ABC News Breakfast – ADF Personnel Training Chinese Troops



Subjects: National Security, China, Defence Personnel  

STEPHANIE FERRIER, HOST: Defence Minister Richard Marles has launched a review over China luring former personnel to help train the Chinese military. Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security Peter Khalil joins me now from Canberra. Thanks for coming on the program Peter.


FERRIER: Well, first of all, just how concerned should Australians be about these latest revelations?

KHALIL: I think very concerned Steph. Look, from a personal point of view; for over 20 years before I even entered Parliament, I worked in various National Security roles. In Department of Defence, Department of Foreign Affairs, as a national security advisor and I was obviously privy to some sensitive information that goes to the National Security of Australia and Australia’s interests. And there is an enduring obligation as the Minister said, when you leave that service to protect that sensitive information. Because you, effectively you are protecting Australia and fellow Australians and when you breach that obligation, that enduring obligation, that is really a breach of trust with your fellow Australian. So, it’s seriously concerning. The government did move, very speedily; there was a real alacrity of response by the Ministry of Defence, a couple of weeks ago he called an investigation into this when it came to his attention, and yesterday he pointed out that there was enough serious concern, that he has gone into a much more detailed examination of the policies and procedures around former personnel, defence personnel and the way that framework works. And if there are any weaknesses, he’s going to fix them pretty quickly. So, it is a concern, but the government is working very, very quickly to address the issue.

FERRIER: And can you say how this actually came to light, and do we know whether or not any of these pilots that were approached actually did go on to work for China?

KHALIL: Look, there are various media stories out there about pilots being approached by China to train and be instructors and that goes to some other countries as well. And when that came out, obviously, in the media, there are immediate investigations that were underway. There is currently a joint AFP-ASIO task force, a countering Foreign Interference Task Force that is investigating a number of cases, and Defence is supporting that of course, as well as the announcement made by the Defence Minister yesterday of a much deeper dive internal inquiry into the procedures and policies around former personnel. And so, I mean, I can’t comment on individual cases, but they are all being investigated by the security agencies currently.

FERRIER: And just on that inquiry at the moment; what possible holes are there in this current arrangement that pertains to former ADF employees?

KHALIL: Well, if there are any weaknesses in the policies and procedures around former personnel, you know after they leave obviously service, the Minister and the Government have committed to addressing those immediately. That’s what the investigation is for; to determine whether the entire framework If you like is adequate, whether it works and whether there are any gaps that need to be filled. Look, I think in a general sense if you’ve worked in this space, and that goes to being a former Defence personnel, a former commonwealth public servant who’s working in those areas, where they’ve got exposure to sensitive information; those people have a really, an enduring obligation, as the Minister said to keep those secrets and that sensitive information, in trust, if you like, even if they’re not working for the government or the commonwealth anymore because it is about protecting Australia and Australia’s national interest. So, there will be a real deep dive look at how that works with respect to former personnel and their, you know, next stage in life in the private sector I suppose.

FERRIER: Andrew Hasty, the Liberal frontbencher and former soldier says that these personnel might need to be educated. Do think that’s needed?

KHALIL: Did you say educated?

FERRIER: Educated about their obligations?

KHALIL: Look education, may very well be part of the process, absolutely, I mean having said that, I know for a fact that, you know having worked in this space in the past that you know, the responsibilities and the obligations are made very clear to Defence personnel, people working in national security agencies, in the Commonwealth Public Service, about their responsibilities around sensitive information I think there’s a very strong level of understanding of about what your responsibility is during your work, but also outside of your work, and when you leave that work, you sign off on a number of documents that confirm that responsibility. So, more education is always good, but certainly people know what their responsibilities are.

FERRIER: I just want to ask you as well, about what you think that this means in terms of our diplomatic relations with China. Obviously, Anthony Albanese is going to be trying to get that meeting with the Chinese President Xi Jinping next week; where will this place us?

KHALIL: Yeah, that’s a good question. Look, the Prime Minister has said clearly that it’s a good thing, any type of dialogue at the leadership level is a good thing. We want to be able to engage with China through dialogue and it will be a good thing if the Prime Minister, if the Prime Minister does meet with Xi Jinping. Of course our Foreign Minister has had multiple conversations with her counterpart Wang, and our Defence Minister has met with his counterpart as well. That’s good, because for us as Australians, it’s important to do everything that we can to engage in dialogue and diplomacy to reduce tensions that might exist, to address some of the issues around economic sanctions and barriers that have been placed there, and to try and get a good result and good outcomes in that respect, but we will always stand up for our values and our position, the Prime Minister has been very strong on that, he won’t be budged on, you know, our particular commitment to human rights, democracy and our values, but he’s always open to talking to our partners and it would be a very good thing for that dialogue to occur in some of these international forums in the coming weeks.

FERRIER: Peter Khalil, thank you.

KHALIL: Thank you very much.