Australia Today with Steve Price – 2022 Election, COVID, Indonesia, China




Subjects: Election result in Wills, Covid pandemic and the prevalence of it in the community coming up to the winter flu season, Prime Minister’s trip to Indonesia and diversifying Australia’s trade, incident with the Chinese air force in international waters

STEVE PRICE, HOST: Peter Khalil is the Labor MP for Wills in Victoria He had a 0.1% swing toward him in the election. We haven’t spoken to him since the election. He’s on the line. Congratulations, and you take the wins when you get them don’t you?

PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: You do, thanks Steve. Yeah, it was a good win, especially given I was battling The Greens and they had a pretty good result in a lot of other seats, we managed to knock that back a bit and get a bit of a swing towards us. Look honestly, I can only speak for myself. Its all about hard work. You work hard, you serve your community. I think people talk about that and they know their local MP looks out for them.

PRICE: Politically, can you explain for us, public servant and politician that you are, why are you not having any discussions about Covid anymore when as Natasha and I just said, 136 people in Victoria, some of them maybe in your electorate, have died from Covid in the last week.

KHALIL: Yeah, I was listening to your conversation, and absolutely I’d like to know, what are the statistics around how many of these people who are dying, or are in hospital, or are in ICU, or are in intensive care, are unvaccinated? That’s a key question for me. The second question, I think is really about, what we have decided as a country, as a state, as far as living with the virus, everyone talked about that, that once we get the vaccination rates up, we have to move to a phase of living with the virus, which mean presumably, that there are people who are still going to get sick from it, and people who are going to die from it. And these are key questions. And the third part, I think, Steve is honestly, we’ve yoyoed from absolute obsession and fixation in the media on every single case if you remember that in 2020, and 2021, and everyone was looking at the numbers every day, and I think you hit on it, people don’t want to think about it anymore, they don’t want to talk about it, they just want to get on with their lives, and this is obviously part of what society is in the direction we’re heading, but the political class doesn’t absolve governments from their responsibility around healthcare. Are we putting you know, necessary funding into our hospitals to take care of people who might get sick, do we have enough ICU beds and so, and especially since were coming up to that winter season and we’ve got that double-whammy of flu which is pretty severe this year. So, these are all fundamental questions for state and federal governments.

PRICE: Yeah, and I’m going to write about it in the Herald Sun on the weekend.

KHALIL: I might have just given you your talking points mate.

PRICE: You might have given me a few more to add to it. But 136 people, if we’d had 136 people in a road accident, or measles, or even influenza, I think there’d be a lot more discussion, but I think you’re probably right, a lot of people just want to get on with it, we’ll keep talking about it. I wanted to talk to you about why it was important for your boss Anthony Albanese to head off to Indonesia as quickly as he did. Obviously, he went to The Quad, we know why. Why was Indonesia next on the list?

KHALIL: Well, I mean the PM’s trip to Indonesia was very successful, his meetings with President Widodo. I’ll tell you why and I’ve been saying this for years, many of us in the opposition have been saying it for years that the bilateral relationship with Indonesia has been completely undone. It’s a country of 270 million people on our northern doorstep, and its like an hour flight from Australia. And yet it is only our 13th largest trading partner. In other words, we probably export more, Australian companies export more to you know, countries like Fiji than we do to Indonesia. It’s a massive market, Steve. It is full of opportunity; it has been put in benign neglect for too many years. People just threw up their hands, in the air and said it’s all too hard were just gong to skip over Indonesia and do business with China for example, and now we are at a place of volatility in our region, where its absolutely essential that we diversify our markets, our supply chains, our export markets, our import markets, so that we’re not caught out by having all our eggs in just one basket so it’s absolutely essential, the trip that PM Albanese had builds that relationship. And he signed a couple of deals with President Widodo around infrastructure and all sorts of different things that have been signed with Indonesians so that’s good for Australia.

PRICE: Well, I heard in one of the reports about it overnight that Indonesia is on track to become the fifth biggest economy in the world. I mean, why we would be not concentrating on trading, on doing things there?

KHALIL: Correct, and its critically important that we build this relationship up after some benign neglect of many, many years because it’s in our national interest.

PRICE: I guess the lure of China was what happened? I mean it would’ve been hard to resist right?

KHALIL: Yeah, I was on a number of committees, parliamentary committees, where we had public inquires around our trade relationships and so on, and it wasn’t just the, I suppose it was relatively easier for Australian companies to do business. Chinas economy was booming, you know it was pretty easy, some would say too easy money. But the world has changed obviously in the last 5 years, 5 to 10 years and we really need to do the hard yards now in diversifying our trade relationships so that we ensure that our, I guess our trade and our stability, and our, you know security around our supply chains is ensured.

PRICE: How, as a former security advisor, do you feel when you see those images of that F-19 or Chinese jet fighter sidling up next to an Australian surveillance aircraft and then parking itself in front and then firing back at it?

KHALIL: Mate, I’ve got to say really clearly to the listeners here, and as Prime Minister Albanese said when he was asked about this, this was clearly, China’s actions were clearly an act of aggression, and a dangerous act. And no-one should be fooled or believe, the comments by their Defence spokesperson that there was some sort of threat to Chinese sovereignty. The Australian P8 was flying in international airspace. Australia has every right under international law, to fly in international airspace and sail in international waters. What the Chinese J-16 fighter jet was extremely dangerous and could be seen clearly as a breach of international law in putting our P8 in that dangerous situation and having to make a pretty dangerous manoeuvre. And credit to our pilots, credit to our personnel, for the professionalism with which they conducted themselves, by the way, this isn’t the only incident of this nature, the Canadian air force has had a similar incident, enforcing no-fly zones near North Korea with the Chinese air force. So, this kind of aggression is occurring, it’s a very disturbing, but Australia has every right to fly and sail in international space.

PRICE: Could’ve ended a lot worse if there’d been an incident that plane would come down.

KHALIL: That’s my concern with this because things happen a little bit slower in the sea as you’d imagine, there’s still danger when these incidents get out of hand, but in the air, I don’t know if you’ve seen the recent Top Gun movie, things happen pretty quickly at MAC 3 or whatever it is, MAC 2, and the risk of an incident, or miscalculation or that kind of danger leading to a tragedy is much higher in international airspace and this is why it was so unacceptable, what the Chinese jet fighter did and quite rightly the PM and our Foreign Minister, and our Defence Minister Richard Marles have put a very strong response to the Chinese government.

PRICE: Good to catch up, Peter. Good luck. Again, congratulations on your re-election we’ll talk again soon.

KHALIL: Thanks again mate.