Triple R 102.7 FM – 2022 Election, Ukraine, ICAC, Multiculturalism



SUNDAY 15 MAY 2022

Subjects: 2022 Federal Election, Minor Parties, ICAC

HEADLY GRITTER, HOST: And on the line, another seat close to the heart of Triple R, Wills of course. And the Labor member for Wills is with us right now – the one, the only Mr. Peter Khalil. Peter, welcome back.

PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: Thanks Headly, for having me on. You are in the heart of Wills, aren’t you?

GRITTER: Well, close enough to the heart of Wills, if Wills has a heart. Does Wills have a heart, Peter?

KHALIL: It does, absolutely. It’s a great community, very diverse and multicultural. It’s a really good community, a microcosm of Australia really.

GRITTER: Okay well, firstly, put on your Labor Party hat and tell us. Why Labor over the Liberals?

KHALIL: Well, it’d be easy for me to say, “do people really want three more years of Scott Morrison?” That’s just too easy. But I think the reason that I would put to people is that they have a choice about what kind of government they want to represent them, but also to leave a legacy. I think governments, despite all of the cynicism that we get around politics and government, they still make a huge difference in people’s lives, especially the federal government. Keating said, “you change the government, you change the country”. When I was growing up, I saw what governments could do. They housed in public housing a new migrant family like mine, they provided access to a quality education that allowed me, a houso kid, to study at university, and it was Labor governments that actually did real things, like protect Antarctica, international agreements around the ozone layer and Kakadu, the environment as well. They did things to make Australia better, the world better, and they left a legacy.

And I have to tell you, Scott Morrison, he was actually in the media a couple months ago, and he said he didn’t believe in a legacy. So, what are we here to do? What are we elected to do? To use political power, not just to retain it for its own sake, but to actually use it to make a difference. And that’s what a Labor government will do, and that’s what it’s about. And I think people have that choice. They can see the different futures ahead of them. And then on the policy side of things, of course, we’re talking about real action on climate change. We’re talking about delivering on the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We’re talking about free TAFE and university places being created. We’re talking about healthcare. About our place in the world and foreign policy and a focus on human rights. And that’s really the big difference, we will change the country if we change the government.

GRITTER: Now put on your Wills hat, and more pertinent to you. Why Labor over the Greens?

KHALIL: Look, I actually think that’s a simple answer. People have a choice between Albanese and Morrison, they have a choice between Labor and Liberal. At the local level, they have a choice between a Labor MP in me, and the Greens, basically, because the Libs come in at a distant third. The simple answer, if you want real action on climate change, on refugee policy, on the cost of living, the Labor Party can form government and exercise that power in executive government. They can take these actions. They can implement those policies. And you need executive power to make those changes.

Now, we might agree on a number of things, but it’s not just about shouting from the sidelines. That’s not going to get us anywhere. We actually need to implement these policies – a Labor government needs to implement these policies – which are 82% renewable energy on our grid by 2030 or better, a reduction in emissions of 43% by 2030 or better, cheaper electric cars. I’ve announced two community solar batteries, one for Brunswick and one for Coburg, plugging people into solar power. The policies that we will implement will make a difference. The $20 billion investment in renewable energy infrastructure to transition to renewable energy and to unlock that potential. This can only happen when you’re in government. And that is the big difference.

And I’ve heard this, “don’t you want minor parties to keep you honest?”. I don’t need a minor party to tell me my convictions. We’ve costed our policies, we’ve worked on them, we’ve worked fastidiously on preparing policies as an alternative government. We don’t need other parties to tell us what our vision is on this stuff. This is what we’re going to achieve in government.

GRITTER: Okay. One of the big issues and the big knocks on ScoMo was the lack of an ICAC.


GRITTER: Now, obviously if you get into government, you’ll make the legislation as weak as piss, whereas in opposition you’ll want it to be the guillotine reintroduced. Why don’t you give us your draft legislation before the election that you’ll stick to regardless of whether you get in or you’re in opposition?

KHALIL: I’ve heard this argument made by Morrison during the debates: “Ah, I’ve got 400 pages” or whatever he goes on about. Well, guess what? Your 400 pages are empty in the sense that they don’t have teeth. The way that he’s drafted his bill…

GRITTER: Yeah, correct. Now tell us why.

KHALIL: We have a policy for a federal ICAC with teeth – with the investigative powers and the independence from government to investigate corruption, to investigate that malpractice in a way that is independent from any ministerial intervention or executive intervention. And that is an ICAC with teeth, with the full powers necessary to conduct those investigations.

GRITTER: Well, the devil’s always in the details.

