PETER KHALIL MP
MEMBER FOR WILLS
MONDAY 19 SEPTEMBER 2022
Subjects: PJCIS, US IPAC trip, Russia invasion of Ukraine
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: For the most part, the world has been united in its condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and in backing the sanctions against the regime. Two notable exceptions have been the biggest powers in our region; India and China have refused to criticize the invasion and continued to buy Russian oil and gas. But evidence of their growing concern about the war was on public display at this weekend’s Shanghai Cooperation organization Summit Uzebekistan, where Prime Minister Modi and President Xi raised their concerns with President Putin. Labor MP Peter Khalil is the new chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. He’s just back from Washington, DC and he joins us this morning, Peter Khalil, welcome.
PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: Good morning, Patricia. How are you?
KARVELAS: Good. You were elected chair of this committee last week. This is one of the most powerful committees in the Parliament. What do you want to achieve as chair?
KHALIL: I think there are two parts, two objectives really, of this committee. One is to ensure that we pass, as a Parliament, the best possible national security laws. Now obviously we disagree on different sides of the aisle in politics, but there’s always been this tradition of a degree of attempt at really good consensus through the work of the committee, regardless of which party you’re in, to make sure that we make recommendations for the best possible national security legislation, as it goes through to the government. We may disagree, but the committee has shown that kind of consensus work going forward with its bipartisan recommendations. Secondly, it is a critically important committee because, as you said, we are charged with the responsibility of reviewing and oversight of all of our national security laws. The bills that come up through Parliament, but also an assessment of our intelligence agencies and our security agencies. Their efficacy, their effectiveness, whether there’s taxpayer dollar you know is being spent wisely in that respect and particularly in these critical, you know geo strategic circumstances that we face. It’s more important than ever to actually get that work done right. It always was important, but it’s particularly important now that we get the most bang for our buck, with respect to our agencies and our security and intelligence organizations.
KARVELAS: You’ve been in Washington, DC for a meeting of the Inter Parliamentary Alliance on China. It counts Labor, Liberal and Green MPs as members. It’s co-chaired by Republican Senator Marco Rubio. What was the focus of those meetings?
KHALIL: It’s also co-chaired by Democratic Senator Menendez. 30 different countries, lawmakers from 30 different democracies around the world; the focus was particularly on how we develop policy around China. Obviously, there’s a lot of China analysts who contribute to that, but as lawmakers looking particularly at how we can ensure that our laws are fit for purpose in a very volatile period. Now my view of this – and I joined this organization or was a co-chair of IPAC – because actually, it’s also about the commitment that we have as democracies, as lawmakers to the rule of law, to the international rule of law as our Prime Minister calls it. To systems of democratic governance and the values that we hold dear, the freedom of the press for example, the independence of judiciaries in our systems; our ability not to be interfered with, or those systems being interfered with by others; the cyber security threats that we face. So as lawmakers we have a lot of challenges, not just from state actors like China or Russia, but also non-state actors, in defending democracy and obviously in a period of time were there’s a lot of disinformation, a lot of threats towards democracies and a diminishing if you like in the public, of the effectiveness I suppose of democracies; the trust in democracy has been an effort of that. We have a lot of work to do to ensure that we promote and enhance those liberal rules-based order that we benefit from; like human rights, like the international rule of law. And so that plays a really, I think a very important role in the work that we did at IPAC.
KARVELAS: How significant was it that India’s President Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping raised concerns about Russia’s war in Ukraine at this Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in Uzbekistan this weekend? Given they’ve refused to publicly condemn it previously?
KHALIL: It’s an easy answer to that question; it is significant, and the question really in my mind is whether Chairman Xi is really having those questions or concerns because Russia is failing so badly in the war and the Chinese Communist Party has sort of tethered itself to Russia. Particularly, as listeners might know, a week before the invasion, there was a big strategic partnership agreement between Beijing and Moscow. And there’s been this convergence between Beijing and a strategic convergence between the two, that has built up over time. So, there could be some real concerns in Beijing about the fact that the war is not going very well for their partner. I think also from the perspective of India it’s significant because India has a long-standing relationship with Russia. It goes back, historically; a lot of Indian military hardware and equipment is Russian equipment and so there’s a strong relationship there. And there’s obviously concern, given India’s competition with China, that they may be exposed to the relationship that China and Russia have and particularly in those circumstances. So, I think significant is probably an understatement of the concerns that you’re seeing from those big major powers.
