Sky News with Kieran Gilbert – Ukraine, China & Solomons, LNP Court Battle




Subjects: Peter Dutton’s rhetoric on a potential conflict within our region or with China, Putin’s war in Ukraine and the election

KEIRAN GILBERT, HOST: We’ve got the chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, James Patterson, a member of that committee, as well, Labor MP Peter Khalil. Thank you both for your time. James Patterson, first to you, Kristina Keneally says this inflammatory rhetoric that predicts war is not helpful. What do you say? Is it a reasonable assessment or is it overdoing it from the Defence Minister?

JAMES PATTERSON, LIBERAL SENATOR: I think there’s nothing inflammatory at all about what Peter Dutton has said. It’s just the bare facts and we have to deal with the realism of the climate that we’re now living in. It doesn’t do us any good at all to ignore the realities of what’s happening in our region. And if the Labor Party really isn’t up to having that honest conversation with the Australian people, if they’re not up to getting the Defence Forces ready for this contest, then frankly, they’re not ready for government.

GILBERT: Peter Khalil, Mr Dutton said there’s a potential of conflict within our region within just a couple of years, and we should be realistic about that threat. Do you agree with him and Senator Patterson?

PETER KHALIL, MEMBER FOR WILLS: Well, part of what I agree with Kieran, is that there is a very uncertain period that we’re living in, geostrategic volatility is real. We’ve got a lot of challenges in our region and in global affairs, and global security, that’s clear for all to see. What I don’t agree with, is the manner in which Peter Dutton’s gone about talking about this because defence is just as much about deterrence as well as diplomacy and development assistance. All work together, those three Ds, to try and maintain stability and the security of our region and to deter conflict. And by talking that up, that doesn’t help that cause at all. You know, there are analysts that talk about this all the time. He has a responsibility as a Defence Minister of Australia, to get our capability right, and here’s the other point, he’s made this announcement, the $3.5 million fast tracked, announcement. But where has he been for the last five years? It’s an absolute nonsense to say that you couldn’t predict the volatility. You know, he said something like that this morning on radio that, who is to predict what happened in Ukraine two years ago? Well, I’ll tell you what, every national security analyst worth their salt was predicting it. Everyone has been talking over the last five years about the increased aggression and coercion by authoritarian states. So, it’s an absolute nonsense by Peter Dutton to say, oh, we couldn’t have predicted this and then on the eve, the 11th hour before election, suddenly he’s scrambling and panicking to make this announcement and then talk tough about it from defence. It’s just on brand for this government, always going for the domestic political point score, not looking at the long-term national interest and doing everything at the last minute.

GILBERT: Senator Patterson, is it all about just the khaki election without the foresight that Mr Khalil refers to?

PATTERSON: Well, I really hope that Peter of all people understands that announcements like this that happen today don’t just happen overnight. You can’t just conjure up arrangements with companies like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin etc. They have years of careful planning and decision making and negotiations and contracts that are agreed. You can’t conjure this up overnight. And if the Labor Party thinks it’s that easy to get something out this quickly, then I really worry if they’re ready for government or not. They’ve been in the pipeline for a long time. I’m very pleased to see that they’ve been announced now because it’s exactly what we need for the times that we are in. And on the question of Ukraine, I mean, Peter and I were together on a trip to the United States, and I joined with his colleague Jenny McAllister in London, and it’s certainly true that Five Eyes intelligence services were predicting what was happening in Ukraine. But right up until days before and weeks before, European intelligence services were saying there were going to be no invasion of Ukraine. So maybe Peter knew better than European intelligence services months and years out but there was real debate about whether that was going to proceed, and it now has.

GILBERT: On intelligence service. They’d obviously stuffed up as the Russian intelligence service no doubt were telling Putin that they were going to have a better run than they have. It’s been a lot harder than they thought. Now do you think that a trial of war crimes is realistic? How does this all end? Peter, you know the area well and looked at it closely. Where do we go to from here given the atrocities we’re seeing there?