KHALIL: If we form government, you asked the question, if we form government, we will be drafting that legislation from government, with our drafters, as is the way that a government does, through the departments that are necessary to put their input in and the cabinet. And as Albo said just recently, I think last night, there will be legislation passed this year.

GRITTER: Yes but show us what it’s going to be. The devil’s in the details. You’ve got a Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus – it would take him, what, three days to draw up the legislation QC?

KHALIL: You’re giving him a lot of credit.

GRITTER: If you paid him his flat rate instead of his hourly rate, it’d only take him a day and a half.

KHALIL: Well, we’d be bankrupted if we had to pay him.

GRITTER: But that’s it, you know you’re going to weaken it if you get into government. Show us how strong you can make it before you get into government.

KHALIL: There have been very clear statements about how strong our policy is going to be.

GRITTER: Statements are good – give us the detail. Show us how tough it’s going to be.

KHALIL: We have provided the detail Headly because you’re talking about a draft bill.

GRITTER: Yeah, not hard.

KHALIL: Oppositions don’t draft bills. There’re some private member’s bills, that’s certainly true. That happens. But we want to win government, use the machine of government to do a good job in drafting a federal ICAC with teeth, and getting it passed through the parliament.

GRITTER: Okay, I’ll let that slide. We won’t go any further.

KHALIL: Well, I don’t have the resources, and I don’t think Mark Dreyfus has the resources, frankly…

GRITTER: Ah, copy and paste the Victorian one and put in “federal” where it says “state” and there, you got a bill.

KHALIL: Yeah, well. Could do that.

GRITTER: Well, your forte, personally, is foreign policy. You’re at the Centre for International Security Studies, you’re a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington, that’s pretty good, Director of National Security for Iraq’s Coalition Provisional Authority. The Solomons. How serious a problem is it, and should we have outbribed the president?

KHALIL: Well, “no” to the last part of your question, “yes” to the first part. It is very, very serious. And everyone’s going on about, “oh, well, Morrison should have picked up the phone” and all this kind of stuff – and certainly he should have. But the fact is he’s failed over a number of years in a sense of diminishing the relationship with Sogavare and with other Pacific partners, because guess what? Well, people might know this. The way that Morrison does his business on bilateral relations is paternalistic, it’s patronising, it’s arrogant. When he goes on about the “Pacific Family”, that’s insulting. These are nation states. And part of the problem is that they have not been treated with the respect required of a partner in the Pacific. It’s been very paternalistic and patronising, and the fact is that it’s not all entirely the government’s fault; China has become more aggressive and coercive, particularly in the Pacific. But there’s a big contributing factor in the failures in Morrison and Dutton’s foreign policy over the last three years, but certainly the nine years of Coalition government, which has led to the conditions then which made it easier to see the situation we’re in.

Now, we’re not going to do it that way. And by the way, I should say: when you cut development assistance to the tune of $11.8 billion, when you cut bilateral assistance to the Solomons by 28%, these things have consequences, right? And Morrison has failed miserably. And Marise Payne, I’ve called her Marise “M.I.A.” Payne, where is she? You barely see her. These guys have no idea what they’re doing. All they do is run around like tin soldiers, beating their chests, talking a tough game on defence, and they still fail on that as well. They haven’t provided the defence capability that we need.

GRITTER: Okay, we’ll go on to the defence capability that we need. The ridiculously expensive, coming-in-decades submarines. Can you paint any scenario at all where we fire in anger upon the Chinese?

KHALIL: Well mate, what they have announced. They have shredded the relationship with France in the manner of the way they cancelled the contract. They went to the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarines. But the problem with those, they may be, on paper, very good, and we’ve supported a review of those…

GRITTER: Yes, you have. Yes, you have.

KHALIL: I’ll tell you why. On a defence capability front, they’ve got greater stealth and endurance and so on. That’s fine. We’ve set certain conditions for that. No nuclear civilian industry, no nuclear weapons, adhering to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and if those conditions are set, that’s fine. But guess what? Dutton is not going to have any of those boats out on the water until the mid-2040s.

GRITTER: That’s right, I know. And who are we going to fire at? We’re not going to fire it at anybody.

KHALIL: My criticism of the government, as I said earlier, they talk a big game on defence, but they deliver very little. And they’re saying to us now in the next 20 years we’re going to have a defence capability gap in using the old Collins-class submarines. Now, my dad gave me his ‘77 SLR Torana 3300 in 1991. It had already done almost half a million clicks. I loved that car, but I’m still not driving it 30 years later. And we’re going to have boats that are 50 years old.

GRITTER: What’s the total bill for the subs? It keeps jumping, what is it currently?