KARVELAS: How well founded do you believe fears are that Russia’s President will escalate the war in Ukraine, including attacks on civilians or the use of unconventional weapons in response to the defeat he’s suffered?
KHALIL: Well, that’s what everyone’s afraid of, Patricia. I mean the more that Putin is pushed into a corner, the more he acts like a wounded animal that lashes out – and the concern is that he may reach for, as you pointed out, chemical weapons or biological or even worse, tactical nuclear weapons. We are doing everything we can to ensure that that doesn’t happen. Obviously, I know that the US President has made statements around this. The problem of course is that the more that Ukraine’s counter offensive is effective and the more that they start winning, the more Putin is pressed into a corner. And we’ve seen the horrific story around the mass graves that have been found in Ukraine and in territory that’s been recaptured by Ukrainian forces. And you can see the brutality and the horror of what Russia’s brutal invasion has meant for the people of Ukraine. So, I’m very, very concerned about it myself. There are efforts being made, I think with all sort of world leaders, European world leaders and other leaders to try and mitigate those risks vis-à-vis Russia. I think India can play a part in that, so can China.
KARVELAS: Australia is actively considering a request from the Ukrainian ambassador for more military assistance. Is this a moment where the international community needs to step up their support, including us?
KHALIL: Well, that’s a good question, because we’ve provided almost $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine. In fact, Australia is the largest non-NATO military contributor. We’ve also provided non-lethal aide, as well, development assistance and so on, emergency assistance. So, it is extremely important that the international community continues to support and Australia included in that Patricia, continues to support Ukraine in their efforts to push back on that brutal invasion. And the reason that that’s important, some people say “It’s on the other side of the world, what’s it got to do with us?” It has everything to do with us, because the principles – those values that I was talking about earlier – the principles around sovereign integrity and the rule of law and international law are being attacked by the very fact of that invasion. And it cannot be allowed to succeed, because then we are looking at the attacks on the other parts of our system that we’re seeing elsewhere be accelerated. Now Putin’s on the back foot and that’s a good thing in the context of the broader global contest between authoritarian regimes and democracies around the world. And so, it’s important to provide that support for Ukraine to win this contest and push Putin back. There is danger inherent in that, as I said earlier, given that they may become more desperate and he may become more desperate, as dictators are want to do, and lash out in much more extreme ways.
KARVELAS: The Commonwealth Ombudsman has slammed Australia’s law enforcement agencies in his annual review, saying the AFP and some state police illegally access people’s metadata and telecommunications records. Including without obtaining a warrant or without the consent of the victim of a crime and in some cases failed to properly secure and dispose of this information. Are our law enforcement agencies flouting privacy protection laws?
KHALIL: Well, I’m very concerned with the issues around compliance and I should say, good work by the Ombudsman. That’s why we have in a democracy these organizations, independent bodies that investigate and ensure that laws are being abided by or uncover the fact that they may be being breached in different ways. And this committee that I’m on, this Intelligence Security Committee has actually looked at this issue in the past and made recommendations, nearly two dozen recommendations.
KARVELAS: But the laws haven’t been implemented. Is that now a priority?
KHALIL: And they haven’t. Yeah, absolutely and I think, again I don’t want to be partisan about this so much, but that those recommendations were not taken up by the previous government and those guidelines for accessing and handling data are really important. The Morrison Government didn’t respond to that report of the PJCIS and that was a bipartisan report, by the way, members of their own government were supportive of those recommendations. So, I know that the relevant Ministers in our Government are looking very closely at this, very concerned about this, looking at what implementation, what actions need to be taken, and that’s likely within the purview of the Attorney General Mark Dreyfus, as well as the Home Affairs Minister Claire O’Neill and how we can improve these safeguards. I’m hopefully going to Canberra this week to have conversations about that as well. In the meantime, there should be repercussions if our law enforcement agencies are acting outside of their scope under the law and I know that’s something that the Government is putting a priority towards.
KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us this morning.
KHALIL: Thanks Patricia, much appreciated, cheers.
KARVELAS: Labor MP Peter Khalil is the new chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.