in place to protect information that is of national interest and goes to our national security. But on that point too, there has been a real development, particularly recently, where you’ve seen intelligence agencies release information more publicly, particularly to ensure that what are called false flag operations or misinformation and disinformation, particularly in the early parts of the war when Russia invaded Ukraine, were called out effectively. There were decisions made by the US administration to release top secret and secret classified information to basically expose Putin and some of the lies that were being put out by the Kremlin when it came to the invasion of Ukraine, so there is an evolution going on with respect to how intelligence is used. And then finally I should say there is also so much information on what’s called open source, that there’s so much data now and the way that information is assessed, the way that algorithms and software are used to get to that information or the bits that are important is also another aspect of the evolution.
Yeah, OK. Now where are we at? Is your committee taking any interest in follow up on the TikTok ban on government-owned publicly funded taxpayer devices? That was a ruling that’s relatively fresh in this country. Is there likely to be any follow-up on that to ensure that points of leakage there are satisfactorily closed down.
Well, a couple of points on that. The Attorney General’s Department, as you know, announced a prohibition of TikTok as an app being used on devices issued by the Commonwealth departments and agencies and that was based on advice that was provided to Government. It was a report, a review that was commissioned on cybersecurity and the impact of digital platforms on government and our national interest that went to the Home Affairs Minister and the AG’s. So that was a response to that, and it follows, frankly similar actions taken by a number of countries, the US, the UK, Canada, New Zealand and so on, and the European Commission and that direction is going to come into effect as soon as possible. As far as our review of that, we are looking more broadly obviously at the way that digital platforms and cybersecurity more broadly and the impacts that they have on our national security, our national interest, the impacts on society, these are important issues and there are important public policy responses that we need to, as a Government, be mindful of and put in place to address some of these issues.
Yeah, alright and the final one just quickly we’ve been reporting a bit of a thawing or what may be a thawing in Australia’s trade relations with China. Should that follow the trend that it’s kind of taking? Early days, I know, would you expect any moderation in that country’s behavior on the security front as well in this region?
Well, a good question, Greg. Look, there is a visit by the Executive Vice Minister in China meeting our counterpart in the Secretary of Foreign Affairs. They’re going to have a really good discussion around a lot of bilateral issues, particularly around trade and consular issues. Frankly, more broadly to go to your question, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Australian Government since coming to power, really sought to try and stabilize the relationship with China, because removing some of the trade barriers that have been put in place is, I think, mutually beneficial for both countries, frankly, and we’ve seen some progress in that, particularly with the announcements made yesterday by the Foreign Minister and the trade minister with respect to Bali exports being reviewed by China and going through that process. So, I think there’s some really good signs at the reduction in the temperature and the tension in the relationship and an engagement which will be, I think, important for both countries. But I will say this, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister have been very clear that in engaging with their counterparts, they’re not resiling from our values, they’ve raised issues around human rights, around trade, around consular issues, which are important for Australians and Australia’s national interest. So, we do so, I guess diplomatically from a position of strength, to improve the relationship and get the benefits, particularly out of the economic relationship.
Interesting, will pay on results, I suppose over the long term, very interested in your views on all of that, Peter Khalil, we’ll wrap up and do it again soon. Thanks for joining us.
Thanks, Greg. Cheers.
PETER KHALIL MP
MEMBER FOR WILLS
SKY NEWS AM AGENDA
THURSDAY 16 MARCH 2023
Subjects: AUKUS announcement, Paul Keating Press Club address
LAURA JAYES (HOST): Paul Keating has accused Labor of making its worst decision in a century, signing a $368 billion AUKUS agreement. The former PM also denied that there’s any imminent threat from China. Joining me live is Labor MP Peter Khalil. Would you call it vintage Keating yesterday? How would you describe it?
PETER KHALIL, FEDRAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: Yeah, vintage is a good way to describe it. Obviously, though, those pithy one-liners are very headline grabbing, but look, Laura, the former Prime Minister was a great Prime Minister, I have great deal of respect for him, that his achievements as Prime Minister will stand the test of time, it doesn’t mean you have to agree with every comment he makes, and he’s entitled to his views. But frankly, when you set aside the kind of personal attacks or playing the woman or the man instead of the ball, which I think is that type of politics, catches the headline, but it doesn’t actually deal with the substance. I think he’s misrepresented the government’s approach on AUKUS, and he’s also misrepresented or, or he’s willfully blind to the changed strategic circumstances that we face today in 2023. And so I think he’s fundamentally wrong in his strategic assessment and I’m happy to you know counter all of those points on, you know, a matter of substance.
JAYES: OK, it sounds like you’re saying that he’s lost it. He’s lost touch.
KHALIL: Well, he has a particular view, he’s entitled to that view. We are not in the 1990s, the benign environment which, when he was operating as Prime Minister, is no longer the case, and what’s interesting here is that – let’s take on merit here, his views. He has an assessment of the strategic environment which is one that, that China and other actors in this environment, which is quite volatile, is benign. That flies in the face of the reality that we’re facing today in the sense that it ignores or is blind to the fact that China has, particularly in the last half decade deployed aggressive economic coercion with trade barriers, militarised the South China Sea, there are the human rights issues, the brutal suppression of democracy in Hong Kong, the human rights issues in Xinjian, Tibet; that doesn’t factor let alone the grey zone area of cyber security and that kind of activity that we’ve seen in the last couple of years as well. So that strategic environment is very volatile and this is the really important point: the AUKUS decision is a defence capability decision. It’s meant to actually provide a defence capability and work with a collective deterrence with our partners in order to avoid confrontation, to avoid conflict. The greater your capability, the greater your deterrence, and it makes adversaries, whether they be state actors or non-state actors think twice about using force to achieve their strategic ends.
JAYES: Sure. Whilst I thought there’s a lot of personal criticisms, I agree with you. One thing I did find myself nodding along to is that we should be facilitating this contest of ideas, not just in politics as a whole, but particularly when it comes to the $368 billion deal. And I think because there is bipartisan agreement, we’re depriving the public of a debate around costs and what this actually does for the region. Do we need to be honest and say, OK, by actually doing this deal, partnering up with the US and the UK, yes, we have drawn the ire of China, and that might make us more of a target?
KHALIL: Well, there’s two parts to your question. The first one around the point about a public discourse, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I think it’s extremely important that we have a debate, a discussion and engagement with the Australian people, both at the political level, but more broadly in the media and elsewhere around our strategic choices, our strategic circumstances. And that discourse is very important because the environment has changed, as I was saying earlier, and this is a conversation we have to have with the people. So, in that sense, Paul Keating does us a service by getting the media involved in this. I will say, though, that there has been a lot of engagement or op-eds and discussion around AUKUS for a long time, for a number of years now. But people maybe are not interested or maybe are not connected the way that media is fractured, we won’t go into all of that – but you understand the way that media platforms work now, kind of direct people through algorithms to certain types of stories and so on.