KHALIL: Well, it relates to the beginning, and I just want to respond to James’s point. He’s right about a few things, but the fact is that President Zelensky actually belled the cat when he addressed our new parliament. If the international community, including Australia, stood up to Putin much earlier, he might not have been as brazen as he has been and as brutal as he has been in the invasion of Ukraine. The fact is, he wasn’t held to account for the MH17. The repression in his own country, the jailing of his own dissidents and opposition members, but he also conducted a war in Georgia. He walked through Crimea in 2014 and the Western countries and democracies did nothing about it. So, I think it’s a bit rich to say, ‘Oh, well, we couldn’t have predicted this’. The authoritarian dictator was right before our eyes brazenly doing those things. So, it’s a failure, not just of Australia, but the West in its entirety, and now we’re paying the price to a certain extent, and Ukrainians are paying the price. But the warnings have been there for many, many years and it’s, I think, a nonsense for Peter Dutton to say, ‘oh we couldn’t have predicted this two years ago’. We’ve seen the aggression and the coercion lift up a notch in our region as well, and those capability decisions James, I’m sorry I know they don’t happen overnight, but you’ve been in government for nine years and in that nine years we’ve seen the increase aggression and coercion occur on our very, very doorstep. How it ends, Kieran? Well, I don’t see how we can have a diplomatic solution to this without the Russians completely backing down. And it’s been good Western unity on this, pushing back on Putin’s aggression.

GILBERT: So, when you look at the international consensus, James, you alluded to this, you’ve been and Peter just recently holding talks with security agencies in Washington. The US have received a lot of praise for leading this international consensus, but sadly and tragically, as Peter says there rightly, it’s not stopping the massacres, it’s not stopping the atrocities on the ground.

PATTERSON: Kieran, to draw a couple of threads together from this discussion so far, Peter’s absolutely right, there was a collective failure in the West to hold Putin accountable for his earlier incursions into Ukraine and Georgia and elsewhere, and for his assassination of citizens on UK soil, and other crimes, shooting down of MH17, egregiously. There was a collective failure. There was a collective failure to hold them to account for that. And so, the lesson from where we go from here is to make sure we don’t make that mistake again. We have to make sure that Putin has a very real and very personal price for what he has done. And I think the calls for war crimes investigations are absolutely right. I think that’s exactly what we should do. We have to make it safe. We have to make it unsafe for Putin to ever leave Russia again. He cannot cross those borders again, and if he does, he must be arrested and brought and held it to trial and held accountable so that every other dictator who is watching this knows that if they behave in the way Putin has, there will be very severe consequences.

GILBERT: We are on the eve of a federal action, Peter Khalil. I want to get both of your thoughts on where things are at. The Prime Minister could go in the next couple of days, more likely that seems this weekend, to start the campaign. Labor ahead, but according to some analysis, it’s a soft vote Peter. What do you need to do to firm that up over the next six, seven weeks?

KHALIL: Well, Kieran, look, we’re about to start the official election campaign, probably in the next couple of days, and this is an opportunity for the Australian people to actually make a judgement call on who they think is the best government for the next three years, if not six years. And they’ll be looking very, very closely at Labor, at our leader, Anthony Albanese, and our policy offerings as the alternative government, and I want them to look very closely because I want them to make the contrast with the Liberal/National government and they can see very clearly, the failures under Morrison’s watch, whether it’s in Solomon Islands, with respect to the agreement with China, under their watch, whether it’s on the slow vaccine rollout, on RATs, on the whole lot. They need to make that judgement call and the people will start paying attention, I think, when the campaign starts proper.

GILBERT: James Patterson, it’s obviously another tough ask for the Prime a Minister and three years on has lost a fair bit of pain along the way, so it’s more difficult, you’d say, in 2022 as opposed to 2019.

PATTERSON: There’s a cottage industry of people who write off the Coalition before elections. They wrote us off last time, but not just last time, we were written off in 2004, in 2001, in 1998, and we won then, and I think we won ultimately because the values of the Coalition are best aligned with the values of the Australian people. And they walk into a ballot box, particularly at a federal election, and they think about our traditional areas of strength and the areas in which they trust us on: management of the economy through difficult and uncertain times and management of our nation’s national security, defence and foreign policy in difficult times. They know that it’s not the time to take a risk, it’s not time to change horses. It would be incredibly dangerous and disruptive to have a change of government when we’re in the middle of securing AUKUS, the most transformative, important national security pact since ANZUS nearly 70 years ago. So, these are the achievements of the Coalition in office. This is the record that we’re running on and what we’re offering the Australian people for the next three years and ultimately, I hope they’ll make that right decision.

GILBERT: Senator Patterson and Labor MP, Peter Khalil great to see both, appreciate it.