PETER KHALIL MP
MEMBER FOR WILLS
MONDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2023
Subjects: Cyber Security, Australia-China Relations, Foreign Intelligence
TOM CONNELL, HOST: Now, as Labor MP and Chair of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security, Peter Khalil, what’s your view? I guess, first of all, not just for how ready we are, but how focused are we for potential conflict? In your role, for example?
PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: G’day, Tom. Look, I think the main point about this is: we are doing, as a government – and I see good bipartisan support for this from the opposition as well – everything possible to ensure that we have the capability, the defense capability, the intelligence capability, our whole security infrastructure, if you like, our architecture. We’re making some big decisions, obviously there’s a big strategic defense review. There’s the AUKUS agreement where the Defense Ministers and the government are going to make some big decisions about our future capability and our force structure. That’s really important, because I’ll tell you why: there’s an old quote from Churchill, I think it was, that said, “The price for peace is being ready for war”. You’ve got to make sure that you’re capable. You’ve got to make sure of your capability; I mean, capability equals deterrence. And I think the key here is that we do everything possible to have good defense capability, to ensure that our adversaries are dissuaded from using force as a means of reaching their strategic goals. We want to talk to people about trade because it’s in our benefit. We want to be able to trade with our partners in the region in a peaceful way, in a framework which is under international rule of law.
CONNELL: Is the clearest indication from Labor, because we had Jim Chalmers talk about how any new spending needs to be offset, that defense has been set up as a bit of a special case now? We know the budget’s going to massively increase. It doesn’t mean you can’t find savings. I mean, there’s some of the mismanaged projects over the years. It’s where money goes to die.
KHALIL: I think members of the executive of the government and ministers have pointed out that the defense budget is increasing and will be increasing. I think it’s just below 2% now, but it will go above 2%. You’re right; there might be some savings that might be found in defense capability, in various decisions. But there’s a lot of big decisions to make about our force structure and advanced capability coming down the pipe, so that we have that defense capability in the next 10 years.
CONNELL: You mentioned being ready, and yet every defence expert I talked to was really surprised that the Chinese made spy cameras were in government buildings in 2023 – they were just sitting there. I know we talk about “oh, there’s no confirmed risk”, but the fact they’re being removed shows that we weren’t comfortable with them being there. Were we a bit asleep at the wheel here? Does it make you think what else is out there?
KHALIL: The entire West was complacent, and I think it’s certainly true to say that all Western liberal democracies, most liberal democracies around the world, have been awakened from their complacency, their slumber, as it were, and understand that there are very volatile strategic circumstances that we all face. There are threats to the international rules-based order; to the world that we know; to those kinds of frameworks that have been beneficial to us, and we actually have to work hard to protect those, and I think now people are taking actions across democracies to make sure that we’re defending our systems. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to continue trade with countries in the region. We want to make sure that we have good economic relationships.
CONNELL: Well, what did you make of China? They said this was an “abuse of power”, removing these cameras.
KHALIL: Who said that?
CONNELL: The Chinese government.
KHALIL: OK, well, look, I think Australia is well within its sovereign rights to remove whatever it wants to remove to ensure its own security.
CONNELL: The fact that these were sitting out there: does it make you think of – do we need a stop-take of this type of risk if it’s been overlooked until now? What else has been overlooked?
KHALIL: I mean, that that’s a very good general point that you made; that there have been, obviously, decisions made around the 5G network with various companies. And the main point there is that, when you have a state-owned enterprise, its end goal is not commercial; it’s more working for a state, if you like, state strategic objectives. There are some question marks around national security there, so we’ve made decisions around that. You see the critical infrastructure laws that we have in place as well that are hardening up that critical infrastructure, these are all important measures but bipartisan, again supported by the opposition, because obviously that some of these laws we supported when we were in opposition – the foreign interference transparency scheme – these are all very good laws, and we’re kind of ahead of the curve a bit on this as well; some of the other democracies around the world have looked to us.
CONNELL: We always think of risks. I mean, there are quite a few Huawei phones in Australia. I mean, is that a risk as well? If all the people operating them suddenly couldn’t, for whatever reason, that would cause quite a stir?
KHALIL: I’m not sure if you know something that we don’t know, but I think the decisions made around the 5G network were –
CONNELL: No, but the phone itself –
KHALIL: I’m not an expert on any sort of assessments around the actual the piece of equipment itself; I’m very confident, though, that with respect to cyber security and other risk factors, that we are working very hard to ensure that our agencies are working very hard to meet those risks everyday.
CONNELL: I like how you thought I knew something you didn’t. Surveillance balloons, just finally on this; could they’ve been flying over Australia? What do we know about these? They sort of weren’t on the radar and suddenly they seem to be everywhere.
KHALIL: Yeah, yeah, that’s true. They have. There was a sighting in Canada as well. And a couple in the US.
CONNELL: What do you do about this? Do you seek a briefing? Have you done it already?
KHALIL: I will. We will be having meetings around this, and I’ll be seeking briefings as well, but I think the short answer to your question on this is that: it’s concerning, of course, when any of this type of activity is found over a country –
CONNELL: Do you want to know if it could have been over Australia? Or do we – I mean, what’s our surveillance like?
CONNELL: Well, you’d have to – I think it’s a question for the Minister. You’d probably want to ask them about that. But I don’t know how much they can talk about it.
CONNELL: We’ll do our best. Yeah, they might even come on this week.
KHALIL: You might. Well, good luck.
CONNELL: Peter Khalil, thank you.