JAYES: But it’s not just the media. It’s kind of where we go in the political debate. Sure, it’s how us here at Sky News have covered it, but I think that we have certainly done that, Peter Stefanovic’s documentary and talking about it day in, day out. The one thing that I still think is unanswered and we’ve heard from both the opposition and Richard Marles that this $368 billion cost for up to 8 nuclear submarines is somehow modest. How is it modest and why are we paying four times as much than we did for the French subs and, and $368 billion – I mean, no one is talking about the sacrifices we’re all going to have to make to get them.
KHALIL: So, a couple of points of clarity around that figure that’s been bandied about: the estimates are between $268 billion and $360 billion.
JAYES: Well, this is the problem though as well Peter Khalil. If I could quickly just interrupt – I mean, we’re told 0.15% of GDP, that’s briefed out from the Prime Minister’s office and then we’re left to extrapolate what that actual dollar figure cost would be because no one knows in normal voter land knows what 0.15% actually means?
KHALIL: Some clarity around this, I think, is important. So first of all, those figures that are being bandied about look big, but that’s out to 2050. That’s over 27 years from 2023. We’re talking about defence spending on these capabilities out to 2050. You mentioned the 0.15% – it’s actually .15% increase in defence spending, so, rough calculations, you can say we’re talking about 10-12, maybe a little bit more billion dollars on defence spending in the budget each year over a 25 year period. But importantly in the short term that is actually offset by the fact that because of the cancellation of the French Subs deal, which is around $6 billion, and other savings that the government will be finding that come out of the defence strategic review and decisions made by the cabinet of around $3 billion. The costs of AUKUS will be offset by those savings as well. So that’s an important point for the public to understand. But in the long term there is a commitment to defence spending. In fact, defence spending as a percentage of GDP is at 2.25, it’s gonna go to I think around 2.35 projections by the end of the decade. That’s an important point that the public – we need to talk about that: why should we be spending a little bit more on defence as a percentage of GDP? Well, it is a very volatile strategic environment that we live in. It’s not the benign environment that we live in anymore. There are a lot of threats to, our democracy, our way of life and the way to deter further threats, and to deter confrontation and conflict, is to ensure that you have a very robust defence capability, and you work with your partners in a collective deterrence. The whole point of deterrence is to make adversaries think twice before they use force and violence to achieve their ends.
JAYES: Sure. But if I could just ask this one last question, Peter Khalil, I mean, we could spend a whole hour on this, and I’m tempted to do so, but not today. We talk about deterrence, but what’s happening now? If the threat is so real – and we heard Richard Miles just the day before, say it’s the biggest conventional military build-up we’ve ever seen on our doorstep – what is 8 submarines in 30 years going to do when the threat is so real now apparently?
KHALIL: Well, so AUKUS also has, to, to answer that directly, AUKUS also has an element of advanced capability sharing, which is extremely important for our cybersecurity. So this involves missile technology, hypersonics, AI, quantum computing, drones, other types of capability that are really important that are time sensitive. So that’s a very important element of AUKUS. It’s not just about the submarines. But to answer your question about the now: this government is different than the previous government in that our diplomatic effort and the use of the three d’s that I call them, our statecraft: diplomacy, defence, development, for example, work in conjunction. So, we have been trying to reduce tensions. Obviously, there’s been engagement with China. It’s an important economic partner, we want to engage on our economic relationship, we wanna reduce tensions, we wanna avoid confrontation. And part of doing that is obviously good diplomatic efforts both in the region and with partners and with China itself to steer all the nations towards abiding by the rules-based order that has served us so well. That’s what we wanna achieve, that’s our ends. Part of that is also making sure your defence capability is robust enough, as I said earlier, to deter others from thinking that they can use force. It is a combined effort. It is not so simplistic to say “yeah, it’s linear that you just have to do defence capability”. It’s gotta be diplomacy, it’s gotta be development assistance, it’s gotta be our engagement with Pacific partners, which we’ve done very, very well, as Penny Wong has done. And I think Keating completely misunderstands what you can achieve through soft power in diplomacy as well. That is a very important element of foreign policy and all that works together to do one thing which is our objective, which is to ensure the ongoing security of the region, the stability of the region and the ongoing prosperity that we as Australians have benefited from for decades, through the abiding by that liberal rules-based order. There are those that would seek to diminish that, frankly. And there is a strategic contest, Laura, at the heart of this, between different models of governance: authoritarian states who would like to just do whatever they want when they want, through the use of power and brute force, and liberal democracies who want, as middle powers and smaller countries, frankly, to abide by a security framework, an international rule of law which benefits them in trade and in peace and stability. And that is really seen starkly in the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, where a big authoritarian state has invaded a neighbour that is not the world we want to live in or accept, that that is a something that is the norm. And that’s what is at the heart of this. And AUKUS is one small part of the defence capability bit that, that gets us to a point where we protect that rules-based order.
JAYES: Peter Khalil. Pleasure to talk to you.
KHALIL: Thanks Laura.
PETER KHALIL MP
MEMBER FOR WILLS
ABC DRIVE WITH WARWICK LONG
WEDNESDAY 15 MARCH 2023
Subjects: AUKUS, Paul Keating
WARWICK LONG, HOST: “The worst deal from a Labor government since Billy Hughes tried to introduce conscription back in World War One.” That’s how Paul Keating described the deal to buy subs and sign up to the AUKUS military agreement from Anthony Albanese’s Government today. It was an extraordinary address at the National Press Club in Canberra, and they’re – including a lot of personal attacks for Labor ministers that are currently sitting and signing up to this deal. Peter Khalil is a member of that government, a Labor MP for the northern suburbs, seat of Wills, Chair of the Parliament’s powerful Intelligence and Security Committee, former advisor to prime ministers on national security as well. You’re on the program now. Welcome.
PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: G’day, Warrick. How are you?
LONG: Should we start with the decision itself? Does your government’s decision stand up to this scrutiny?
KHALIL: It does, and I just want to say: I have great respect for Paul Keating. He’s one of our great prime ministers and he’s –
LONG: You’ve written that he’s your hero.
