PETER KHALIL MP
MEMBER FOR WILLS
AUSTRALIA TODAY WITH STEVE PRICE
THURSDAY 13 OCTOBER 2022
Subjects: Ukraine – Australia training troops, Russia’s missile barrage, Blast on Kerch Bridge
STEVE PRICE, HOST: We’re joined on a regular basis by the Labor MP for Wills in Victoria, Peter Khalil. He’s the Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. He’s been kind enough to join us while on a trip to the United States. Great to catch up with you Peter.
PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: G’Day Steve, it’s good to catch up. I’m not all the way on the mainland, I’m in Honolulu, in Pearl Harbour, so it’s not quite as far as the East Coast.
PRICE: I wanted to get your reaction to this quote from Joe Biden the US President. He’s said this a couple of times now, but he said this overnight, have a listen.
“I’m talking to Putin, he in fact cannot continue with impunity in talking about the use of a tactical nuclear weapon, as if that’s a rational thing to do. Mistakes get made, the miscalculation could occur, no one can be sure what would happen and it could end in Armageddon.
PRICE: That is the term – “Armageddon” – that’s frightening Peter. What do you make of that language?
KHALIL: Well, I can only assume the President, in his statement is trying to call out the fact that President Putin has intimated that he may use tactical nuclear weapons and the fact that that is unacceptable and in a very strong language, it is frightening language, is it a way of deterring Putin from taking that step? I think in a diplomatic sense, I think that is the best way to explain the United States’ President saying, “unacceptable you cannot go there”, and there will be massive consequences obviously for the world if you do. My only other point about this Steve, is that Putin has intimated this in the past, the fear that we all have is that because he has constructed this artificial construct of those autonomous territories now becoming part of Russia, it gives him the trigger to say if they are attacked, then I am able to then use whatever is at my disposal, including nuclear weapons, to defend Russia. But we all know that those referenda were very staged and people were sort of at gun point, being forced to vote and so on and that those autonomous regions are actually part of Ukraine.
PRICE: Well, let’s just hope that it is just words, and it doesn’t end up being action. I know it’s always difficult when you’re travelling to ask you to react to something that’s occurred back in Australia while you were on the road, but I just have to ask you about this – the former Prime Minister Paul Keating made a speech at the La Trobe University last night in Australia. He said it was not intelligent for Australia to be “owned by the US”. He trashed The Quad and said it shouldn’t happen – “it’s a piece of strategic nonsense” – and he talked about us walking away from AUKUS. Now, I know you might not have seen all of that, but you are in a meeting with the Australian America Leadership Dialogue and that includes obviously people who are senior in the military in the United States, that’s not very helpful from your former Prime Minister, Paul Keating isn’t it?
KHALIL: Steve, I’m familiar with those arguments that former Prime Minister Keating made, in fact I wrote an Op-Ed which basically said ‘Why My Hero Paul Keating is Wrong on AUKUS’ and published that in the Age and Sydney Morning Herald when he first came out with some of these arguments and he’s fundamentally mistaken and I made this in my counter to his initial comments and the ones he has made overnight. He is fundamentally in error about that, we are not owned by the US. They are a very important ally of Australia and in fact in many respects the work they have done in the Indo-Pacific as far as the military and security work, which has allowed many Asian countries to economically grow and increase the prosperity of hundreds of millions of people and has been critical for them and for us to be able to spend more on education and healthcare. Now frankly, we are going into a period of time, geostrategic circumstances that are very volatile, very uncertain, we are now having to step up to the plate. So, its not so much Keating just doesn’t see it correctly, because we are now as a country having to step up, take our responsibility in the Pacific, in the Indo-Pacific, work with our partners, work on the economic engagement, the defence cooperation, all the things that are absolutely necessary to ensure that we maintain the stability in the region, the security in the region, where our prosperity flows. We’re a trading nation, Steve and we need to actually make a contribution, make the effort without partners like the US, like Japan, like other countries in the region who want to defend that rules-based order. So, I don’t think his arguments hold water with anyone in Government, frankly I think he’s wrong on these points and I’ve said so publicly in an Op-Ed people can have a read of that as well.
PRICE: Dead set when his name bobs up on your phone ringing you, you know what it’s for. As I have been on the other end of the phone to PJ Keating.
KHALIL: He’s basically saying Steve, one of the gravest mistake is the assumption that China, as the hegemon in the region, the primary power in the region will be benign. Now, all of the evidence that we have seen, particularly over the last 5-10 years is the opposite of that. The economic coercion, the aggressive stance that has been taken, stopping our exports, all of these things because they didn’t like what we said or the positions we took. Now, that is an evidence base which runs completely counter to the argument that Keating’s making or the assumption he’s making that it will all be fine, they’re going to be a benign power going forward. That’s just not the case.
PRICE: Just finally and I know that the Defence Minister, Richard Marles has already mentioned that this is under consideration – the Ukraine situation – we have helped a lot, we’ve sent money and equipment. There is now some push for us to provide some military training for Ukraine troops. Obviously, our training would be first class, although the Ukrainians are doing a pretty good job of defending their own country without that. Most Australians might get a little nervous saying ‘well, we went to Vietnam on a training mission, we ended up in the Middle East on a training mission, do we really want to go there again?’
KHALIL: Look, they’re all good points. I think just to verify and clarify for listeners, any training that is undertaken – I haven’t been briefed, I’ve been over here – but my understanding is that would be not in Ukraine itself, but in other European countries, whether it’s in Germany, where the logistics centre is the support of Ukraine, whether it’s in Poland, wherever else. It wouldn’t be in Ukraine, so ADF personnel would not be posted to Ukraine or deployed to Ukraine. And, secondly, it’s important because it adds to the already significant contribution we’ve made to Ukraine. We are the largest non-NATO contributor of military aid to Ukraine, some $400 million. There’s a lot of humanitarian aid as well – that’s a significant contribution by Australia. And why has the Prime Minister made this commitment – yes he visited Ukraine, yes he’s met with Zelensky, yes he’s seen first hand the horrors of Russia’s brutal invasion and that is important from a humanitarian point of view, but it goes back to what I was saying earlier, we are in a contest in the 21st century between authoritarian regimes like Russia, who would invade their neighbour with no respect for sovereignty or territorial integrity, who have brutalised peoples and democracy, those authoritarian regimes against democracies and that is playing out around the world. And our support for Ukraine is supporting us in the Indo-Pacific – don’t forget Beijing and Moscow signed a Strategic Cooperation Agreement literally a week or two before Putin invaded. Now, I hope China sees the fact that this path is the wrong path, that they put pressure on Putin to de-escalate. I would like to see China play a more responsible role as a great power in the region and that is why we are talking to them, that is why we are engaging with them, because we have a very strong economic relationship as well. That effort is really important, but we also have to support those countries that are in the fight for democracy around the world.
PRICE: Good luck on your trip and your meetings. It was a pleasure to catch up, we’ll talk again soon.
KHALIL: Thanks Steve, thanks for having me.