KHALIL: I actually don’t know, to be honest with you, because it keeps going up and up. So, there is no actual clear indications of the costings because they haven’t actually tended, whether it be with the British or American version.

GRITTER: What’s the minimum it’s going to cost us? How many $billion?

KHALIL: Well, I know that what’s on the table now is a refurb of the current Collins so that they can keep going for 20 years. They’re doing a refurbishment of the current Collins. That costs between $1 billion and $2 billion, it might be even more, frankly, to refurb those Collins-class so they can keep going around in the water for the next 20 years. But that’s what I said to Dutton, you’re basically saying we’re going to re-fit the old Torana so that we can drive it around against Porsches and Maserati’s.

GRITTER: And the new subs are going to cost billions as well. Isn’t there a more urgent need for planes and helicopters to fight bushfires, flood relief, things that we’ll need over the next 20 years that we could have bought one less sub and it would’ve paid for all of it, wouldn’t it?

KHALIL: Well, you could make a comparison between this particular capability and that particular capability. I think the criticism of this government is that, for nine years, they have managed to be so wasteful with our spending, particularly defence spending, but by other forms of spending. The rorts, the waste, the big talk around defence and the very little delivery on defence capability that we need. And you mentioned natural disasters and so on, some of this defence kit is really important for working with our Pacific partners in the region around supporting them when it comes to regional cooperation on natural disasters and support for communities in the Pacific. So, they’ve failed miserably on that, and it’s been a lot of wasted taxpayer dollars.

GRITTER: While we’ve got you, it’s not an election question, but as a foreign policy expert, how do you see the Ukraine situation ending? Will Putin just say, “I’ve had enough”, or will it go on forever, or what do you think at this stage?

KHALIL: I don’t think it will go on forever. I think they’ve obviously been surprised at the courage and the ability of the Ukrainian Defence Forces to stand up to them and push back and push back hard. I was surprised too by the degree of western unity, particularly in support for Ukraine initially. When you see countries like Finland and Sweden and Switzerland, they’ve been neutral for hundreds of years, move out of neutrality in support of Ukraine. This was, I think, a real historical moment that you saw in support of Ukraine. And the courage of the Ukrainians to stand up to the barbaric onslaught. All war is barbaric, but there was particular, grievous war crimes that have been committed by Putin and his troops to stand up to this, and now to actually counter offence and push them back into the east where the battle is ongoing now, has been a remarkable story. And frankly, we’ve supported all the lethal and non-lethal support for Ukraine on this front. Where does it end? It’s a good question, Headly. Putin has boxed himself in. He needs to get some sort of result. He’s now focusing on the Donbass region in the east, to make gains there. He might draw a line down the middle of the country and say, “I’ve taken the east”. I don’t think it’s going to stop there. I don’t think Zelensky will accept half of his country being occupied by Russian forces. So, the war will continue, and the question is, internally, in Russia. Will the oligarchs, the business community, some of the elites, maybe even some elements of the Russian armed forces, start to say, “this guy’s got to go”? It’s hard to tell.

GRITTER: And just a general question of political leaders that have nuclear weapons going off their tree. What does the world do?

KHALIL: Well, that’s the really scary part. So, the way that the European Union and the western countries and some of the Baltic states and everyone, basically agreed. They’re not entering the war in a way that would trigger NATO being involved in the battle against Russia. And the reason for that, the reason they’re drawing a line there and saying, “look, we’ll provide certain equipment and weapons and so on, but we’re not going to engage”, is because if they did, then Putin would have had an excuse, frankly, to use nuclear weapons against some of the European states. And no one wanted to see that escalation occur, especially if he was caught in a corner, which he kind of is now. So, they’ve been very disciplined about that. Even to the extent, by the way, that when there was talk about providing fighter planes to the Ukrainian air force, there was a real debate about, “well, how do you man them? We can’t have Polish fighters.” The Poles wanted to give their MiGs to the Ukrainian air force. You can’t have Polish or NATO-affiliated fighters involved because that would have triggered that response from Putin. So, they’ve been very careful about that.

Does he go there? He’s in a desperate state, but the Europeans, the US, and the UK have been very disciplined in not giving him that excuse.

GRITTER: So, the basic answer is no one knows how it’s going to end? Is that what you’re telling me?

KHALIL: Well, we part-know. We know now that Putin is clearly not getting the quick victory that he thought he was and that his minions around him told him he was probably going to get. They were telling him early on, in the first 48 to 72 hours, that they were going to take Hostomel Airport, that they were going to take Kyiv. That did not happen, and now he’s redrawn his objectives to the eastern part of the country. I at least know this, I don’t think the Ukrainians are going to give up on the rest of their country. They’re going to keep fighting. There’re still fighters in the steelworks in Mariupol. It’s remarkable courage that these people are showing in the midst of this onslaught that they’re facing. So, I don’t see it stopping anytime soon. I think this war’s going to drag on unless and until there’s a move against Putin internally.