KHALIL: Yeah, he was a hero of mine. I just fundamentally think he’s wrong on this. He’s really misrepresented the government’s approach, and the circumstances that we face today and into the future. When he was Prime Minister, the strategic circumstances – the world was much more benign in the 90s. And the fact is – and I respect Keating so I’ll take his points – you had a quote up there of him saying we’ve manufactured a problem. Well, the facts are that the military buildup we’re seeing from China has been unprecedented. It’s been the biggest conventional military buildup anywhere in the world since the end of World War Two. But when you add on to the fact that China has put up economic barriers – talk to our barley makers, our growers, our wine makers – to some of our exports; the issues around human rights, whether it be Hong Kong or Xinjiang; the militarization of the South China Sea. This is all a reality of the strategic environment we’re facing, and it’s important to point that out. We are responding in the sense of making a decision, and this decision is important for our national security and our national interest because we want to avoid confrontation. We want to avoid conflict. And the best way to do that is to ensure that your defence capability. Is up to scratch so that it actually –
LONG: The biggest stick, if you will.
KHALIL: Well, it adds up to collective deterrence and it says to adversaries and to others – whether they be state actors or non-state actors – to think twice about using force or using violence to reach their strategic ends, or their objectives. And that is exactly why it’s so important to prepare. The old saying is “the price of peace is to prepare for war” and that is exactly what this decision is about: working together with our partners in the region to ensure that we avoid confrontation and conflict. And also, frankly, protect the liberal rules-based order, international law; the rule of law which is so beneficial to Australia as a trading nation.
LONG: You said he was a hero of yours. Is he a hero no longer?
KHALIL: Oh, look, his record will stand the test of time as Prime Minister. All of his reforms, economic reforms, his involvement in foreign policy, all of that as Prime Minister will stand the test of time. It doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything, and I think he’s fundamentally wrong on this issue –
LONG: So does that risk, I suppose – just in terms of you believing is fundamentally wrong on this issue at the moment, it was quite personal, his address today. Does this risk another civil war in the Labor Party while in government again? You were there to see the last one. Is that at risk here?
KHALIL: No, it doesn’t Warwick. And look, he’s always very entertaining. He’s always very entertaining in his interventions and his pithy one liners. Being from a football state, he’s playing the man – or the woman – instead of the ball. Look, the fact is, his attacks on Penny Wong and Richard Marles are just not borne out by the reality. Every observer of foreign policy, every Australian, who’s seen the tremendous work that both Penny and Richard have done in just 9-10 months of the Albanese government to reset our relationships in the Pacific; to reset our partnerships in the region; to reduce tensions – I mean, she visited every single Pacific country. And his throwaway line that you know that’s foreign policy is not handing out money. I mean that that is not –
LONG: Well, let’s listen to that. Here’s Paul Keating taking a jab at the Foreign Minister, Penny Wong’s diplomacy.
PAUL KEATING, FORMER PRIME MINSTER: No, we’re not using diplomacy. Running around the Pacific islands with a lei around your neck handing out money, which is what Penny does, is not foreign policy. It’s a consular task, fundamentally. Foreign policy, what you do with the great powers, what you do with China, what you do with the United States. This government, the Albanese Government, does not employ foreign policy.
LONG: Do you think he overstepped the line, going that personally?
KHALIL: Well, two points on what he said. First of all – and I’ll take his statement and I’ll respond to it. First of all, he contradicts himself because on one hand, he says he’s critical of the soft power efforts of the government in, in our diplomatic efforts, our development assistance in the region as it as if that’s not foreign policy, which is fundamentally wrong. And then he says ‘real’ foreign policy is dealing with the great powers, and yet he’s criticising one of the most important strategic decisions around defence partnership and strategic partnership with the US and the UK. And by the way, other partners? This is not just the Anglosphere, as he talks about. Last time I checked, the Japanese and the Indians are not Anglos; nor are the Filipinos; nor are the Vietnamese, nor are many other countries in the region who want to maintain the stability and security of the region and the prosperity of the region as trading nations. And so there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what foreign policy is all about. And in fact, the substance of what Penny Wong and Richard Marles have done in the region in resetting the relationship, in engaging with our Pacific neighbours as partners – without the paternalism and the arrogance of the previous government – engaging on issues like climate change that are substantively and existentially important for all of us, especially our Pacific neighbours. And engaging with them on defence and the economy and on our cultural exchange, this is mutually beneficial for Australia and those countries.
LONG: So that’s your thought on the issue and what Keating’s addressing here. I wanna know what you think about the personal attacks on ministers in your government, your colleagues? This is a former Prime Minister. Usually they’re in great standing in the community, and he has taken the time and the position today to take a great shot at this government decision and not only do that, [but] get very personal, as we just heard, talking about with Penny Wong running around the Pacific Islands, getting leis around her neck. Has he gone too far in the personal attacks?
KHALIL: I’ll tell you what, Warwick. The record even in the in the first ten months of the Albanese Government stands for itself, just as his record as Prime Minister stands for itself. The work that Penny Wong and Richard Marles and the Prime Minister have done to reset our relationships and advance Australia’s national interest, whether resetting the relationship with France, whether it’s our Pacific partners, whether it’s our friends and allies in the region working together on so many aspects of what is so important for Australia’s national interest, our economic interests, stands for itself. People can judge that. And personally, I don’t think playing the man or the woman instead of the ball is probably not a good way – I might give you a couple of good one-liners, but it’s not real politics and I think that people will judge that on that basis.
LONG: Paul Keating says the grassroots members of the Labor Party support him and his position on AUKUS. Are the Labor Party members in your seat of Wills with him or with you on this?
KHALIL: That’s a tough question, but every individual is different. Every member has their own views, and we respect their views and they’re part of a broad church, as it were, of the Labor Party, and they contribute to policy. And I have meetings with members in my electorate every day. I talk to them all the time. I’m constantly speaking with them at branch meetings. That’s the great thing about our party. There’s a really good membership base who make a contribution to foreign policy and economic policy, and so on, and there are differing views. Some might agree with Keating. Not many, I don’t think in the sense of the kind of personal attacks that he’s making. The Members that I speak to, frankly, have been telling me that they’re very, very pleased with the with the job that the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister have been doing in foreign policy and in national security. It’s a breath of fresh air compared to the beating of the war drums of Dutton and the previous government. Look, the big difference is – and he sort of tries to say that we’re it’s no different than the Morrison Government – there’s a massive chasm. There’s a massive difference in how we have conducted ourselves compared to the previous government. What Penny has done, and Richard and the Prime Minister, is to reduce tensions; is to work – and we’re very happy to talk to partners in the region, including China, about our economic relationship. But at the same time, we’re not going to step back on our values. We’re not going to meet certain conditions or demands in doing that was one of the first. Things that Prime Minister Albanese said when he when he became Prime Minister: “happy to talk, happy to have that good and positive economic relationship, but we’re not going to take a backward step on values and on our national interest.”
