PETER KHALIL MP
MEMBER FOR WILLS
MONDAY 27 MARCH 2023
Subjects: TikTok, Daniel Andrews trip to China
TOM CONNELL, HOST: Also, in the US there is currently debate over whether to ban TikTok in the country. Yes, it’s that social media app that’s taken the world by storm but concerned many security experts because it is ultimately China owned. Joining me live now is Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, Labor MP Peter Khalil, the Chair of that committee, no less, I should mention, that as well. What do you make of this at the moment?
PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: Well, it is a very topical issue, Tom, for a lot of important reasons because of the national security and national interest implications, and the government is taking a considered, deliberate approach to how we go about regulating social media, digital platforms and how they are accessed and how consumer information is stored. There is a review that has been commissioned by the Minister for Home Affairs and that’s landed, and she’s considering the recommendations that come out of that. I don’t want to preempt the Minister’s announcements about what the government’s decisions will be around regulation, but I would say that the review is very broad, it looks at all the national security implications around, multiple national security risks, as well as other implications around social media platforms, and that’s important. I just wanted to point out too, this is not a new thing, by the way, Tom. I think TikTok was launched back in 2016, so the previous government had a fair bit of time to look at this. There are a number of reports internally, but we’re looking at this very seriously. As I said, the Minister will be making some announcements around reform.
CONNELL: Would it be unprecedented to totally ban an app purely on privacy reasons, essentially?
KHALIL: Well, look, obviously some government departments have already instructed their staff to do that.
CONNELL: Yeah, and I think even Twitter and Facebook, there are concerns around how they operate, but I’m talking about the wider issue.
KHALIL: Sorry, just on that point. The difference between those apps that you mentioned where there is a commercial imperative versus an app that’s sort of state owned, I guess, is, is where some of the concern lies. But the decisions that the government, again without preempting the government decisions on this, they’re looking at where the implications on our national security are. Broadly speaking, whichever social media app it is the hoovering up of data and personal information is a privacy issue, it’s a real issue. The use of that data by whoever’s got it to influence populations including disinformation and misinformation. I think there was a report on TikTok in the US because it’s before Congress. There was reporting around the fact that some journalists were being tracked.
CONNELL: Critical of TikTok, apparently the journalists were.
KHALIL: So be careful. If you’re critical, you might get followed around, but that is the real concern. So, the way that those technologies are used is something that we’re looking at very, very seriously.
CONNELL: So, would it be the right approach if, because you can’t sort of sit there as a government and take an app by app approach. So, is the right approach setting out parameters for how apps need to or need to avoid doing that in Australia?
KHALIL: I think you’re right about that; I think you’re instinctively right about that. You need regulation and legislative frameworks to look at apps, not app by app, but certainly look at social media platforms.
CONNELL: How it shares things, whether it feeds information back to any government.
So, this wouldn’t be a China thing, but if an app shares information, whether it is to a government or can do, whether it might be.
KHALIL: Yep. It might be. It’s the way that information is used. The way that it is manipulated. The way that it might be added algorithm to use on it.
CONNELL: And what information does it get as well?
KHALIL: I’ve tried to explain this to a lot of people where you know, I’m like your dancing cat video on TikTok might not seem that serious, but what we’re talking about is all that data, the personal information, the behavioural patterns, that attract in the way you use the app and the information that you provide as well. That’s all hoovered up, and then algorithms are used to then try and influence behaviours back the other way. So that’s a concern.
CONNELL: So, can the Australian people then expect the government to set parameters around how apps need to work in Australia. Is that where we’re headed?
KHALIL: Well, there’s always a balance with the individual’s right and privacy to use whatever application versus the collective.
CONNELL: Yeah, understand that and you’re not going to be overly strident and go well, look, if you want to let them hoover up stuff, sure, but there’s a red line if you like.
KHALIL: Yeah, it’s not as simple as that, but it’s similar to what you’re saying, because there are obviously national security implications and implications around social cohesion. But again, getting that balance right, I think is a critically important thing and that there will be a debate about that.
CONNELL: Daniel Andrews is off to China for a trip. Not taking media. What did you make of that?
KHALIL: Did you want to go did you?
CONNELL: Haven’t asked my wife. She wouldn’t be happy with two young kids. Shouldn’t journalists be invited to these trips?
KHALIL: I don’t know Tom. You would have to ask the Premier and his office about that. My understanding, by the way, I’ve seen some reporting is, there are back-to-back meetings, and you know they’re getting straight into business, so to speak. And the trip is an important one because it is about stabilising a relationship and I saw some of the opposition’s kind of criticism of it. Frankly, that’s a bit lame because the Premier himself has said clearly that foreign policy, defence policy, all those strategic things, are matters for the Commonwealth. He’s going there to reset, to see if we can get economic opportunities, particularly around international students coming back to Victoria and to Australia generally and whether there are other economic opportunities that can benefit Victoria.
CONNELL: Sure, but you can do all that with journalists. I mean, this is a government that once signed a Belt and Road initiative, which the federal government didn’t approve of at the time. How did you feel about that, was that the wrong thing for a state government to do?
KHALIL: My view on that is that the strategic policy, defence policy, foreign policy is a matter for the federal government.
CONNELL: So, they shouldn’t have signed it?
KHALIL: Well, it’s a matter for the federal government. I know that the Victorian Premier has spoken to the Prime Minister about this particular trip and the Prime Minister is very enthusiastic about Premier Andrews visiting and opening up the relationship.
CONNELL: But what about being open to media? What do you think about that?
KHALIL: Again, you’d have to ask the Victorian Premier’s office about that. My understanding is that they are doing back-to-back meetings where the media won’t be in those meetings, but you’d have to ask them. It is important though to help stabilise the relationship. We’ve got Tim Ayres, the Assistant Trade Minister travelling to China this week. We had Penny Wong visiting China last year. We’ve had the Prime Minister having constructive discussions with his counterpart, President Xi, so that’s all good to reduce tensions in the relationship. It’s still a very important economic relationship.
CONNELL: Of course, it is. Our biggest trading partner. I didn’t ask you; do you have TikTok on any of your phones?
KHALIL: No, I don’t. Certainly not on a government device nor on any personal devices.
CONNELL: Ok. Is it allowed on your government device?
KHALIL: I’d have to check that, but I certainly don’t have it on any devices at all.
CONNELL: Fair enough. Thought I’d ask.
KHALIL: Yeah, no, that’s a good question.
CONNELL: Talk soon, Peter Khalil.
KHALIL: Thank you.