Transcript - ABC Afternoon Briefing - December 2019

02 December 2019


SUBJECTS: China;Angus Taylor.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I'm joined by my panel this afternoon. Shadow Minister for Defence Industry Matt Keogh and Nationals Barnaby Joyce will be joining us shortly. Parliaments last week its crazy, it's been crazy for the last week so let's see if we can get Barnaby. I will start with Matt.

Australia's domestic spy agency will lead a new task force aimed at cracking down on the threat of foreign interference. Are you comfortable with this announcement? You think this is satisfactory to try and deal with the concerns that security agencies have been raising for some time now?

MATT KEOGH MP: Weve been saying for some time that the government is adequately resourcing all of our security agencies, including ASIO to make sure they are best positioned to deal with foreign interference in Australia. We've obviously seen some very disturbing reports over the last week or so down that line, so we welcome the government making sure it is paying attention and is now contributing additional funding to make sure there is a well-coordinated effort across our security agencies in this regard.

KARVELAS: Matt, the China Matters tour which you were supposed to attend, you were all going on this study tour for those viewers who don't know. It was cancelled, Andrew Hastie and James Paterson had their visas denied. But you didn't, were you surprised that you got your Visa denied and what did you make of the way that unfolded?

KEOGH: I think it is really unfortunate that the trip couldn't go ahead, because trips like this of this nature are actually very important for us in strengthening our relationship with China. The Chinese obviously took offence against what has been said in public by the two Liberal MP's that were going to be participating in the trip and that has meant the trip has to be called off. It is very unfortunate but the key thing is that we make sure that we work in a bipartisan way across Parliament in strengthening the relationship with China and better understanding China. The reality is we really have an extensive relationship at an economic level. When you look at the amount of trade that we are conducting with China, obviously with the resources industry but also in areas like dairy. It is a terribly important relationship economically, so we also need to be able to build into that relationship, the capacity to make sure that we do make our views on human rights felt and that we are standing up for our own sovereignty here in Australia. What we been saying to the government for some time now is that we do want to see them making sure that the entire Parliament, across parties is properly briefed and understands that relationship. There is a bit of a lack of overarching guiding philosophy of the relationship with China. We need government to really formulate that. We need to be driving towards that outcome, a guiding philosophy with China. We can't just be about the short term, the next term of parliament. It really needs to be a 10, 20 year philosophy and policy around how do we drive and understand and engage in this relationship, not just economically but across all facets of the relationship.

KARVELAS: Andrew Hastie and James Paterson stand by their comments on China. Do you think they should stand by those comments and what did you make of Beijing's very harsh response of those comments?

KEOGH: I don't think anyone in Australian politics fundamentally disagrees with the issue and concern about what is happening in relation to human rights and the treatment of certain minorities in China. That is a concerning issue. I think what is also concerning is that Beijing decided not to issue visas to enable a trip to go ahead which would enable better understanding by Australian members of Parliament of how China operates and what is going on in China because fundamentally, it is a very important relationship. These sorts of trips, it is important they go ahead. Sometimes it is better if these things are not bandied about across all media formats day in and day out as a debate, if we want to enable these important dialogues to occur in a constructive way. What I think is important now moving forward, it is pretty clear that Australia is concerned about human rights issues. It is concerned about making sure that we have a strong and vibrant democracy that does not involve foreign interference from any country but we also understand that we have a very strong and tight economic relationship with China and we want to see a building of that relationship with mutual understanding going forward.

KARVELAS: Barnaby Joyce, what have you made about the revelations of the self-confessed Chinese spy and a separate man who claims that he was offered at $1 million by a suspected Chinese spy to infiltrate the Australian Parliament?

BARNABY JOYCE MP: I will take that on two levels... Im not in a position to confirm or deny do they have access to the information as to make a worthwhile contribution about whether they were a spy or not or to what level they were a spy. What I can say is that as a statement of fact that China is pushing forward and weve seen that in the South China Sea and the problem we have is that we know that if we push back there are consequences and we have to work with that dilemma. It is a new world order and it is stepping away from the rules -based order we've had in the past. Pax Americana, no matter what people think about the United States, is some ways fading and we have a new superpower on the block and they are an autocracy and it is a 1-party rule and is a 1-person party rule. What I can say is that there is definitely, whether it is from China or the Chinese government, hacking into computers and trying to infiltrate. What I can definitely say is that there are 1 million Uighur people incarcerated and what I can definitely say is that we have to acknowledge there is a different environment that China is building. They are building a third aircraft carrier. They are projecting power and doing it in a formidable way. What I can say is that the allegation that these two people were embroiled in some way, shape or form with the Chinese government, would not be surprising if it was true because what I can also say is that the Chinese government's involvement in our tertiary institutions is becoming vastly more prevalent. We always need to be on the balls of our toes and we should see potential threats as serious issues and they should be investigated thoroughly and I think what is happening in this case.

