PETER KHALIL MP
MEMBER FOR WILLS
TUESDAY 18 OCTOBER 2022
Subjects: PJCIS, National Anti-Corruption Commission, Australian embassy in Israel
ASHLEIGH GILLON, HOST: Welcome back, you are with Newsday. A parliamentary committee is reviewing Australia’s Temporary Exclusion Order scheme, established in 2019 to give greater control over Australians returning from overseas, including foreign fighters. It has heard from two major stakeholders in this game about the orders placed in security and counterterrorism operations. Joining us live now is the committee’s chair, Peter Khalil. Peter Khalil, really appreciate your time, thank you. I am going to get to that issue of TEOs in a moment, but first, as we just told our viewers, we are standing by to hear from the Foreign Minister Penny Wong. We’re expecting the issue of moving the Australian embassy back to Tel Aviv to be canvased. I remember several years ago you were very critical of the government decision to move the Australian Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Labor promised to reverse that decision. We had been told this morning that cabinet is yet to sign off on the change. Is Labor still committed to moving the embassy back to Tel Aviv?
PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: Yeah, look; Penny Wong the Foreign Minister is about to speak, but she recently also made a statement with respect to the fact that the former government, the former Morrison government, did recognize West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that no decision has been made by the current government to change that. So, that’s really for the Foreign Minister to discuss this afternoon. In context, where this all came out of, was – and you mentioned I was critical of the Morrison Government – Scott Morrison as PM at the time, actually made the announcement that he would move the Australian Embassy to Jerusalem in the middle of a by-election for Wentworth. My critique was that it was an attempt to get short term political benefit; maybe appeal to the Jewish Australian vote in Wentworth. It failed miserably because Dave Sharma actually lost that by-election; it was foreign policy on the run, and that was my main criticism. It was foreign policy done for domestic political purposes, very specific political purposes. The final status of Jerusalem under international law and with respect to the peace negotiations, is all something that is before us. And I’m one of those people that still has hope that we can find peace in the region, that there can be a two-state solution, and that Australia can play a role in being an honest broker.
GILLON: Well, let’s return now to Peter Khalil he is the Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. We were just beginning our discussion before that news conference with the Foreign Minister Penny Wong. We’ve just heard your thoughts just before Penny Wong’s announcement about Jerusalem and the decision to now recognize Tel Aviv. So, we will move on from that issue, because there are some other things I’m keen to talk to you about. I did mention in the introduction a bit earlier, that it is timely to be looking at these TEOs, Temporary Exclusion Orders, which govern how we handle Australians returning from overseas who are of counterterrorism interest. We know right now that Islamic State women and children are preparing to be flown home from Syria. What stood out to you yesterday during the public hearing into these TEOs? Do you see the need for these to be reexamined? The law council is arguing that these orders should be issued by a court rather than by a Minister. Do you come to this with the view that more safeguards are needed?
KHALIL: Yeah, good question Ash. The TEOs, the Temporary Exclusion Orders regime set up in 2019, as you said, to delay the return of Australians who are involved or linked to terror or terrorism related activities, largely to give intelligence and security agencies and law enforcement agencies the time to make their proper assessments, build up evidence, if necessary and so on, around the links to terrorism and related activity. But also as a national security management, you know, national security risk management tool with respect to the return of the Australians. So, they’re the two things that the regime is being used for. Our role as the Intelligence Security Committee and myself as chair is to undertake these hearings in relation to a review of the regime to determine its effectiveness, its efficacy, whether it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing, how well is it doing? We heard as you said from a lot of stakeholders, the Law Council of Australia, the Australian Human Rights Commission, all of our intelligence security agencies, as well as you know, Home Affairs Department and so on. So, we’re going to make a judgement call. I don’t want to preempt the committee report back to government around the efficacy of the regime. But what we’ve heard so far is that there are always with national security laws, areas that can be improved, refined, made better. And an assessment about what you know their necessity is going forward for our national security, and that’s something that we’re going to report on once we’ve completed the hearing.