LONG: A couple of really short questions because I know we’re conscious of time here, and your time as well, Peter Khalil. Will you try and speak to Paul Keating after his address today?
KHALIL: I don’t know about that Warwick. No, probably not.
LONG: And you were a national security adviser to Kevin Rudd. In that time, if this deal came up, would you have advised Kevin Rudd to take the deal?
KHALIL: That question doesn’t quite work as a hypothetical because it mixes both temporally challenged in the sense that the strategic circumstances that we face today are not the same as we faced back in 2008. And it’s a very different world and it’s changed significantly.
LONG: Would Kevin Rudd – does Kevin Rudd support this? Would he support a deal like this with AUKUS or –
KHALIL: You’d have to ask Kevin about that. He is someone who’s a keen analytic mind on these strategic issues, and he will have his views. I think it’s safe to say from my perspective though, the strategic circumstances that we face today are so much different than they were even five years ago, because we’ve seen a shift in China. It’s China that has changed, not Australia. And we are doing everything we can to avoid conflict, to make sure our capability adds to the collective deterrence to those who might want to use force to maintain the stability in the region, the liberal rules-based order, which includes human rights and trade, and the security framework which is beneficial to us and so many other countries in the region. It’s no accident that so many nations in the region are working together to protect that rules-based order because it’s in all of our benefit.
LONG: Peter Khalil, thanks for your time.
KHALIL: Thank you very much. Cheers.
PETER KHALIL MP
MEMBER FOR WILLS
ABC Afternoon Briefing
Wednesday 15 MARCH 2023
Subjects: Keating, AUKUS
GREG JENNETT, HOST: We’re going to bring in our political panel today, and it’s another all-Victorian combination. We have Labor MP and member for Wills – he’s also chair of Parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence [and] Security – Peter Khalil is with us, and Liberal MP and member for Flinders Zoe McKenzie joins us now. Welcome to both of you, and Zoe, I promise I won’t turn this into an interview on Paul Keating with our ALP member Peter Khalil but kind of irresistibly, I do have to start there.
PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: I’m sure you’re going to talk about it.
JENNETT: Alright, so former prime ministers, like former presidents, Peter, command esteemed places in a nation’s political history. Paul Keating’s views, I think it’s fair to say, are diametrically opposed to current Labor thinking. Is he recklessly endangering the AUKUS alliance?
KHALIL: Well, first of all, I have great respect for Paul Keating as one of our great prime ministers. But he has seriously misrepresented the government’s approach on AUKUS and the strategic environment that we face today. It’s not the benign world that he was living in the 1990s. The world has changed considerably, and that strategic environment is one in which there’s been the largest conventional military build-up, unprecedented really, since World War Two, where there’s been a militarization of the South China Sea, there’s been economic barriers placed on our exports by China. And there is a strategic contest at the heart of this between models of governance, whether it’s a liberal democratic model with an international rule of law and a framework around security and trade and human rights that we live in, or a model in which authoritarian states get to do what they want when they want because of their ability to use force. And I just make this point that Keating fundamentally is wrong about the capability acquisition that that is within AUKUS is important because it raises our ability to contribute to what I would call collective deterrence amongst a number of nations across the region. So, it’s not just the US and UK, there are other nations who have an interest in protecting that liberal rules-based order.
And that deterrence is important to deter countries from using force as a means to reach their strategic goals. We want to avoid confrontation. We want to avoid conflict. And the best way to do that is to make sure your capability and your defence is good enough and strong enough to make sure that it is part of a deterrent effect on that. There’s an old saying that says “the price of peace is preparing for war”.
JENNETT: I’ve got a few more questions on Paul Keating to cast back at you, Peter, but Zoe McKenzie – Paul Keating’s criticisms are as much directed at the Coalition in many ways. Even though he was targeting his own side, you implicitly support everything around AUKUS. How would you characterize your response, particularly in light of what Peter’s just had to say?
ZOE MCKENZIE, SENATOR LIBERAL PARTY: I obviously endorse what Peter said, and it’s good that the Coalition and the government are indeed as one on AUKUS. It was originally a Coalition policy, and one that we are very pleased to have seen taken forward so wholeheartedly by this government, with the series of announcements yesterday that the Coalition has endorsed and stands ready to assist with the implementation. The intervention by Paul Keating today was indeed a fascinating one, obviously very different from the viewpoint that Peter said out here. Peter has been solid for a long time – he’s a dear friend. But can I say what concerned me about his intervention was the proximity he intimated with the Prime Minister. It would appear he’s had the Prime Minister’s ear for some time on this as he does a number of people who look up to him. You know, Jim Chalmers’ Ph.D., I think, was written about the leadership of PJK, and so I found it interesting to realize just how present he had been in the debate, at least until February, when he last reached out to the Prime Minister’s office and indeed, his vast disappointment that he’s not being listened to.
JENNETT: TY that point, Zoe, he doesn’t have much sway, though, does he? I mean, it’s one thing to have each other’s phone number in your contacts, but it doesn’t count for much.
MCKENZIE: He sat down with the Prime Minister for an hour before the G20 meeting it. It’s not just occasional text messages, it’s more than that.
Nevertheless, I don’t doubt what Peter has said. I don’t doubt what the Prime Minister has said in terms of their commitment to AUKUS. We have seen it writ large in the last 36 hours and we are very, very pleased that that is the case.
JENNETT: Can I take you, Peter, to a specific criticism of foreign policy as it is practiced by currently the Albanese Government, but maybe it was suggested that it was previously: “running around the Pacific islands with a lei around your neck handing out money, which is what Penny does, is not foreign policy, it’s a consular task fundamentally. Foreign policy is what you do with great powers”. That’s a very direct criticism of Penny Wong there. Peter Khalil, is there any validity to it?
