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.