SKY NEWS AM AGENDA
SUBJECTS: Cyber Attack on Australian Parliament, Gladys Liu, Attack on Saudi Arabian Oil Fields
TOM CONNELL, HOST: Time now for my political panel. Peter Khalil from the Labor party and Trent Zimmerman from the Liberal party join me here in the studio. Gentlemen, thank you for your time.
TRENT ZIMMERMAN, MP: G’day Tom how are you.
PETER KHALIL, MP: G’day.
CONNELL: I’m very well; I hope you’re well as well. Let’s talk about Routers first of all and this report on China being responsible for a cyber-attack on national Parliament, Australia’s Parliament and the three major political parties as well. Is that the act of a friendly nation, Peter Khalil.
KHALIL: Well Tom, there are unnamed, unconfirmed sources but, you know, we are talking about the report. I’m very deeply disturbed that, if those reports are true we are talking about a country that’s a very strong and important economic trading partner of ours. I know that our intelligence agencies do solid work in protecting us from cyber threats. A lot of this stuff happens, state sponsored, some of it by hackers, some of it by states that sponsor hackers, and our guys do really, really good work there. We’re facing some significant strategic challenges in that cyber space, and it is disappointing to see those reports today.
CONNELL: I mean, yeah, I get that it’s a bit naïve to say that ‘oh didn’t you know this was going on’, but it’s pretty disappointing, isn’t it, from a country that purports to be friendly, at least at one level, to hack into the parliament itself.
KHALIL: These are significant threats, and we’re not naïve, I don’t think any of us are naïve, to the threat, and the threats that occur. The level of foreign interference that we’ve seen towards Western democracies right across the globe is significant. It diminishes our democratic systems. There’s a strategy there, I think, particularly we have talked about or seen, Russia, Russia’s interference in the US system and other European states. So, this is the disturbing element for me, which is the impact this is having on our democratic system. And we need to defend that with everything we’ve got.
CONNELL: What does it say, Trent Zimmerman, about Australia that we’re not even willing to call out this attack, in case it hurts us economically?
ZIMMERMAN: Well I’m not quite sure that’s the reason that you wouldn’t identify the perpetrator, and I have no more information than has been published today so.
Connell: Well, what would be another reason?
Zimmerman: Well it might be that you don’t want to disclose how you might be tracking down the type of attacks that are being perpetrated and identifying the fact that you have been able to use particular conduits to prevent that attack. But from my perspective, and Peter made this point, our intelligence agencies have very well developed and ramped up capacity to meet any cyber threat to the country. And I suppose the pleasing thing for me was that, it was actually detected and stopped, and that’s a positive I suppose.
CONNELL: Albeit with the party frameworks apparently were pretty poor, their defence mechanisms.
ZIMMERMAN: Oh the political parties themselves, well I imagine that neither the Liberal or the Labor party have the same sophisticated cyber defences that the parliament itself does, and there is probably a lesson in that for both of our parties.
CONNELL: And now, revelations over Gladys Liu over the weekend was a push within a branch of the Victorian Liberal party – she was president at the time – to relax foreign investment rules for agribusinesses and land. That would seem to have a pretty pro-China sort bent on it, wouldn’t it?
ZIMMERMAN: Well I’m not sure what the circumstances of that motion past a couple of years ago were but it struck me as drawing a particularly long bow to try and bring that into the current debate. Liberal party branches pass policy motions all the time. There obviously has been a debate about foreign investment in agricultural land. There have been some that have said that the focus of that debate on foreign investment was misplaced in focusing on agricultural land. And certainly from my perspective the key issue with foreign investment and any potential influence that could be counterproductive are in assets that actually have some type of security implications, so.
Connell: You don’t have any issue with selling up the farm then more broadly.
Zimmerman: Well we’ve introduced new controls to basically allow us to put in place a stronger national interest test, and in some cases, some cases bids have been rejected, by this government, and that’s been appropriate on those national security grounds.
Connell: Can I ask about Gladys Liu, because there obviously was the interview, and then this statement that was put out. Wouldn’t it be a good thing to give a long all in news conference, explain everything, go into detail about what happened with the group, why she was a member, how she feels about various groups and what they do, wouldn’t that be of benefit for democracy and the faith of Australians.
ZIMMERMAN: Well she has tabled a statement which has basically responded to some of the things that have been aired in the media, and I think that statement speaks for itself and was pretty comprehensive, so.
CONNELL: What’s the harm in a really lengthy, detailed news conference, get it all out there, ask her any questions.
ZIMMERMAN: Well that’s a decision for her to make, but I think that in black and white, in print, it allows you to be very clear about responding to these type of matters, and that’s what she’s done.
CONNELL: It also means that you don’t take questions on the fly and get into trouble.