KHALIL: Well, setting aside the fact that he’s playing the woman in this case rather than the ball, which I I think is poor politics: it gets you a good pithy one liner and some headlines, but it doesn’t address the substance. And frankly, every foreign policy observer, every Australian, has seen clearly the tremendous work that Penny Wong has done as Foreign Minister in a short 10 months of the Albanese Government. She’s been to every single Pacific island country. It’s not just about throwing money around. She has reset relationships with our Pacific neighbours and throughout Southeast Asia based on their resilience on infrastructure, on the economic part of the relationship, on cultural exchange defence cooperation – which the Defence Minister Richard Marles has also been instrumental in doing – and that has been a substantive difference to the manner in which the previous government engaged with the Pacific, which was paternalistic, which was frankly very arrogant. Which ignored the existential importance of climate change as a front and centre issue for not just for us, but for Pacific countries. So, our engagement has reset those relationships, and Penny Wong has done it on a basis that those partners have chosen Australia as the partner of choice, frankly, and everyone can see that. So, Keating is fundamentally wrong on that. I should also say, he contradicts himself because he has a criticism of soft power which has been deployed by Penny Wong and Richard Marles and the Prime Minister across the region with respect to development assistance as well as diplomacy, and then at the same time criticizes our engagement with the big players that he says is what foreign policy is about. And frankly his other criticism around the Anglosphere is completely misdirected because last time I checked, India and Japan are not Anglo.
JENNETT: Fair point. Look, there were probably a few contradictions inherent in it. Zoe, you pay on results, though in foreign policy and in the Pacific, although this is a colourful criticism against Penny Wong, you’d have to acknowledge that she has results, doesn’t she? The engagement, the willingness of all of these countries to accept her as a high-level visitor is a marked difference to what was going on in the tail end of the Morrison years.
MCKENZIE: Look, I do think Penny Wong has been as visible and as present in the Pacific as is possible. She has also been incredibly gracious in that she’s taken bipartisan groups with her into our various most strategic and important partners in the Pacific. So, you won’t hear complaint from me on that point. We understand the importance of the Indo Pacific, and indeed our collaboration across the Quad. So, no complaint from me.
JENNETT: Alright. That’s fair minded, I guess. And Peter, I’d be negligent as the committee Chair if I didn’t put this one to you: “dopes and ning nongs in national security agencies, including ASIS” – has that been your experience?
KHALIL: No, it hasn’t, and frankly, I think it’s offensive by Paul Keating to run those sorts of pithy one-liners to degrade and denigrate the work that so many public servants do within our intelligence security agencies. Look, we can disagree on the politics. We can disagree on the execution of policy, on the substance of policy, and let’s have an argument about that. But to play the man and/or the woman, not the ball, should be beneath him. And unfortunately, this is something the media is quite excited to pick up on because it’s colourful. But it’s not substantive, and the people that are working in those agencies are dedicating their lives to protecting Australia and Australia’s interests, and I think it’s pretty poor form to criticize them in that manner.
JENNETT: Alright, look, really quickly because I want to move on to AUKUS proper, but Peter, again, not turning this into an interview with you, but the Labor membership: I think it was suggested by Paul Keating that he is in touch with a view that is out there in the branches. Are you?
KHALIL: I speak to members all the time about calling members and talking to them about policies and getting feedback. There’s a broad range of views, diverse views across our membership base right across the country. To claim that he represents the membership base, I’m not sure what polling he’s using to make that claim. It’s a bit of a throwaway remark. Frankly, people understand. People are intelligent. They understand that the strategic circumstances and the environment we live in are unprecedented. They’re the most volatile since World War Two. They also understand that we are taking decisions as a government to protect Australia’s interests and it is really about the world that we want to live in, what kind of world do we want to live in? Do we want one where human rights, the international law, where trade is respected under a normative framework, or do we want one where authoritarian states can dominate, invade their Neighbours like Russia has invaded Ukraine, without any consequence. I know which world I want my children and grandchildren to live in.
JENNETT: Yeah, that’s the framing of it. Zoe McKenzie, why don’t I take you to AUKUS? All that lies ahead, of course. Money makes the world go ‘round, and some big funding decisions are going to have to be made on both revenue and on spending. Are you ready to participate in this in a mature way that looks at both sides of the ledger? Because you’re not going to get to $368 billion by nips and tucks.
MCKENZIE: Look, it is a colossal amount of money. I think on the weekend we were talking about 150 billion, by Monday morning it was 200, and by the time the actual figure came out yesterday, it was between 268 and 368. As I understand it, that the commitment for the forward estimates the next 4 years is 9 billion, 6 of which will come from repurposed funds for the original plan for submarines, and 3 billion is to be saved from the Defence Department. As your guest before us said, it is going to be hard yards indeed to find out from Defence. And I think there’s a certain amount of nervousness about where that may come from. You don’t want to actually undo some capability in pursuit of another one. So yes indeed, we need to sit down and talk about it. I think one option that is – you know, there’s a parliamentary joint committee in relation to intelligence and security. Maybe it’s time for a parliamentary joint committee in relation to AUKUS as well, and its implementation so that all issues can be looked at in a healthy, bipartisan way as we have seen over the last 48 hours and would be nice to see going forward. So, in terms of savings and budget appropriations, yes, it is going to be a hard time ahead. And I think our leader, Peter Dutton, and together with Andrew Hastie have said they are happy to sit down and work with government to find those savings so that we can afford it. I’m also mindful, though, that our government increased funding for defence from about 1.5% of GDP to over 2 without having to increase any taxes. So that is what we would like to see here as well.
JENNETT: Yeah. Alright, Peter, there is an elegance I suppose to that suggestion there from Zoe that not unlike your committee, there might be a dedicated bipartisan one for AUKUS. Do you see some merit in that?
KHALIL: Look, an AUKUS caucus might work. I think that the parliament’s role through the implementation process of AUKUS will be an important one, and I think there there’s merit in some of those ideas to engage parliamentarians across the aisle, across the crossbench, both houses in the substance of AUKUS business. Such an important strategic decision for our future, so I’m supportive of exploring those ideas. I will just say on the budget, really importantly, some facts here. The first part of the AUKUS is being offset. The costs are being offset by the cancellation of the French submarine deal of 6 billion and further savings that are going to be coming out of the Defence Strategic Review within the defence budget. But the defence budget is actually increasing, and under our watch it will go up from 2.25% of GDP up to about 2.35 by the end of the decade, and everyone bandies –
JENNETT: Is that the upper limit though, Peter, do you think? 2.35 [by the] end of the decade?
KHALIL: Everyone bandies on about this enormous number of 300 billion, but that’s out to 2050. So actually, you’re talking about increases in the defence budget in a quantative centre of around 10-12 billion a year. It’s about 0.15% increased in the defence budget each year – that’s what it sort of equates to. But remember, this is out to 2050 yeah, and that’s what we’re talking about: 27 year time frame. So that’s important to note. And I think the issues are so important for our national interest. I welcome the bipartisanship across the aisle with crossbenchers as well to work together on this because this is actually very important for Australia to maintain the stability and the security of the region that we live in and the ongoing prosperity that we’ve all enjoyed for decades and make sure that goes forward with respect for that rules-based order that we can all abide by.
