JOY Radio – Defence Strategic Review, Safeguard Mechanism and Housing Australia Fund Bill

PETER KHALIL MP 
MEMBER FOR WILLS  

E&OE TRANSCRIPT 
RADIO INTERVIEW 
JOY RADIO 
FRIDAY 17 FEBRUARY 2023 

Subjects: Defence Strategic Review 

DAVID MCCARTHY, PRESENTER: You are on Saturday magazine, Joy 94.1. Listeners may still be appalled, but probably not because of our next guest Peter Khalil, the Member for Wills. Welcome, Peter it’s been a little while since we spoke to you. How are you going?  

PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: G’day, I’m well. Is it too late to say Happy New Year?  

MCCARTHY: No, you just said it, so. Now my co-host Dave Allen, he is champing at the bit. He wants to ask you a question about men and women in uniform.  

DAVE ALLEN, PRESENTER: The Defence Review, Peter. 

KHALIL: The Defence Review, yes.  

ALLEN: Yes. So, obviously this is a large question and for those listeners who didn’t read the brief, there was a landmark defence review handed down this week into what is needed to up Australia’s defence capacity for the long term. Now we’re talking billions of dollars, massive pieces of infrastructure and not just the AUKUS Pact – we’re talking frigates, we’re talking missiles, we’re talking hypersonic capability. Can you speak to that? And can you also talk about the risk of perhaps potentially lapsing into what’s previously been described as irresistible defence technology as opposed to just on the ground defence technology? How do we get through this review without betting the farm?  

KHALIL: Wow, that’s a big question though, but I’ll do my best in 45 seconds. First of all, the Defence Strategic Review, the DSR, which was authored by Angus Houston, former Chief of Defence Force, and Stephen Smith, former Defence Minister and Foreign Minister, was handed to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister just this past week. It is a full review, as you alluded to, of all of Australia’s force structure, its defence capability. And what we need to do to protect our national interests in the coming decades – and there’s been there’s some significant recommendations in it, which go to reshaping our defence forces; you touched on a couple of them – what do we need to protect our interests, the maritime approaches, the sea lanes, all the things that are important to Australia’s national interest and prosperity as far as trade goes and all the rest of it. To answer your question very quickly, defence capability equals deterrence. So, the whole purpose of this is having the kind of capability that will deter adversaries, whether they be state actors or non-state actors, from using force or attacking our interests and pushing them to other channels like diplomacy, for instance. And the more deterrent capability you have, the less likely you’re gonna have conflicts. So, the billions of dollars that you speak to are actually an investment to avoid spending a lot more if we ever get into a conflict situation which would damage our economy and damage the global economy and so on, so that’s the principal thinking behind the Defence Strategic Review and what it means. And lastly, I should just say that technology that you’re talking about, the advanced capability, is really important, because a lot of what happens now is in the so-called grey zones. Cyber security, cyber-attacks, interference in our critical infrastructure and our systems, so having those counter-capabilities, cyber defence and cyber security capabilities are very important in protecting our interests.  

ALLEN: Now talking of cyber security, our former Prime Minister yesterday said that a war with China in the future would be fought with bytes and bits. And obviously there is a lot happening in the Department of Communications at the moment around privacy and so forth. What percentage do you think of our defensive capability in the future is going to need to be against cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure? 

KHALIL: A lot of the spending already, our investment, has shifted to cybersecurity and there’s been, there was a big investment in the Australian Signals Directorate that does a lot of this cyber protection across critical infrastructure, across our systems, systems of importance, and I talk about our energy systems our academia, our boardrooms – all of the different systems that make everything work every day. So, a lot has already shifted in that direction and ASD is already within Defence, so that’s kind of part of the Defence budget. Those big toys, those big hardware pieces, there’s a big rethink about what it is that we need. Do you need a much more asymmetric-type capability, smaller drones and other types of capability, that can actually do what is necessary rather than the big hardware? 

ALLEN: We do keep hearing in Ukraine drones being used, and I gather China attacked a Philippine vessel with a laser this week. So, we’re hearing a lot about high technology.  

KHALIL: It’s advanced capability. You touched on hypersonic missiles and counter hypersonic research, there’s drones, there’s undersea water capability drones. Even those drones that you refer to, there’s an Australian company here in Melbourne that is manufacturing drones, they cost about $10,000. They’re very small, but they’re used very effectively by the Ukrainian Defence forces for what’s called intelligence and surveillance and reconnaissance gathering. So they’re very effective, and because they’re manufactured here in Melbourne, people don’t really realise the capability that we have, the technology and the kind of potential that Australia has to work in this space. But that’s happening. It’s gonna be happening because there’s gonna be a real shift in the paradigm, out of this Defence Strategic Review when the government makes big decisions this year.  