ZIMMERMAN: Well there is no denying that she had a bad interview on this channel last Monday night, it’s a.
ZIMMERMAN: But she has clarified the issues that were raised in that interview.
KHALIL: No, no she hasn’t, Trent. I mean, it’s more than just a bad interview mate. We’re talking about some, some legitimate, serious questions that have to be answered by Gladys Liu. And it’s a pattern of behaviour, and a number of incidents. We’re talking about donations that are questionable, $39,000. There was another one that was reported today around $105,000 from a company that she worked for. There are questions around security, around the donors that she was involved with. There were questions about the fact that she denied all of this in your so-called bad interview, blatantly, falsely denying that she was a member of an organisation which is part of the united front for 12 years. I mean, these are legitimate and serious questions that go to the heart of whether she is a fit and proper person to be in this parliament. And she needs to answer them. And whether she does it in the parliament, or whether she does it in a press conference as Tom’s suggested, it has to happen. And can I just make another point: it is absolutely absurd and insulting that the Prime Minister is using the race card to try and defend her. It is an insult to the millions of Chinese Australians and Asian Australians that they can’t think for themselves. You know, a criticism of a political party, or the Chinese Communist Party in this case, is not a criticism of an entire race or an entire ethnicity. And that is an absurd proposition.
ZIMMERMAN: Can I say Peter I am disappointed in what you just said because it points to how despicable Labor’s campaign has been over the last week, and why it has become McCarthyist in its approach…
ZIMMERMAN: …because essentially what you’re doing…
KHALIL: So asking legitimate questions is McCarthyist?
ZIMMERMAN: …you are going beyond the type of scrutiny you would expect on say, political donations. You’re actually questioning her loyalty to the country of which she is a citizen, and which she is a member of parliament.
KHALIL: She failed, she failed miserably in her…
ZIMMERMAN: And for example, and for example, you talk about the organization she was involved with. Your Labor candidate of Chinese heritage in Chisholm was involved in two of those organizations.
KHALIL: She’s of Taiwanese background. So if you know anything about foreign policy, if you know anything about foreign policy, she’s Taiwanese background, so let’s be clear about this. Now Gladys Liu…
ZIMMERMAN: But she was still a member of two of those, of two of those organizations.
CONNELL: Let me just come in here Peter. So on those groups, yes she was of Taiwanese background, we know the current schism right there. But, why would she – if being a member of these groups, soft power Beijing groups is an issue in of itself, why was it OK for Labor.
KHALIL: It’s not just Gladys Liu’s membership: we are talking about the thousands of dollars in donations from donors who have been questioned by national security agencies.
CONNELL: Well let’s focus on the membership then.
KHALIL: Well that’s one of a number of factors.
CONNELL: Why was it not an issue that the Labor candidate was a member of the same group?
KHALIL: Well I have a real issue with membership of any of these groups. If they’re found to be, you know, groups that are part of the propaganda unit of the Chinese communist party, you’ve got to ask questions. But the other fact is the candidate you’re talking about is not a member of parliament, so the scrutiny has to be towards a member of parliament.
CONNELL: I understand that, but in the same way should Labor have better vetted that candidate if she’s a member of these groups you say should be a problem.
KHALIL: We, we have pretty good vetting, we have pretty good vetting. And the donations, the donations that we are talking about…
ZIMMERMAN: You’re applying different standards to other candidates to yours.
KHALIL: Not at all, we’re applying…
CONNELL: But that candidate, just on these groups.
KHALIL: If you’d let me answer.
CONNELL: Ok, let me just ask you this question just very directly. If you’re a member of these types of groups, a soft power Beijing group, should that preclude you from running for parliament? What should be the consequences.
KHALIL: Well there have been a number of Liberal MP’s as well, other MP’s, State MP’s, that are members of these groups. Look, in the situation we are in, and I think you would agree with this trend, where we’re facing these strategic challenges we have to have a pretty high standard, I think, across the political spectrum, I’m not being partisan in saying this, and I think whether its Liberal or Labor right. Now, what I’m saying is Gladys Liu is a member of the Federal Parliament.
CONNELL: So does that mean that the Labor candidate in Chisholm should not be running next time.
KHALIL: Well, the candidates will all go through proper vetting, I think that has to happen. I am not going to preface a vetting process that has, might happen in three years’ time. What I’m saying right now is, to say that it is not correct to put Gladys Liu, a member of this Federal Parliament, the national parliament, through legitimate questions, and to then claim its racist to question, to raise those questions, is an absurd proposition by the Prime Minister.
ZIMMERMAN: I don’t think from the type of campaign that we’ve seen run by the Labor party in the last week that it is wrong to make the assertion that this has become very McCarthyist in its overtones, to the point, to the point where you’ve got Labor figures…
CONNELL: Can I, you talk about the overtones themselves, though, or asking questions. Is it not legitimate to ask questions about someone that was a part of these types of groups, when we talk about the united front, linked to that, is it not fair enough to ask questions about the involvement and why they are a member.
