ABC News Interview: News 24: National Security, Huawei




SUBJECTS: National Security, Huawei

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Okay, so tax isn’t the only important piece of legislation hanging in the balance which the Government is keen to have passed this sitting fortnight. National security bills against foreign interference are also in the mix. Labor backbencher, Peter Khalil, keeps a watching brief on these things and we spoke to him about that and diplomatic relations with China just before question time. Peter Khalil, welcome back. Now, in a former life, you advised a Prime Minister and others about national security and international affairs. There’s been a lot happening in that space. Do you believe that parliament will do as the Government wants it do in this sitting fortnight and pass all relevant pieces of foreign interference laws?

PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: Well Greg, there’s been a lot of work done on both sides of politics in the Joint Intelligence and Security Committee and there’s been some intense work done over the last couple of weeks. So there is an intention for this to come to the parliament in the next two weeks. But it all depends on whether the Government adopts most of those sixty recommendations that have been made by the committee. And I should say that is unheard of. That is the most number of recommendations ever put forward by the Intelligence and Security committee. And so it demonstrates that there was a real weakness and flaw in the original bills that were put forward by the Government and that they needed to be addressed. Very poor drafting, but also some real issues, substantive issues, about the net that caught all these NGOs and charities. So we think that those recommendations have actually addressed some of those issues and we’re, yeah, we’re waiting for the Government to confirm that they would be adopting those changes.

JENNETT: Okay, well, all along this package has caused concern to Beijing, in Beijing. Do you think the passage of these laws, if it happens, will only inflame what is a pretty tense relationship right now?

KHALIL: Well, I think part of the reason that the relationship is tense Greg is because it’s been stuffed up by Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop. They’re really done a very poor job in managing the relationship and this…

JENNETT: [interrupting] What is wrong with the Government, though, preparing this legislation which ultimately might be passed with bipartisan support. That’s what Governments do, isn’t it?

KHALIL: Well, I’ve said in the past that Malcolm Turnbull has been like the Basil Fawlty of Australian foreign affairs. One moment he’s all over the Chinese, promising to sign contracts, the next moment he’s beating his chest, telling them how tough he is and how he’s going to stamp out their interference. That’s not the way to manage a relationship and I think, take that out for the moment and look at the bills themselves. These are important recommendations because the original bill really concerned many of the NGO and charity groups, whether its GetUp, as an activist group, whether it’s the Salvation Army. It was really unworkable and ridiculous. It was catching all these people…

JENNETT: [interrupting] But the Government’s since offered a compromise on that front. A re-definition of who would be captured on this register.

KHALIL: That’s right. And the opposition has, and Mark Dreyfus has worked very, very hard to ensure that those changes, those reforms are made so you don’t catch all these different groups. That you focus it on the areas where there’s a real attempt by foreign interference to undermine our democratic system. Now, of course Greg, you’ve got to get the balance right between protecting our rights and freedoms and our civil liberties, but also keeping Australians safe. So getting that balance right is always a difficult proposition. Hopefully these recommendations do so.

JENNETT: Okay, let’s take the specific example of one company with links of some sort. I think they’re denied by the local offshoot. This is Huawei in the telecommunications industry. Do you think it should be entitled to participate, put equipment deep within our new forthcoming 5G mobile network?

KHALIL: Questions around companies like Huawei or any state-owned enterprises; the real question is, is it a company that is actually going after its own commercial objectives or is it tied to a state. Now that’s the real question.

JENNETT: Do you believe that the…

KHALIL: [interrupting] Well, there’s real questions around this, because under Chinese law they are bound to report to the Government and so on. This doesn’t occur in Australia. Australian companies are not bound to check every time it wants to do a deal, or commercial deal, with its own government. So that’s where the question marks arise.

JENNETT: What about the view of your colleague Michael Danby, very strong on this, that it’s not only strongly linked to the communist party in China, but more than that, it may well have put chips in its devices that can be accessed and/or controlled or monitored from China.

KHALIL: I’m aware of those comments and I think what’s really important here is to ensure that we’re not awarding contracts to companies that have objectives that are not about their own commercial, you know, priorities. That they’re not having objectives that are about the Government or the state Communist Party that they are working for. So that’s a really important element to make sure that they are doing the work for their own commercial reasons and not for any other strategic government reasons.

JENNETT: Tough dilemma for a government. And again, in a former capacity you would have been there. A government to make a decision such as excluding Huawei and not inflaming relations with China. That’s an awkward position for Australia to be in at the moment, isn’t it?

KHALIL: China is our most important trading partner and it’s one of our most important relationships. And I’ve always said that we can actually balance that relationship with our US relationship. Our strategic and security relationship. We don’t have to choose between them both. We can also manage that relationship with China better. I think the Government’s been very poor on this. And I think with respect to contracts and so on, making very clear to the Chinese Government that we will be very happy to engage with companies that are doing the right thing about their own commercial imperatives, is about clarity  with the Chinese and I think they will respect that.

JENNETT: Alright, Peter Khalil, there is a bit happening in the House on a sitting day and I think you’re being called to the House of Reps right now so we will have to thank you and let you go very abruptly at this point.

KHALIL: Thanks Greg.