JOY FM – Ukraine, Floods, Cyber Security, Economic Engagement



Subjects: The war in Ukraine, the Federal Government’s response to the floods in NSW and QLD.

TASS MOUSAFERIADIS, HOST: You are listening to Saturday magazine here from the Victorian Pride Centre in St Kilda. Macca, Basil and myself, Tass.

DAVID ‘MACCA’ MCARTHY, HOST: Thank you Tass, now we’re speaking with Peter Khalil, who’s coming to us direct from, I think, Washington. Good morning, or should I say good evening, Peter.

PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: Good morning to you guys. It is good evening here, I’m in New York now, I’ve just arrived in New York last night. I had a number of meetings with the United Nations today so, yeah, Washington the first couple of days of the trip.

MACCA: So, you’re there as part of the Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Security and Intelligence. So just quickly, who’s there with you Peter? Which other members of the committee?

KHALIL: It’s a small delegation, just the Chair Senator James Patterson, the Liberal, the Government member on the committee, myself and the secretary of the committee. Usually there’s a few more, but it’s a bipartisan delegation we’re representing Australia obviously. None of the shenanigans you get in Canberra with the fighting and so on. This is about engaging on some really important, serious issues that have a very big impact on Australia’s national interest.

TASS: So, tell us Peter, it’s Tass here, a good morning to you or good evening to you. Tell us, what was the objective of this visit and this set of meetings?

KHALIL: Well, the primary purpose of the trip was to engage with our partners, get the briefings from the National Security Council officials in the White House, who we met with, as well as the US intelligence and security agencies on a range of issues. Obviously, we did discuss in depth the situation in Ukraine and the war in Ukraine, but also more broadly the Indo-Pacific, cyber security issues and coordination of that space. I raised also the importance of economic engagement, particularly in South East Asian region, because that is so important for Australia as a trading nation that we engage in trade and in peaceful trade and ensure our ongoing prosperity. So, it’s really all about advancing Australia’s national interest with respect to the stability in our region, security and the ongoing prosperity.

MACCA: So obviously Peter, you know, they’re subjects that are very important to Australia. Perhaps not at the top of the agenda, but one of the most important items of course is what’s happening in Ukraine at the moment. Can you give us a feel, because I think you also, did you meet with some members of Congress as well?

KHALIL: Yeah, we did. We met with Congress on the first day actually, Senator Mark Warner and Senator Rubio, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, as well as Homeland Security Committee. So that was obviously a focus on Ukraine. You know, I tell you what, guys. There’s a sort of a surprise here in the political class and the system, the national security community, and the galvanising of support around Ukraine. That you probably saw in President Biden’s State of the Union address as well. People were surprised at the bravery, the courage of not just President Zelensky, but obviously the Ukrainian people who are resisting this onslaught by Vladimir Putin. There’s a lot of support for Ukraine, but clearly that support is limited to military aid, logistics, other kinds of aid, that can be convoyed across the border. But they made it pretty clear that they’re not going to be putting US boots on the ground in Ukraine and really just drawing the line where the NATO member country or member states are, which is basically Poland and the Latvian countries, because this is, we’re at a particular inflection point in this war. Putin is ramping up the brutality in attacking cities and really like what they did with Grozny back in the Chechen war all those years ago. And you would have seen overnight that Russian forces hit the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. And so, he’s ratcheting up the danger and this is a pretty, pretty significant reordering of the European security order that’s unfolding before our eyes and the Europeans have stepped up as well. Even Switzerland, which has been neutral for decades.

MACCA: 200 years Peter.

KHALIL: Centuries, not decades. I apologise.

MACCA: So, do you think, Peter, have you been surprised? You know Washington, you know, the Republicans and the Democrats on this issue are pretty much one, as is Europe. Have you been surprised at that? Did you did you think that, perhaps that wasn’t going to happen? You know, give us your thoughts on that and what’s what sort of thing the Americans are saying.