MCCARTHY: You serve on a number of committees, and I think for listeners to understand that: parliamentary committees, whether it’s House of Reps. or Senate, they discuss and investigate issues and make reports, which ultimately does feed into policy. Can you tell us what are the committees you actually serve on? And I think you might chair some of them, Peter.  

KHALIL: Yes, Macca, the PM asked me to chair the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for the Parliament. That is a pretty intense committee. Its responsibility is to review any national security laws, all national security bills; we have oversight over all the intelligence and security agencies, their administration, their expenditure, their effectiveness and we do reviews and inquiries based on referrals from the PM or other cabinet ministers. For example, we’re doing an inquiry on radical right-wing extremism and other forms of radical extremism, so it’s an important committee. It also has a bipartisan tradition, and I hope that can continue, although that you know sometimes is not possible. There’s a tradition to try and really reach consensus for the national interest and put aside the partisan games that go on in politics. And I should say, and I’m also on the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence Committee. Committee work is interesting because it’s not sexy enough to get on the nightly news, but it allows members of Parliament from across the aisles to work together on policy issues and make recommendations for the government of the day on those policy areas. But because it’s not the same shouting and carry on that you see in Question Time it’s probably not newsworthy. I think people like to see a bit of conflict and a bit of biffo, maybe, but it would be pretty boring doing a one-minute piece on some members of Parliament agreeing with each other on the importance of this policy or that policy.  

ALLEN: Talking about security laws, I’m a journalist, outside of Joy, I’m a news journalist. We, Australia passed more national security laws in the wake of the 9/11 attacks than the UK and the US combined. Now I know as a journalist, that thicket of laws obviously has had a great impact on us, it has improved national security, but at the same time it has lengthened the time taken to do effective national security reporting and made it a legal nightmare and extremely expensive. Now obviously these are necessary laws, but is something being done to streamline that thicket so journalism can proceed effectively as part of democracy? 

KHALIL: No, you’re right, Dave. And I, and this is my view. I also know our new government is looking at this where the Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus is looking at a review of all the Privacy Act and the privacy laws. 

ALLEN: Big fan of Mark Dreyfus here.  

KHALIL: Yeah, no, I’ve got to call him KC now. Mark’s great. But you’ve really hit the nail on the head: the responsibility of government is always to get the balance right between individual liberties versus the collective or public security. And if it goes tilts too much in one direction, you remove those individual liberties. I think with respect to journalists, we are looking at the laws around what’s in the public interest. You mentioned the kind of bureaucratic nightmare that you’ve got to go through as a journalist. All these laws are being reviewed. There’s a review of the Privacy Act, there’s a review of our counterterrorism framework, elements of that of course go to what’s in the public interest, and journalism, and protection of journalists. And I was very critical of the previous Government going too far in actually diminishing what is a very important part of our democracy, and that is the right of journalists to report on these issues in the public interest. Of course, there are sometimes, as you would know, areas where you can’t go because it’s about protecting people’s lives, but I think the government tilted way too much towards diminishing the right of journalists to report on what is in the public interest, and we’re trying to redress that through these reviews.  

MCCARTHY: Unfortunately, Peter, we’re out of time. But thank you for that, and we’ve got a whole lot of different segments rostered for you in the future and we look forward – some of them are a bit longer, so I do appreciate you giving the time and explaining the role of those committees. I think a lot of listeners are not sure. Because it’s not that sexy, some of it, and people like me sometimes like watching it, but you know. I think there’s three other people in Australia who watch it as well.  

KHALIL: There’s so much on Netflix, Macca and you’re watching committees. I don’t know what’s going on there.  

MCCARTHY: Look, I really briefly did watch Phillip Lowe in the committee hearings that he was in. And you know, he clearly was under pressure, but his most recent appearance, it was clear to me he had the shits with you all.  

KHALIL: You like a good interrogation, that’s what you like.  

MCCARTHY: Well, he’s the Chair of the Board but the Board is 9, three of which are ex officio, so there’s another six, and decisions have to be a majority. So, you know if we’re going to have a crack at him – believe me, I’m not about defending Phillip Lowe – but how about people should actually have a look at who else is on the board and the decisions that are made rather than just targeting him, I think it’s a bit unfair. But his body language is interesting. He doesn’t like you lot.  

KHALIL: I’m not on that committee, but I’ll pass it on to my colleagues.  

MCCARTHY: Anyway, that’s my 13 cents worth. There you go. Thank you.  

MCCARTHY, ALLEN: Thanks Peter, appreciate it.  

ENDS