Sky News Interview: First Edition: Vic government Class Action, ADF Support Offer, Stranded Australian Travellers, Peace Deal with Israel/Bahrain/UAE



SUBJECTS: Vic government class action, ADF support offer, stranded Australian travellers, Peace deal with Israel/Bahrain/UAE

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Joining us live is Labor MP, Peter Khalil. Peter, good to see you. Thanks very much for joining us. So a bit to pick through here, out of Melbourne, given there’s quite a number of different developments that are happening every day. First of all, I mean, I’m not a lawyer, I’m not sure whether you are as well. You might be, but what’s your thoughts on this class action? I mean, do these people have cases here? 

PETER KHALIL MP: Good morning, Pete. I studied law. I never practiced though, and you might not be a lawyer, but you kind of read through that, like a judge reading through a rap sheet. It was very impressive. I think the point I want to make about this is, this is going to be tested in the courts. The good thing about this, take away all the politics and the partisanship that you see from the state liberal opposition, all that. I’ll say this, I have as a federal MP provided constructive criticism where I thought things could be done better by both the federal government and the state government – the state government, the mistakes around hotel quarantine and the need for a better capacity for contact tracing. I’ve been very public about that. But trying not to be politicking about it or partisan about it. The good thing though, is we live in a democracy and you and the media play a role holding to account our executive and our government. So does the parliament, that’s why I’ve been very keen on parliament sitting, both federal and state parliaments. But so does the judiciary and these issues will be tested in the courts. The complainants will have their day in court and they’ll test that against the power of the executive to make those decisions. The only other point I want to make about these Peter is again, setting aside the politicking. A lot of people are conflating criticism of mistakes that have been made, and there have been mistakes, both state government level and the federal government; aged care; Ruby Princess; hotel quarantine, at the state level. But I would say it’s probably not helpful to conflate that with the necessary assessment around the restrictions being imposed in Victoria now, whether they are themselves, the right thing to be done, to ensure that we cut those numbers right down in Victoria. They’re two different things. Although people are kind of conflating the two. 

HOSTYeah, well what about the continuing storyline that’s around where the ADF help was actually offered to Victorian premier Daniel Andrews, both sides are digging in, but these emails were interesting yesterday relating to Phil Gaetjens. And then the email that was sent to the premier’s secretary that does seem to suggest that ADF support was offered. But it wasn’t taken in the end. As I mentioned, that storyline’s continuing, and I guess it depends, which camp you’re in as to whether you believe it or not, what’s your view? 

KHALIL: I’m not in any camp particularly, I’m a federal Labor MP but again noting that it’s a state Labor government, and there is a lot of politics around this at the state level. The other point to make about it, of course, is that the truth always comes out. These things are being tested. And importantly, the Premier has actually said he’s taken full responsibility for the mistakes being made or had been made in hotel quarantine. There’s an inquiry underway. He fronted up to the inquiry and ultimately the people of Victoria are the final arbiters of all of this. They get to choose at the ballot box, the support for the government or otherwise. And as I said, these issues are brought to light through the media, the work that the media does, but also possibly through the judiciary as well. 

HOSTAlright, just onto this debate about overseas travellers, there’s still some 21,000, I think, travellers still stranded overseas. Anthony Albanese said yesterday that the PM should fire up the government jets and go and rescue them. Is that something that you support? 

KHALIL:  Oh, absolutely. Look, I think they’ve been dragging their heels on this. Partisan again, not quite partisan, but critical. There are some, as you said, over 20,000 Australians stuck overseas. I’m getting emails and correspondence from many of my constituents who are stuck overseas and have been for months. Some horrible stories of people separated from their families. These are Australian citizens. Now I, for the life of me don’t understand, Pete. The government underspent by 60 billion and he’s, and they’re not prepared to spend a bit more to make sure Australians are brought over on charter flights or fire up the VIP fleet. Or even Shark One, isn’t that what the PM calls his plane? It can take a hundred passengers, why can’t they start bringing people home? Really the triage, the most needy cases. It makes no sense to me. And there’s no excuse as well about, oh but there’s a cap on states. 

Host: That’s the argument that the government says, that states have got to lift their caps. So, is it on them? 

Khalil: Well, there’s plenty of actual capacity at international airports. And the federal government, I think it’s not beyond its wit to actually increase some spaces, put quarantine at various locations at airport. They’re always hotels near those airports. It can be done and they are ultimately responsible under the Commonwealth, under the constitution for migration or entry and exit out of this country. And the basic right of an Australian citizen to return to their own home is actually being denied in this case. And I think the government needs to do a lot better. 

Host: Why do you need the government jets though? Why not just, you know, ask Qantas to go and do it? They would do it. 

Khalil: Could do that. Yeah, absolutely. Why couldn’t you charter some of the commercial carriers? They’re not doing much business right now, are they, so there’s a real possibility of doing that as well. 

Host: I guess people as well, who might be watching this, who might be following this story, they might refer to that point. Well, overseas travellers had a long time to get home. They had a long time to get home and didn’t move early. 

Khalil: Yeah. There were some people you can put in that category, but there were actually a lot of people that got stuck. And a lot of the emails I’m getting are people who are saying we have been trying to get home. And every time we book a flight, it gets cancelled. There’s some people who have had three or four flights cancelled. They’re unable to move, they’re in places where they can’t get to an international airport. It’s a real drama and really problematic for a lot of people. And I don’t think you can blame those people. They’re trying to get back to their home, to their home country. They might’ve been working overseas. They might’ve been stuck on travel, on a holiday or whatever, and couldn’t get back. But you know, of course there’s some people that could have gone home earlier. There’s a lot who are stuck, Peter and we have responsibility as Australian government to actually support us. 

Host: Pete, just finally, I just want to ask you about Donald Trump’s peace deal that he signed this morning with Israel, Bahrain, UAE, they’re all involved in this. A lot of people are suggesting that this is going to bring peace to the middle East. I mean, there’s a lot of people who are going to be sceptical about that but what do you think of it as a step forward? 

Khalil: Well, haven’t we seen this record before; heard it before. Look, I’m always a bit of an optimist. I hope things go in the right direction. I will say this. And I’ve said this – it might’ve been on your program with you a year ago or something, that the circumstances in the Middle East have changed significantly. The geo-strategic tectonic plates have shifted. People who are not in foreign policy, you don’t quite see this, but Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, some of the Gulf States have been aligned with Israel against a larger enemy or a common enemy in Iran, for a number of years now. And it’s very different than what people think about the Middle East. So what you’re seeing with the UAE and Bahrain opening up diplomatic relations with Israel is just normal progress or a real acceptance of the reality that already exists amongst those countries and the way they are coordinating with each other. Will it lead to a broader Middle East peace? Well, one hopes, but I think it’s probably, you need to take it with a grain of salt because it’s announced a couple of weeks or a couple of months before the US election and seems to be quite political. I would actually judge it based on what happens after the election, whoever wins and see where that can be taken with respect to broader peace in the region. 

Host: Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see how Iran reacts to this too. You know, it may well just say, look, see, this is what’s happening. You know, they are not actually with the Palestinian people and that might even drive a bit of a wedge, going forward. So we’ll have to wait to see how Iran reacts to that. Hey, Peter Khalil, good to chat and talk to you soon. 

Khalil: Thanks Peter, cheers.