KHALIL: Well, in Congress, the congressional leaders that we met with, it wasn’t surprising. There was bipartisanship on Ukraine and resisting Russia, and that was clear cut. It was a bright spot of bipartisanship. But I should also add, it was obvious that, we discussed the strategic issues, obviously the convergence between Moscow and Beijing as well, and how what is happening in Europe and the Ukrainian theatre has an impact on the shaping of the Indo-Pacific region, which we live in. So, everyone’s watching that very, very carefully. And so that convergence or that partnership between Beijing and Moscow is sort of front and centre in the discussions. And there’s bipartisanship on the Hill with respect to China as well, in that respect. So that was interesting to see. Certainly with, I mean, I can’t talk about some of the briefings we got in the intelligence agencies and the other security agencies, but the overarching sense I got was a degree of bipartisanship. But the system there is you know, there’s a lot of partisanship in everything else, in everything else. But on this they are kind of as one. There were a couple of elected representatives who are pushing for more and stating that we should be doing more. And there is a discussion, a live discussion about what that actually means beyond providing military aid, logistical support, assistance. What else can the West do? There’s a lot of Western unity and unity of the international community against Russia’s aggression. But what does that mean? And you’ve got to think through the consequences, because if you do take those steps, there are consequences. Putin may decide to use a tactical nuclear weapon. These are serious debates that are happening in the capitals around the world. We had these conversations as well with a whole number of UN ambassadors where we discuss these issues and what was happening in their capitals. So, this is what is exercising the mind of political leaders around the world right now.

TASS: It’s a very concerning state of affairs Peter and we could certainly talk about this all day. I wonder if I could change the subject in the few minutes that we’ve got left and just turn our attention to domestic affairs and no doubt you’ll be aware that, you know, big chunks of the northern part of this country are now completely waterlogged. What are your reflections on that and what are your reflections on the Federal Government’s response in relation to the floods that have occurred around North New South Wales and Queensland?

KHALIL: Look the situation is absolutely devastating and you know, being over on the other side of the world, but still my heart is going out to all the families and loved ones of those who’ve lost their lives during these floods and those people who remain missing. I know that, and I’ve been in touch with some of my colleagues, that we as an opposition, Federal Labor have been in regular contact with State and the Federal Government in providing whatever support is necessary in the emergency. And one of the real priorities that we have, of course, is to make sure flood victims receive disaster assistance as quickly as possible and make it smooth. We also make sure the Morrison government does their job, because frankly, I understand it’s been revealed in the media that they’ve never used a cent of the $4.8 billion disaster fund which was set aside for disaster recovery three years ago when it was created. So that hasn’t been used. And I really think that, they need to get this right. We can’t have another example of incompetence by the Morrison Government, so we’ll be providing whatever support is necessary to make sure we get that assistance out to the people that need it as quickly as possible.

TASS: There’s something about the Government and crisis management that doesn’t seem to.

MACCA: There’s no management.

TASS: Is that what it is Macca, I don’t know what to say.

MACCA: Yeah, it’s and look, the floods have been overwhelming. You can’t have a state emergency service person at every house, or a police officer, or the Australian Defence Force. But it does, look, I’m not there, but it does strike me that all this money that was put aside, we’re not using it. Why? I don’t understand. Can I ask one question Peter? You know, so I think Marco Rubio, Senator Rubio, has wanted to take a harder line with the Russians, is that correct, is he one of the ones who thinks that we should be doing more?

KHALIL: Yeah, there’s a few of them, Rubio is one of them. I mean, it didn’t come up in our conversations as explicit as that, it was in the earlier part of the week. But yes, you’re right, that’s correct Macca.

MACCA: Do you think, at the end of the day, the bipartisanship, but I think it’s important, one of the reasons, that there isn’t a no fly zone in Europe and President Zelensky has come out quite strongly against the NATO decision, but that would then be playing into Putin’s hands in many ways wouldn’t it?

KHALIL: You’re right Macca, and as I was saying, in an almost instant reaction instinctively you say, why can’t the West do more? But when you play out all the consequences, it does play into Putin’s hands to a certain extent. And this is the tragedy of all of this, the aggression that we’re seeing is ramping up and up because he’s not going to get the concessions that he’s asking for. The West is united on that, on those issues, he doesn’t want Ukraine, he wants guarantees they don’t join the EU or NATO of course, and that there’s no weapons deployed along, the sort of, the border of those NATO member states. That’s not going to happen, and the Europeans have become stronger. Germany flipped after decades.

MACCA: Seven decades.

KHALIL: Decades of strongly providing support. So, think through the consequences of this. Expanding this war across Europe will bring millions of people into danger. And again, I don’t know how mad Putin has got down in the bunker there. He’s surrounded more and more by only a few people. He’s not getting advice, he’s got yes men around him, he’s now becoming overly repressive, if that’s even possible. He’s banned Facebook, he’s banned any communication about the war that is against the state narrative. The noose is tightening internally as well as externally on him and he doesn’t have an end game. He can’t occupy Ukraine.

TASS: Unfortunately, we are out of time Peter.