Australia Today with Steve Price – Ukraine



Subjects: How Australia could respond to a Russian invasion of Ukraine

STEVE PRICE, HOST: Federal Parliament is back on today. Last sitting day before budget week and there may only be, maybe today and maybe four other days in the parliamentary year. Peter Khalil is the Labor MP for Wills, formerly held by Bob Hawke of course, he joins us on a regular basis. Good to talk to you again.


PRICE: I’ve never asked you, how much pressure is it to be the Federal Member for Wills, given the great Bob Hawke was once that local member?

KHALIL: You know, people still remind me of it when I walk up and down Sydney Road in Coburg or Brunswick, they say oh, you know I met Bob years ago. And I remember asking Bob, I caught up with him over many crownies, yeah, quite a few beers that afternoon. Oh, you know, got any tips about being the local member for Wills? And he said mate. I was Prime Minister for most of the time, so I didn’t really spend that much time there.

PRICE: Imagine what he’d be doing today, if the great Bob Hawke was still alive, with this suggestion that the John Curtin Hotel opposite trades hall is going to be knocked over and turned into apartments. What a disgrace that is.

KHALIL: I saw that, I posted that there’s got to be an effort made to save that. For historical reasons, the importance of it historically, the legacy that’s there and it’s also a great pub. I’ve been there a couple times, had a counter meal there as well. It just has a lot of history, so I think some of the trade union movement is going to make an effort to try and save it.

PRICE: It’ll end up with green bands on it for sure, and I note the trades hall secretary said yesterday “my warning to any developer who’s thinking about buying this, I wouldn’t do it if I were you, ’cause we’re not gonna let anything happen to it.”

KHALIL: That’s right.

PRICE: It’s good news. Let’s turn to more grim matters, Ukraine and Russia. I mean, you’re a former national security adviser to Kevin Rudd, you’ve worked in the Department of Defence and Foreign Affairs and Trade. What is your reading here? I mean, it’s almost impossible to predict what might happen. The Russians are very unpredictable. You must give it to the Ukrainian population though they are very stoic. They’re saying you better not try and take us over because we’ll fight back.

KHALIL: Yeah, absolutely right. The Ukrainian Defence Forces, the Ukrainian population, they’re very resilient. They’ve copped it over many years with Putin, running cyber-attacks on their systems, universities, and government agencies and so on over many many years. So, it’s interesting because the Ukrainian population used to sort of be 50-50, you know 50% sort of towards Russia, 50% sort of towards the EU. That has changed with the younger generation coming through. They’re really looking towards the West now and this is part of the reason why I think Putin realises that if he doesn’t move now to try and control Ukraine, he’s going to lose it out of his sphere of influence. The question though is what is his game? And you say is unpredictable, but there’s a pattern with the way this guy operates. Think of him as a sort of mafia strong man, you know, type thug. So, he’s massed about 130,000 troops on the border. He’s going to try and extract some concessions from the West. He thinks the West is weak. He has probably got a point there on some level in the sense that we don’t coordinate and cooperate very effectively. We’re very bureaucratic, we’re slow, we must go through our messy processes, and by the time we do all that, he has gone and moved. He may be looking at getting some concessions on the diplomatic negotiating table by just threatening to invade. He may also have an incursion into Donbas, which is a smaller city and parts of Ukraine to really ramp up the pressure and extract what he wants, and what does he want? He doesn’t want Ukraine to join NATO. He doesn’t want Ukraine to go closer to the EU and to the West. He doesn’t want weapons deployments from the West to countries like Ukraine and Poland. He wants to expand or return the Soviet style influence across all those satellite type countries around Russia. So, this is the game of brinksmanship and he’s probably counting on the fact that the Biden administration, the West, will be weak or muddled in their response. I think it’s very important that we support Ukraine. We’ve provided some cyber security and defence support there. We’ve supported that as an opposition. And last point, sorry this is a long answer Steve,

PRICE: No, it’s good.

KHALIL: but this goes to the heart of what we’re facing. Australia as a democracy and all the other democracies around the world are in a battle. We’re in a war against authoritarian regimes, autocratic regimes, and our fundamental way of life is at risk here. And it sounds a bit dramatic, but it is true, they are making gains in lots of countries where democracy just started like Myanmar and the military dictatorship then takes over. There are battlefronts all over the globe and if you let Putin win and you know, give an inch, he will take a mile is basically what’s going to happen.

PRICE: Well on that, and given your former position, how upset were you as a Labor Federal MP when the government attacked Labor in the House of Reps yesterday, suggesting Richard Miles was a Manchurian candidate? And that Labor is soft on China, are you?

