Australia Today with Steve Price – Russian Invasion of Ukraine



Subjects: Russia Invades Ukraine

STEVE PRICE, HOST: Peter Khalil is the Labor MP for Wills, former national security adviser to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, he’s on the line. Natasha gave us a few updates Peter on the suggestion that in the two regions where the Russians have gone in, there has been more movement of troops overnight and just recently we’re hearing that in the Donetsk region, the mobile phone system has now collapsed and gone down. What do you make of the West’s reaction so far with sanctions, given your former role as a security advisor?

PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: Morning Steve, look no doubt mate this is probably one of the most significant conflicts or confrontations in Europe since World War Two, it is a massive test, frankly, of democracies and the West. And by the way this testing, this stress testing, this pushing the envelope by Putin has been going on for a decade or more we’re just really reaching the culmination of it now. Your question goes to sanctions, and really whether they are going to be effective in anyway, they’ve certainly hurt the Russian oligarchs who can’t go to their apartments in London. They’ll certainly hurt energy markets and some of the producers in Russia, but I don’t think Putin cares about any of that. This is a different game that he’s playing, and this is not to make light of it, but if your listeners are familiar with mafia movies, this is one massive global shakedown that’s happening here. He’s acting and has acted like a thug for most of his presidency, a mafia boss. He’s basically shaking down the West and ramping up with his threats, and his movement of troops to try and extract from the West what he wants, and there are a number of concessions that he’s seeking. Thankfully, for the moment, the West has been strong. When I said the West I’m talking about the US, Australia, our European allies and others, who are not going to cave in to him, but there is enormous pressure being placed on Europe. I’m glad that Germany stood up and has not certified the gas pipeline from Russia. That was one of the big things that was in my mind, but this is going to play out, it’s not going to be good. There are tragic human stories like Darren and his family. There are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who are right in the crosshairs, and there will be a humanitarian tragedy as much as anything else. And so, this is a very, very pivotal moment, I think, in global history. So, I’m not sure which way it’s going to go mate.

PRICE: Developments are really ramping up as we speak on air this morning Peter. We’re told now the Ukrainian President has just put out a statement saying Russia has approved an offensive against his country and we’re now told that Russia has closed its airspace. With your experience, what do you read into that?

KHALIL: Oh look, there is certainly a plan for an offensive, my understanding is the tanks, Russian tanks, are already in Donetsk and Luhansk, those separatist regions which Putin has declared to be independent states if you like or autonomous states. And they’re going to look at launching into the other parts of Ukraine from those separatist areas. So, the question is, is he going to go for Kiev? Is he going to go for another major Ukrainian city and what that means, as I said, is a lot of casualties and potentially civilian casualties in that scenario. Now the US and allies are obviously providing as much support as possible, short of troops on the ground, to the Ukrainian government. Australia included we’ve supported that. That’s cyber security, because there’s going to be a lot of attempts by Russia to, and they’ve done this before by the way in the lead up to taking over Crimea, cyber security, cyber defence. I’ve said publicly that we should be providing further assistance to the Ukrainian Defence Forces, you know medical equipment, body armour, stuff that they need to help them in their battles. If NATO is not going to be putting in troops there, we need to shore up the Ukrainian Defence Forces. So, it’s going to be a very difficult couple of weeks and I haven’t lost all hope for a final diplomatic solution, but that window is almost closed.

PRICE: I don’t want to turn this into a political partisan discussion, and I know that Labor is obviously clearly trying to not do that either. I just want to read you an email from one of our listeners and then get your reaction to the Prime Minister’s comments this morning regarding the sanctions and the fact that he’s appeared on breakfast TV and had a media conference this morning. Brian from Pakenham says, I’m one that has spoken to you before, I suggested I didn’t think Anthony Albanese he had the charisma, etc. to lead Australia. I’ve changed my view, I’m now going to vote for Anthony, not because of any change in his image, but because of the politics of Scott Morrison. It’s so obvious Morrison is playing politics, jumping at every opportunity for a photo shoot or a TV appearance to look like he understands the working person, the small business owner. He is trying to make border security the big issue, I’m sorry I believe that is hollow rhetoric. Does the PM need to be careful about trying to use the horror that’s unfolding in Ukraine for domestic political purposes?

KHALIL: Well, that’s a good question, because my criticism of the Prime Minister has been that he has used national security, he has used foreign policy for domestic political purposes. I’ve said it on your programme. I am hoping that given this crisis that is unfolding, that is a global issue really, and one that affects democracies around the world. Remember, we’re talking here about a contest between authoritarian regimes and the world’s democracies in many respects, not just the West, and so you know, he might be playing politics on this, I hope he doesn’t. He’s got bipartisan support from the Labor Party on any support that we provide, Australia provides to Ukraine. But I’ll just remind listeners that this battle, this contest, has been going on, I was talking until I was blue in the face about Australia, Marise Payne and Morrison doing something about Myanmar and the military dictatorship that took over the very new democracy there. They had done, well I won’t use a swear word, they’ve done basically nothing. Nothing, no sanctions have been placed on that military dictatorship. You know, and it seems to be selective by Morrison as to when he steps up to the plate. And that’s just not good enough. Australia is a middle power, it’s the 12th largest economy in the world. We’re a key ally and basically one of the important countries in the Indo Pacific, we have a responsibility with respect to this bigger global issue. You can’t just pick and choose your battles. Steve, I think he’ll see a political opportunity, I don’t want to be cynical about it. He’s doing the right thing at the moment with respect to support Ukraine.  But where are all the other elements to the national security? It can’t just be a megaphone for his domestic politics to look tough. There’s much more serious business that needs to be conducted by Australia with respect to the world, and our place in the world.

PRICE: Just before you go, I’ve been tapping into the audience mood this morning about what they think will be the biggest issue at the upcoming federal election. You hold a seat in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. What’s the number one issue for people?

KHALIL: Yeah, I want to hear this one. Oh, are you asking me what you think the biggest issue is?

PRICE: Yep, what is it?

KHALIL: Look, obviously the government is trying to make national security the central issue.

PRICE: Well, it’s not that, it’s cost of living surely.

KHALIL: It’s not that, it is absolutely cost of living. You know the Ukraine effect and the war there, on petrol prices is obviously going to cause a bit of a spike as well but underlying that there is this ongoing cost of living pressure that people have. And a suppression of real wages, like how long can that go on when prices are going up, cost of living is going up and people’s wages aren’t keeping up. We’re talking now about how do we relieve the pressure for people in their hip pocket? We’re talking about how we grow the economy, how we actually get more well paid and secure jobs. There’s a lot of casualisation in the workforce. That’s a big issue for us. We think that you know, puts a lot of pressure on families for their casualised workforce. That’s grown over the last nine years. People deserve to have secure well-paid jobs and to have that real job security and good wages that are keeping up with inflationary pressures. That’s just a basic thing, and even though unemployment’s low Steve, we know that there are still over 1,000,000 Australians looking for work, or looking for more work, and there’s a lot of skill shortages. Now some of that can be plugged by the fact that migration will start up again, but we really need to look at training, TAFE, getting peoples skills up so they can get those secure jobs, and that’s something that we’re very committed to.

PRICE: Look forward to talking to you again soon, Peter. Thanks for help this morning.

KHALIL: Thanks, Steve, thank you.