GILLON: Our regular viewers will know that you have a real background in issues of security and this is something that you really have spent many years focusing on. The Australian is reporting today that the AFP and ASIO are given the government a briefing on any potential risks that could be posed by the return of some of these families from Syria and how they can be mitigated once they’re on Australian soil. The opposition, as you know, has raised concerns about the resources that that sort of mitigation program will use up. What is your personal view? Do you believe the benefits of bringing these Australians home do outweigh the risks?
KHALIL: Let’s set aside any discussion around operations – and the security of those operations are really important – but on a policy level, I’ll give you my view. The fact is that there are a couple of reasons around this decision, is my understanding. One is humanitarian; we’re talking about children, Australian citizens who are kids that are largely innocent kids. They’re 8, 9, 10 years old and they are Australian citizens. And secondly there is an obligation that Australia has to our citizens. The passport means something; citizenship means something; and in a humanitarian sense for those kids, that is really important. But there is a national security issue here, and the fact is that if we don’t repatriate these children, they stay in these camps as a humanitarian risk to them, but there’s also the radicalization risk to these children. So, when they do become teenagers and grow much older, you have this cohort of kids who have been radicalized, if you like, by Islamic State, who are in in in these areas. So, there is a national security risk, so the assessment really is around whether the risk going forward is mitigated by or the risk at least as you outlined it as far as the way that this cohort when it returns is assessed. And some of the women might be put under control orders and other arrangements; whether that is outweighed by the fact the longer-term national security risk of not taking action. And frankly, the previous government kicked this down into the long grass and just said, “look, we don’t think we can deal with this now”, but there is a problem in the long term and my interest is in the long-term national interest for Australia and the national security of Australia. And if you look at this from that perspective, you do not want to have a situation where you have dozens of Australian citizens radicalized as young people and then down the track whether it’s 5- or 10-years’ time, come back and take certain actions. So, from a humanitarian point of view and a national security point of view, it is a very significant and important decision in the national interest.
GILLON: Well, I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more political debate over that issue in the coming weeks. No doubt about that. Just finally, I understand your committee is also going to be looking at the National Anti-Corruption Commission legislation. You’ll be looking at the access that body will have to data from our security agencies. What are the issues at play there? What are you planning to examine and when it comes to the other issue of holding public hearings or not, do you think the proposal strikes the right balance?
KHALIL: Yeah, you’re referring to an amendment to the Telecommunications Act, which is around the definition of the law enforcement agencies that have the powers to intercept communications, and making an amendment to give that power to the national Anti-Corruption Commission. We’ll be looking at what safeguards are around that, what processes there are with warrants and how warrants are given in order for those investigations to be undertaken by the Commission, and how that balances out with the right of individuals and the privacy of individuals as well. So, with most national security laws, as you can imagine Ash, there’s always this balancing looking at the collective public interest versus the individual’s rights, and getting that balance right. But the fact is, it’s a very specific and narrow review that we’re conducting, because it’s just one amendment to a particular act that pertains to the broader national Anti-Corruption Commission legislation. The broader legislative, most of the legislation is going to be looked at by a special parliamentary committee set up to do that. We’re looking at a very specific power that is being through an amendment, that we have to assess.
GILLON: OK, yeah, I understand that you do have that that narrow focus in terms of the committee, but more broadly on this question of whether or not we should be seeing more public hearings, do you think that the current proposal is striking the right balance? Do you come to this thinking that the public have a right to bear witness to all of those hearings?
KHALIL: OK, so sorry to be fair, your question around the balance within public hearings and private hearings. Getting that balance right, then – this is a personal view of mine as a as a lawmaker and looking at the legislation as well, like every other Member of Parliament making sure that from my perspective that that balance is struck correctly. There is a right for the public to know. But there’s also a right for private individuals who may be called as witnesses or have not been under any allegation, for example themselves, to have their identities kept confidential so that they’re, you know, they’re not dragged into the media scrum around a particular hearing. So, I think we need to assess that; we’re looking at that balance. I need to look at all of the different arguments for and against and that’s an iterative process that’s being conducted within the Parliament as lawmakers.
GILLON: Yeah, Peter Khalil we will be following that one closely as well. Really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today. Thank you.
KHALIL: Thanks, Ash.