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.