GRITTER: And it depends how many of these fellow leaders are supping from the same trough and don’t want that to end. You were first elected in 2016. What surprised you about parliament?

KHALIL: Particularly the issues around the culture. I was shocked and this has come to a head, obviously, with the Jenkins Report, that Parliament, which is a place in Australia where we make laws, did not have a mechanism to address allegations of sexual assault, harassment, bullying, and so on. In fact, every MP and Senator, kind of, was the judge and jury of their own office in some respects, their own little monarch. Now, that’s got to change. And I’m really glad that we’re committed to the 55 recommendations of the Jenkins Report being implemented, because there has to be a third-party legal and HR mechanism to address those issues at arms’ length from the MPs and senators and their offices. Everywhere I worked beforehand, whether it was in the public service or the private sector, you had these in place. It needed to happen in Parliament, so I was surprised about that. The second thing…

GRITTER: Haven’t you noticed since the beginning of time that politicians have exempted themselves from laws that apply to everyone else?

KHALIL: Well, no one is above the law, Headly. No one shouldbe above the law.

GRITTER: Well, I’ll just point this out to you. The first law passed by the Roman Senate was that senators were there for life, and the second law they passed was that senators pay no tax. And nothing’s really changed except that you can’t get away with as much as you used to. Sorry, you were saying: the second point?

KHALIL: Well, certainly we’re not there for life, we’re elected by the people, and we still must pay tax.

GRITTER: It’s not because of choice. If you could.

KHALIL: No, there’s a good balance of power. I know there’s a lot of cynicism around politics and democracy, but it’s not as common around the world anymore. We’re in a period now where the rise of, we were just talking about Putin, authoritarian regimes and autocratic states, dictatorships, they’re on the march. People in Myanmar are fighting and dying for their freedoms against the Tatmadaw, the military dictatorship there, people in Ukraine are fighting and dying for their freedoms. These are things that we sometimes take for granted, and we shouldn’t, because they’re actually quite precious. So, we can joke around about politicians or the system in Australia, but the institutions are pretty resilient, and democracy does work.

GRITTER: Well, we just want them a bit better with an ICAC to cut down on political donations of a questionable nature.

KHALIL: Absolutely.

GRITTER: And all those things to keep you guys in check.

KHALIL: Absolutely.

GRITTER: You should have bodycams so those of us in the electorate can watch what you’re doing, so if you’re taking the day off gone fishing, we can see that.

KHALIL: That’s a good idea. I don’t know about the privacy side of things, but anyway…

GRITTER: Fuck that.

KHALIL: But the second thing that surprised me about parliament was, everyone sees Question Time and the pollies shouting at each other and the circus, but actually the other 12 hours that we’re there working is actually pretty good in the sense that there’s a decent debate on legislation, on bills, there’s good committee work. Yes, there are disagreements, but people work in different parties on committees together trying to get a good outcome for the national interest. There’s a lot of good and reasonable debate, but it’s really not that exciting for TV, right? What’s exciting for TV is people shouting at each other. How boring would it be just me sitting around with the Liberals guy or Nationals guy or the Greens guy.

GRITTER: We just want to make sure that you’re not slacking off, that’s all.

KHALIL: Look, people work really hard in Parliament.

GRITTER: But you don’t have to, that’s the point. You can do nothing.

KHALIL: Well, that’s not true either. You do get caught out if you do nothing.

GRITTER: You get caught out eventually. You were Victorian Multicultural Commissioner and an Executive Director at SBS. That’s basically the same thing, isn’t it?

KHALIL: No, not at all. Well, both roles I played, and they were great roles, are very committed to the importance of multiculturalism to our state but also to Australia. It’s not about the food, and the dance, and the dress. I hate the politicians that run around cracking on about the kebabs and the souvlaki or whatever. That is not multiculturalism, okay? Multiculturalism is about plurality. The diversity in our community where people come from different parts of the world, we’re all migrants to this country unless you’re a first Australian. And the contribution that’s made is the contribution of the values, the work ethic, the culture, the language, the perspective that has added to our society and made it a better society.

GRITTER: Made it the fine tapestry that it is today.

KHALIL:  Ah, you’re a poet!

GRITTER: Thank you. Peter Khalil, the best of luck for next Saturday and we’ll be watching with interest what happens in the seat of Wills. Good on ya, Peter.

KHALIL: Thanks, Headly. Take care, mate. Bye.