KHALIL: It’s just disgraceful, desperate tactics by Scott Morrison to save his own political skin. He’s putting his own political survival ahead of the national interest because, frankly, bipartisanship on national security, which has largely occurred over the past 8-10 years is a national asset. In many respects, China, Russia, all these countries who try and disrupt our democracy, who try and create artificial divisions in our system, he’s pretty much playing into their hands by doing this. There is no basis for the attacks that he is making. In fact, we’ve been tougher on some national security issues over the past eight years against the coalition government. You know, Turnbull wanted to sign an extradition treaty with China, we resisted that. We were the one that banned Huawei, a Chinese Communist Party State owned company. We banned them on national security grounds when we were in government, so this attack is desperate, it is a desperate ploy to try and save his own political skin and the disappointment there Steve is that he’s putting his survival over the national interest and that is unacceptable. He’s weaponising something that should be beyond partisan politics.

PRICE: Well, the boss of ASIO said as much, said that it should not be politicised at all. How cautious as an MP do you need to be when you get approached with donations for a political campaign? I’m not suggesting anybody’s taken anything other than, you know, donations from genuine people, but we have seen some evidence haven’t we of Chinese Australians infiltrating both sides of politics in an attempt to buy some influence. How careful as an MP do you have to be?

KHALIL: Very, and the Director General of ASIO has quite rightly pointed out that there is foreign interference in our political system across political parties, across the parliament, and that has happened on both the Labor Party side and the Liberal Party side. This is why it’s so disappointing. We’re all, the majority of us, are trying to work assiduously to root out that kind of interference, to block it, to resist it, to protect our democracy, and the fundamental principles of our democratic institutions, the robustness of our democracy and that’s why we supported foreign interference Laws. In fact, here is another example. Labor was the one that pushed really hard to ban foreign donations and the Liberals resisted for years. It took a couple of years for them to finally agree to pass those laws, but they were resisting that for a period. So, it is not as simplistic as what Morrison and Dutton will have you believe. Look, I know Peter Dutton, he’s very strong on national security. He’s running a protection racket almost for the incompetence of his own Prime Minister. Frankly Steve if he’s using this for a political weapon, it’s a smokescreen for the fact that he is amateur hour on foreign policy. He is really incompetent; you know three years into the job as Prime Minister. He mixed up the one country two systems formulation. He described that as China, Taiwan, when that’s about Hong Kong, or was about Hong Kong. Couldn’t even get that right. That’s just unforgivable and so I think this mob is all over the place on this, and I’m angry that they are weaponising national security and damaging the national interest for their own short term political gain.

PRICE: We need to be very clear here. When you were working with Kevin Rudd and Labor was in office, we’re dealing today with a very different China. I mean hindsight’s a wonderful thing. You go back to that period 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, even go, you know, closer to where we are now. Everyone was raving about doing business with China and how it was going to save our economy. The export industries into China, things like milk products, wine, coal, and iron ore, all of those things. We were scooping up the Chinese investment money like you wouldn’t believe, including of course you know through the Abbott, Turnbull and now Morrison governments time. So, you can’t look at Labor’s relationship with China today, and I’m trying to be very fair here, and compare it back to then. Because things have changed rapidly, you know really changed.

KHALIL: Very quickly, you’re right Steve, it’s China that’s changed, not us. They have become far more aggressive, far more coercive in their aggression. You know, obviously threatening and following through on sanctions on some parts of our trade relationship. Some of our products. Wolf warrior diplomacy, you’ve heard of very aggressive attacks on countries that stand up to them. They’ve changed, not us, and look the economic relationship is still very important, that we sell our iron ore there and we’ve got commodities that go there. That’s very, very critical for Australia, but we must stand up on what we believe in with respect to human rights, and I’ve been very strong on pointing out the human rights abuses of the Uyghurs in China. What’s happened with democracy activists, the brave democracy activists in Hong Kong and how they have been oppressed and suppressed by mainland China, the Chinese Communist Party. I’ve talked up about the importance of activities in the South China Sea and the freedom of navigation. We’re a trading nation, we want to have a rule of law and international law so that everyone abides by it and they have breached that. We’ve stood up on those things because they’re important to our security, the stability of the region and frankly to Australia’s ongoing prosperity. I want the next generation, I want my kids, to experience the same benefits and prosperity that we have had over the past few decades, and you know, frankly mate, it’s going to be a very, very difficult challenge navigating through this over the next decade. Sorry to go back to Morrison and his tactics on this, this should be about Australian national interests going forward. About protecting Australia, securing Australia and the stability of the region and our prosperity that’s tied to that frankly. And that’s what I’m focused on. And if I get the chance and if I get re-elected and we win government, that’s what I’ll be focusing on.

PRICE: Good to catch up as usual. Have a good day in Question Time, thanks a lot.

KHALIL: Thanks Steve, take care mate.