Sky News – PJCIS Delegation to Washington, Ukraine, Submarines



Subjects: Russia-Ukraine war, AUKUS submarine bases

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: A bipartisan delegation from the Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security has just returned from Washington D.C. where Russia-Ukraine tensions were high on the agenda. Labor MP Peter Khalil – he was part of that delegation – joins me live. Peter, good morning to you. So, what view have you formed as a result of those talks?

PETER KHALIL, MEMBER FOR WILLS: Good morning, Peter. Yes, it was a very important delegation in the sense that the discussions were very strategic about what’s happening with the Beijing-Moscow convergence, but also obviously around the West’s response to Ukraine and the Russian aggression in Ukraine. We met with congressional leaders, the US Senate Intelligence Committee, House Committee, we met with White House national security officials, and we met with a lot of the US intelligence agencies for briefings. What I got out of that was the fact that the West has really started to galvanise against this strategic threat. The reshaping of the European security order also has ramifications for the shaping of the Indo-Pacific security order and the West. You saw this, Peter, people saw Europeans really step up and really change what had been decades of neutrality with Switzerland, Finland, Germany providing weapons to Ukraine, but, having that said that, they have drawn a line. The US has drawn a line at no boots on the ground in Ukraine because there is a real fear of a broader land war in Europe and the possibility that Putin actually escalates the aggression into other European countries. They’ve drawn a line to defend NATO member states.

STEFANOVIC: Interesting. I actually had a former member of NATO on the program earlier and he believed that there should eventually be a no-fly zone because if a no-fly zone was imposed and if you had to take out Russian assets and targets, it’s not like they’re in Russia. They are in a sovereign country of Ukraine. It’s an interesting point – does he have a point?

KHALIL: This was a debate we were having with the officials we met with because I raised this point about the Europeans providing fighter jets to Ukraine to support their air campaign, or their air defence, frankly, with fighter jets and that is on the table. The difficulty is if you’ve got NATO pilots, if you’ve got Polish pilots or Latvian pilots or whatever, does Putin consider that a declaration of war by those states? And if he does, it allows him to then strike, with strike capability, into the broader part of Europe, and that is, with a nuclear-armed state, that is something the West does not want to see. So, it’s this delicate balancing of supporting Ukraine as well as making sure they resist Russia without broadening the war to a European war.

STEFANOVIC: That’s a fair enough point, Peter. Just a final one here – we’re almost out of time – you talked there about the Beijing-Moscow convergence. For the layman, that’s the Xi-Putin bromance that’s taking place. How does that affect things here, particularly from a defence point of view? Many argue that we’re just not equipped enough, our national security isn’t where it is. We’re talking oil now, oil supplies. Even from a military point of view, if you win in May, do you increase defence spending more than it is, things of that nature?

KHALIL: Spot on. Anthony Albanese has already committed to defence spending of at least two per cent of GDP, which is an increase, but I’ll say this, our strategic oil reserves are in America, that’s the first problem. All prices are going to go above two dollars. Now we’ve got declining imports from Russia – or crude oil from Russia – which, since 2014, that’s declined. But we import pretty much all of our oil, and so that’s a real problem on economic security and national security. Secondly, the Prime Minister talks about bases for the submarines out past 2023. Greg Sheridan got this right in The Australian when he said that it’s a plan for bases in the never-never for subs that are coming in the never-never. They’re coming in the mid-2040s. I have argued that we have a capability gap on the subs. I’ve asked the Minister for Defence Peter Dutton, what are we going to do for the next 20, 30 years? And the answer is, we’re going to use the old Collins-class subs, and they’re going to retrofit it. That submarine is going to be almost 50 years old by the time the nuclear-powered submarines come onto the water. That’s like me driving around my dad’s old Torana from 1977 for the next 50 years. It’s not happening. I love that car, but it’s not fit for purpose. For our defence needs today, we’ve got a lot of work to do and a very volatile period coming up for Australia.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah, it’s a great car, but it’s not going to do the job you need it to do. Peter Khalil, we had to squeeze you in there, appreciate that. We’ll talk to you again soon. You made some good points there.