JENNETT: Well, it’s probably necessary because it looks like it’s going to outlast all of our careers, in your case, in Parliament, in mine, just outside it and reporting on it. It is a massive endeavour, that’s for sure what’s been undertaken this week. Look, we could go on, but I know time’s going to beat us if we happen to dip our toe in the water on energy prices. We could be here locked up talking about it for fully 20 minutes. So we might sidestep it and conclude what has been a mature debate on all things strategic and defence. Zoe McKenzie, really appreciate your thoughts today, and Peter Khalil as ever, thanks to both.
KHALIL: Thanks Greg. Thanks Zoe.
PETER KHALIL MP
MEMBER FOR WILLS
THURSDAY 2 FEBRUARY 2023
Subjects: The Voice, Iran & Myanmar Sanctions
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Later today, the referendum working group will brief the Opposition leader on their work around the Voice to Parliament. But across the nation, supporters are mobilising public events. Government MPs are holding town hall forums, with one being held in the seat of Wills last night. Peter Khalil is the Labor MP for Wills and the Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. He joins me now. Welcome to the programme.
PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: Good morning, Patricia.
KARVELAS: Are people in your electorate raising the Voice with you?
KHALIL: Yes, they are. In fact, we had such a turnout last night at the forum that people were sort of spilling out onto the street. It was a remarkable turnout. People are very interested to engage in a conversation about the referendum that’s coming up around the Voice. So that was really encouraging. And I said to everyone in my introductory remarks: all are welcome. Obviously, there were many people who support the Voice in the audience, [along with] those who are undecided or want to hear more about it and understand more about the proposal and those who might oppose [it]. But as long as everyone was respectful in the conversation, all were welcome.
KARVELAS: So, obviously your electorate is quite diverse. It’s an area I’m quite across. But there are some very progressive parts of your electorate. There has been a split in the progressive side on the left – were those issues raised? Are people sort of questioning what would happen?
KHALIL: People asked questions right across the board – really detailed questions. I should say, our guests were Marcus Stewart, the co-Chair of the Victorian First People’s Assembly from the Taungurung Nation, and Professor Marcia Langton, a Yiman woman and long-term Indigenous activist and co-author of the proposal. They were very knowledgeable people. They had great insight, they had great knowledge that they shared with the audience. Look, I just want to say for people listening what I said to people to frame our conversation last night is that you might disagree. You might be undecided. But Australia has from time to time jolted out of our complacency to be called to make big decisions about our nation and reshaping our nation – our national story, who we are, who we might be, decisions that shape our identity and our purpose, shape our collective future, really. And this is one of those moments. It’s an important one. It’s an important conversation because this referendum I think – and this was sort of coming out last night too – goes to the heart of our nation and who we are. It really is about deciding whether we have a constitutionally enshrined – a guaranteed – First Nations Voice to Parliament. So, there are a lot of questions about what that is, how that would work, questions around – you mentioned the split, if you call it that – questions around sovereignty. And then there are many constitutional and legal experts and legal advice that we talked about last night that made a very strong point. Having a Voice to Parliament would not impact the questions around sovereignty at all. So, we discussed that quite extensively, and I thought it was a very respectful and a very useful conversation for my constituents.
KARVELAS: One of the things we keep hearing is that there’s not enough detail or information. Did that come through?
KHALIL: No, because as Marcia Langton I think very clearly pointed out there are 800 Pages of details and 20-plus years of work. I mean, this is really a culmination of decades of work by Indigenous leaders. The Uluru Statement from the Heart had hundreds of Indigenous leaders who came together from around Australia who, in the first Aboriginal Constitutional Convention, put forward the Statement from the Heart. People can read the detail behind that, the expert panel reports, all the different work that has been done over 20-plus years – and Marcia pointed that out to people in the audience: that people can make the effort to actually look at that detail. It’s been provided. Marcus also made the point that a lot of this is disinformation by opponents who are saying that there’s no detail when there actually is. We did almost 2 hours of a forum, so there was plenty of detail discussed about how the referendum would occur and how it’d work, what the questions might be and all the rest of it. So, I don’t pay much attention to that particular argument [that] there’s no detail.
KARVELAS: Just changing topics in the last couple of minutes, a Senate inquiry has found Australia’s government needs to take steps to list the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organisation and expand the list of individuals and entities targeted by the Magnitsky sanctions should this happen.
KHALIL: My committee – as you mentioned at the start, I’m the Chair of the Intelligence Security Committee – would be looking at that question if it was raised through the Senate Select Committee, and if the government was to consider that recommendation, we would be the committee that would be determining the ins and outs of that. I should say for listeners: I have been a very strong advocate and supporter for increasing sanctions on the theocratic regime in Iran. Obviously, since the murder of Mahsa “Jina” Amini, there’s been massive protests in Iran. We’ve seen that before over decades, but this time it’s different. Patricia there’s a psychological difference here [with] the young people, all people of all ages who are protesting and standing up to the regime. It’s not so much about reforming or making some peripheral changes or changing when women could wear a headscarf. Women and girls and young people are out there saying “enough”. We don’t want this regime anymore. It’s got to go. And it’s very, very significant. I think we’re at a moment in history where we must be on the right side of history in supporting the people of Iran. The courage and passion that they’ve shown is remarkable in standing up to the so-called morality police and the besieging militia. The government has just announced extended sanctions on Iran, on 16 law enforcement and military officials as well as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard members, and financial sanctions as well.
KARVELAS: Peter Khalil, many thanks for joining us this morning.
KHALIL: Thanks, Patricia. Cheers.
KARVELAS: The Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, Peter Khalil.
PETER KHALIL MP
MEMBER FOR WILLS
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES SPEECH
WEDNESDAY 15 FEBRUARY 2023
Subjects: Iran and Myanmar Sanctions
PETER KHALIL, MEMBER FOR WILLS:
Thank you, Deputy Speaker. For years in this place, I’ve been one of many voices advocating for targeted sanctions on regimes committing egregious human rights abuses. Magnitsky laws were passed in 2021 with bipartisan support, and the Albanese government is putting them to use to impose targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on individuals and entities responsible for human rights abuses in Myanmar and Iran.
The Australian Government announced sanctions on 16 members of the Myanmar military regime’s governing State Administration Council, key individuals directly responsible for the coup 2 years ago. 2 Myanmar military-controlled commercial entities, Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation, will also be subject to targeted financial sanctions.