ZIMMERMAN: Can I, Can I make the point of how absurd it’s become. You’ve got Labor figures making claims like that she worked or volunteers for the Chinese consulate, no factual basis for it, and actually wrong. And this is the type of implications…
CONNELL: Just back to my question. Is it fair enough to ask about those links.
ZIMMERMAN: I think that it is unfair to criticise or to question Gladys’ commitment to Australia that she has demonstrated throughout her life.
CONNELL: Well whether you question her commitment to Australia or not, is it fair enough to ask…
ZIMMERMAN: It is perfectly fair to scrutinize people about their electoral returns and all those type of things, but when you, the Labor party has completely overstepped the line when they are actually questioning her loyalty to this country.
CONNELL: Is it fair enough to ask about membership of those types of groups given their ultimate aim if you trace them back.
ZIMMERMAN: But she has responded to those. But I’d make the broader point.
CONNELL: But it is fair enough to ask the questions, is that what you are saying.
ZIMMERMAN: She has responded to those questions, and I think that when you look at the fact that Labor’s own candidate was a member of those organizations, it points to Labor’s hypocrisy. But can I just make the broader point, and this is I think the challenge. We know, and Peter knows this, anyone involved in elected politics knows that there are hundreds of Chinese community organizations. It’s reaching the ridiculous point where as a member of parliament, I’m apprehensive about going to Chinese community events for fear that someone is going to pop up that’s got some link and there’ll be a gotcha moment. And we actually saw one of those newspapers, one of the newspapers do that to Tony Abbott last year where he attended a function, there happened to be someone in the room with CCP links, and then suddenly that was a front page story.
KHALIL: I’m sorry, I’m sorry Trent that’s a bit disingenuous. You shouldn’t be scared at going to any multicultural event whether it be Chinese, Taiwanese, whatever. The point is very different here. Gladys’ involvement in these groups, the donations, the security questions by our own national security agencies with respect to the donors, the return of some of the money because of the question marks around it. That is a degree way different than you going to a local Chinese Australian event. And let’s remember here that of the 1.2 million Chinese Australians, many came here after Tiananmen Square. These people think for themselves, they have their own political opinions, OK. So we’re not talking about that.
CONNELL: As does Gladys.
KHALIL: Well that’s right. And she has chosen, in an interview, which you called ‘bad’ or ‘confusing’, to not support the bi-partisan position on the South China Sea which both sides of politics have, to not support peaceful protest in Hong Kong – call it sad, even though she is from Hong Kong. So yes, there are legitimate questions to ask about her understanding of the national interest and our national security priorities.
CONNELL: Ok, I want to just touch on one other issue finally: the Saudi Arabian oil fields and this attack. Yemen’s Houthi rebels are taking responsibility for this, but often backed by Iran. Is it fair enough to point the finger here Peter Khalil.
KHALIL: Well, we know that the Houthi rebels have been supported by the Iranian regime, that’s pretty clear cut in the evidence. There’s still some big unanswered questions about how that drone attack, where it was launched from – it’s 500 miles from the border with Yemen and so on – so there’s some logistical questions there. I think it’s very, very disturbing because it escalates the tensions between Iran and some of the regional powers in the straights of Hurmuz…
CONNELL: And obviously in the US with what Donald Trump has already said.
KHALIL: … and the US. And of course we’ve supported, both sides have obviously supported the operations to, to support freedom of navigation in the straights of Hurmuz. Critically important because hundreds of merchant vessels, oil vessels go through there, fuel the global economy, so the risk there is significant to the international economy. And if it is Iran behind this, they have literally escalated this to a stage which is completely unacceptable.
CONNELL: Does it make it harder as well for the prospect of the Iran nuclear deal staying alive, perhaps if there is a new president next year, does it make it harder for that to be on the table in a legitimate sense.
ZIMMERMAN: I, I think that, we obviously don’t know with some certainty as to who masterminded this attack, but it’s fair to say that it was a very sophisticated attack. You would normally think beyond the capacity of the rebel groups in Yemen to mount something like this without at least outside assistance, so, so I think it’s right to be suspicious about whether Iran’s involved. And that would be disappointing because Iran should be trying to show the international community that it is prepared to abide by it international obligations. This is in breach of every international obligation that a country like Iran has if it is involved. And that makes its position very difficult.
CONNELL: Alright, we are right out of time. Trent Zimmerman and Peter Khalil thanks very much for your time today gentlemen.
ZIMMERMAN: Thanks Tom.
KHALIL: Go Pies.
ZIMMERMAN: Thanks Peter.
CONNELL: You’ve mentioned the football – I’m not ready to talk about it yet.