Over the past few years, Australia, ASEAN, and international partners have repeatedly called on the Myanmar military junta to restore democracy. Despite these calls, the regime has continued its anti-democratic actions against the people of Myanmar. The military regime has killed thousands of innocent civilians. Estimates are 3000 killed and 17,000 people arbitrarily arrested.
The Australian government is also imposing Magnitsky-style sanctions on 16 Iranian individuals and 1 Iranian entity. This includes senior law enforcement, political and military figures in the IRGC, and the Basij Cooperative Foundation. We’re joining our partners to impose additional targeted sanctions on 4 Iranian individuals who have been involved in the production and supply of drones to Russia. Australia stands with the people of Myanmar, the people of Iran, and the people of Ukraine.
PETER KHALIL MP
MEMBER FOR WILLS
MONDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2023
Subjects: Cyber Security, Australia-China Relations, Foreign Intelligence
TOM CONNELL, HOST: Now, as Labor MP and Chair of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security, Peter Khalil, what’s your view? I guess, first of all, not just for how ready we are, but how focused are we for potential conflict? In your role, for example?
PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: G’day, Tom. Look, I think the main point about this is: we are doing, as a government – and I see good bipartisan support for this from the opposition as well – everything possible to ensure that we have the capability, the defense capability, the intelligence capability, our whole security infrastructure, if you like, our architecture. We’re making some big decisions, obviously there’s a big strategic defense review. There’s the AUKUS agreement where the Defense Ministers and the government are going to make some big decisions about our future capability and our force structure. That’s really important, because I’ll tell you why: there’s an old quote from Churchill, I think it was, that said, “The price for peace is being ready for war”. You’ve got to make sure that you’re capable. You’ve got to make sure of your capability; I mean, capability equals deterrence. And I think the key here is that we do everything possible to have good defense capability, to ensure that our adversaries are dissuaded from using force as a means of reaching their strategic goals. We want to talk to people about trade because it’s in our benefit. We want to be able to trade with our partners in the region in a peaceful way, in a framework which is under international rule of law.
CONNELL: Is the clearest indication from Labor, because we had Jim Chalmers talk about how any new spending needs to be offset, that defense has been set up as a bit of a special case now? We know the budget’s going to massively increase. It doesn’t mean you can’t find savings. I mean, there’s some of the mismanaged projects over the years. It’s where money goes to die.
KHALIL: I think members of the executive of the government and ministers have pointed out that the defense budget is increasing and will be increasing. I think it’s just below 2% now, but it will go above 2%. You’re right; there might be some savings that might be found in defense capability, in various decisions. But there’s a lot of big decisions to make about our force structure and advanced capability coming down the pipe, so that we have that defense capability in the next 10 years.
CONNELL: You mentioned being ready, and yet every defence expert I talked to was really surprised that the Chinese made spy cameras were in government buildings in 2023 – they were just sitting there. I know we talk about “oh, there’s no confirmed risk”, but the fact they’re being removed shows that we weren’t comfortable with them being there. Were we a bit asleep at the wheel here? Does it make you think what else is out there?
KHALIL: The entire West was complacent, and I think it’s certainly true to say that all Western liberal democracies, most liberal democracies around the world, have been awakened from their complacency, their slumber, as it were, and understand that there are very volatile strategic circumstances that we all face. There are threats to the international rules-based order; to the world that we know; to those kinds of frameworks that have been beneficial to us, and we actually have to work hard to protect those, and I think now people are taking actions across democracies to make sure that we’re defending our systems. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to continue trade with countries in the region. We want to make sure that we have good economic relationships.
CONNELL: Well, what did you make of China? They said this was an “abuse of power”, removing these cameras.
KHALIL: Who said that?
CONNELL: The Chinese government.
KHALIL: OK, well, look, I think Australia is well within its sovereign rights to remove whatever it wants to remove to ensure its own security.
CONNELL: The fact that these were sitting out there: does it make you think of – do we need a stop-take of this type of risk if it’s been overlooked until now? What else has been overlooked?
KHALIL: I mean, that that’s a very good general point that you made; that there have been, obviously, decisions made around the 5G network with various companies. And the main point there is that, when you have a state-owned enterprise, its end goal is not commercial; it’s more working for a state, if you like, state strategic objectives. There are some question marks around national security there, so we’ve made decisions around that. You see the critical infrastructure laws that we have in place as well that are hardening up that critical infrastructure, these are all important measures but bipartisan, again supported by the opposition, because obviously that some of these laws we supported when we were in opposition – the foreign interference transparency scheme – these are all very good laws, and we’re kind of ahead of the curve a bit on this as well; some of the other democracies around the world have looked to us.
CONNELL: We always think of risks. I mean, there are quite a few Huawei phones in Australia. I mean, is that a risk as well? If all the people operating them suddenly couldn’t, for whatever reason, that would cause quite a stir?
KHALIL: I’m not sure if you know something that we don’t know, but I think the decisions made around the 5G network were –
CONNELL: No, but the phone itself –
KHALIL: I’m not an expert on any sort of assessments around the actual the piece of equipment itself; I’m very confident, though, that with respect to cyber security and other risk factors, that we are working very hard to ensure that our agencies are working very hard to meet those risks everyday.
CONNELL: I like how you thought I knew something you didn’t. Surveillance balloons, just finally on this; could they’ve been flying over Australia? What do we know about these? They sort of weren’t on the radar and suddenly they seem to be everywhere.
KHALIL: Yeah, yeah, that’s true. They have. There was a sighting in Canada as well. And a couple in the US.
CONNELL: What do you do about this? Do you seek a briefing? Have you done it already?
KHALIL: I will. We will be having meetings around this, and I’ll be seeking briefings as well, but I think the short answer to your question on this is that: it’s concerning, of course, when any of this type of activity is found over a country –
CONNELL: Do you want to know if it could have been over Australia? Or do we – I mean, what’s our surveillance like?
CONNELL: Well, you’d have to – I think it’s a question for the Minister. You’d probably want to ask them about that. But I don’t know how much they can talk about it.
CONNELL: We’ll do our best. Yeah, they might even come on this week.
KHALIL: You might. Well, good luck.
CONNELL: Peter Khalil, thank you.
PETER KHALIL MP
MEMBER FOR WILLS
FEDERATION CHAMBER STATEMENT
WEDNESDAY 23 NOVEMBER 2022
Subjects: Foreign Affairs
PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: Well, what a difference the Albanese Labor Government is making after just six months, after nine long years under the coalition government. We’ve heard a lot of talk about the Pacific. The Coalition Government in the past talked about their Pacific step-up. We called it a Pacific stuff-up because that’s what it was. Now all they can do is try and score cheap political points on our national security and our foreign policy. That is what they’ve reverted to. It’s a bit of a disgrace because the issues, the geostrategic challenges that we are facing, are far too important. The strategic global contest in the Indo-Pacific, the centrepiece in many respects of this contest between the rise of authoritarianism and democracy, is too important to play politics with, as the Prime Minister has rightly pointed out.
We are a government that is focused on the geostrategic challenges that we face. It is about our national interest, not playing cheap politics with our national security and foreign policy. In the six short months of this government the Minister for Foreign Affairs; the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, who is here in the chamber; the Prime Minister; and others have gone about resetting relationships in the Pacific, rebuilding trust and renewing commitments across the Pacific and South-East Asian nations on issues that they care about, such as climate change. The foreign minister and our other ministers have used the three Ds of statecraft—nuanced diplomacy; development assistance; and defence, building our defence capability—together in order to achieve our objectives, which I am sure those opposite would have to agree with. I am sure they’ll provide bipartisan support.
Our objective is the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific region and the ongoing prosperity that flows from that. We can’t disagree about that. But it is also about defending the liberal rules-based order, one that benefits us and nations in the region to ensure security and stability. That is why the nuanced diplomacy that has been practised by our executive, by the ministers who have been doing such a great job across the region, is about improving relationships, reducing tension and making Australia a partner of choice for the countries of the region. That is so important because in the past, frankly, there has been a degree of paternalism, a kind of arrogance towards the Pacific. We have heard all the stories. They are our partners. They are equals. They are sovereign states. They need to be treated with respect, and that is exactly what we are doing.
We’ve announced $900 million, committed over four years from 2022-23, to increase support for the Pacific and more than $147 million over four years to advance Pacific security and engagement priorities. We have increased development assistance for South-East Asia by $470 million. The member for Riverina mentioned increased overseas development assistance. He is kind of right. The previous government increased it in part of the Pacific, but they also ripped $11 billion dollars over nine years out of the development assistance budget. That is what they did. So, you’re partly right there, member for Riverina.
In defence we are working to build defence assets that deter adversaries that would seek to diminish the rules-based order, whether they be state or non-state actors. We are establishing a Pacific Defence School to train Pacific Island countries’ defence and security forces, an important initiative. We’re advancing economic partnerships—Indonesia is a prominent example—and building people-to-people links, creating 3,000 engagement visas each year.
Whether it is the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, the PM, the Deputy Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister, they’ve all made a tremendous effort over the past six months to advance our national interest across the Indo-Pacific. They’ve combined the three Ds in a very effective way to help us stabilise our relationships with major economic partners, including stabilising our relationship with China. We’ve seen the importance of dialogue occurring for the first time in six years between the leaders of China and Australia.
This is all about making our region more resilient, about allowing Australia to help shape our strategic circumstances to our advantage, to shape a region and a world that have respect for the international rules-based order, human rights, shared security and shared economic strength—as the Prime Minister has called it, the importance of the international rule of law. We are a trading nation. We have to ensure that as many nations as possible—our partners—respect that rules-based order, because it benefits us and because it is about the future of our children and grandchildren. What we do now will shape the next 10 to 20 years.
House of Representatives on 23/11/2022
Mr KHALIL (Wills) (15:51): We have a special responsibility in this place to act in the national interest. I think we all know that. I know the members on the other side and the crossbench do. Many people don’t see the cooperation that happens in the committees and the other important matters in this place, where members and senators from both sides work together in the national interest.
I’ve seen that spirit of bipartisanship, and, in that context, I find this MPI simply unbelievable. It’s actually galling. You would think the opposition would have learnt their lesson when it comes to our national security and foreign policy. You would think they’d resist the temptation to try and score domestic politic points, after the damage that was done to our international relationships by the former government. But they haven’t learnt. They are so desperate to cover up the truth and to write a revisionist history when it comes to their pathetic legacy in government, because, when it comes to this issue—like many other issues—they just want to kick it into the long grass and then politicise it. They refused to make the tough calls, the ones Australians expect their government to make.
This government has made this decision, based on the best advice of our national security agencies, based on four sound reasons: national security for Australians, to keep us safe; support for our partners who are fighting on the front line against Islamic State; and citizenship. What does it mean to be an Australian? What are our obligations to our Australian citizens, particularly children? And the fourth reason was our humanitarian obligations to those Australian citizens.
Firstly, on national security, I want to ask those opposite, given you decided not to repatriate these children, what was your plan? Was it to leave them there languishing, exposed to violent ideology, and to have them grow up alongside people who would seek to do us harm and have them become those people? Was it to have them become adults, Australian citizens, and have them return to Australia or elsewhere with that violent ideology after being radicalised? What was your plan?
For all of the criticism that you want to throw at this government, this government actually acted. We chose not to take the risk to national security in the longer term, knowing it would have increased down the line. Instead, we chose to let these children grow up in Australia, inculcated by Australian values, not radicalised in a squalid camp with a violent ideology. The UN counterterrorism chief said that inaction on repatriation threatened ‘to bring about those very outcomes we intend to prevent,’ including ‘the radicalisation and recruitment of a new generation of terrorists and a strengthening of terrorist groups in the region and around world’. He went on to brief the UN Security Council in August this year and said:
Those individuals, many of whom are children who did not choose to be there … are at very real risk of radicalisation and recruitment.
Secondly, we have made a decision to support partners on the frontline fight against Islamic State. Approximately 36 other countries have repatriated many of their citizens from those camps in north-east Syria. This is a decision made by this government in line with our allies and partners around the world. Thirdly, these children are Australian citizens. That means something. It should mean something to each and every one of us in this House. There is a value in it. Fourthly, we owe humanitarian obligations to our citizens, especially children. The repatriation of the women and children from the camps shows that this government cares for its children, for its citizens and for its responsibility to act in the best interests of those children.
The former government left Australian women and children to languish in these camps in conditions most of us could not imagine, horrible conditions, with children under constant risk of being injured, killed or trafficked. I would suggest those opposite, if they weren’t trying to score cheap, domestic political points, would actually support this decision, because guess what? The member for Cook when he was PM actually did so when the former government repatriated children in 2019. They received the same advice that the now opposition leader, when he was Minister for Home Affairs, got. He was briefed by the same national security agencies that supported this decision.
So if you don’t have a plan, leave it to those who will act in the national interest, who won’t kick the issues into the long grass. If you are interested in working in the national interest in a spirit of true bipartisanship, as I believe many are in this place, give up on the sham of trying to rewrite history. Accept your failings in government, but don’t criticise this one for taking action where you refused to.