KARVELAS: Nick Xenophon spoke to us earlier, he was going to take up the role of strategic counsel representing Huawei. He describes them as an underdog that they have been treated unfairly and lots of lies and exaggerations have been made up about them. What do you make of his characterisation of Huawei?

JOYCE: I remember in the past working, working with then Senator Nick Xenophon stop the takeover of Rio by Chinalco. Against apparently all of the benevolent forces that thought it would be a great idea to have a Chinese state owned entity as a major owner of the resources in the ground in Australia. We were successful at that, not by ourselves but with the efforts of others and ultimately the bondholders at Saint James Square in London. I am perplexed by the change in approach of Nick. He's a good bloke but I do start to wonder if that has to do more with the commercial gain of being a well-paid lobbyist as opposed to, his deeply held beliefs, that I know he carried before. It is another statement of fact that no company in China just operates independently of the government. They have a program of controlling, authorisation of how you invest overseas. They have a very strict program of how you invest in China. The direction of the 1-party state is immensely prominent. It is explicit in how organisations to work. To say anything else would be ridiculous. You have the employees of Huawei in Australia being shareholders of Huawei. They can only be Chinese. Even then they have to listen to the edicts from the Chinese government on what they can do. Therefore we have huge question marks about what the alternative purposes another organisation like that might have. It is instrumental in how you might defend a nation, its communications network.

KARVELAS: OK just briefly from both of you, the saga on Angus Taylor is in its second week, very briefly from you Barnaby Joyce before getting to Matt - should the transcript between the Prime Minister and the New South Wales Police Commissioner be released just to settle this, given this has now gone into its second week of questioning?

JOYCE: There is a thing in law, where they say you shouldn't involve yourself with trivialities. This is really a triviality. I don't know who made the mistake. Someone has made a mistake and reported a number that was incorrect, and that is where it should stop, now this thing has been dragged on and on, it is turning into a melodrama well beyond what it involves.

KARVELAS: Can they settle the melodrama by releasing the transcript.

JOYCE: A good point was made by the Attorney General, Christian Porter in Question Time today - it would be a lot more serious if the Shadow Attorney General, Mr Dreyfus, hadnt used this as a tool continuously where he has had eight referrals to police, none of them have gone anywhere. That's why we can't take it that seriously. That's why I don't think we should be eating cut glass to make Mr Dreyfus happy. Most of his schemes, eight out of eight, have been botched.

KARVELASK: OK Matt, Ill put that to you eight out of eight have been botched according to Barnaby Joyce, referrals that went nowhere, is this just another one of those?

KEOGH: Barnaby referred to melodrama, and that it is, every time we deal with an issue in respect of Angus Taylor and the Prime Minister's handling of the issue, instead of giving a straight answer in terms of what that issue was and bang it on the head, it turns into another issue. Your question is should the Prime Minister produce the transcript? The Attorney General says it was a short call, its inconsequential. Well, just produce the transcript. I dont think they appreciate how much fuel they are pouring on their own fire. It is a simple request. Why they can't fulfil it is beyond anyone. It has turned what has already started as an issue with Angus Taylor, now becomes an issue involving the Prime Minister and the Attorney General. Instead of answering the request and handing over the transcript, if there is nothing to see, we dont understand why they are creating such a drama and pointing fingers in every other direction instead of dealing with the issue head-on.

KARVELAS: So Matt, will Labor continue to pursue Angus Taylor if hes cleared by New South Wales police is dropped - If they drop the inquiry?

KEOGH: It will be interesting to see where this inquiry goes, why the government is so content trying to point away and distract and create drama where there shouldn't be drama. They could just answer some questions directly, but between Angus Taylor, the Prime Minister and Attorney General in Question Time none could answer direct questions.

JOYCE: With that Matt, the Prime Minister did tell you all told the Labor Party, and the Parliament, and the chamber, he would call...(inaudible)

KEOGH: Why doesn't he just produce the transcript? (inaudible)

JOYCE: There wasn't one issue, you didn't bring up one issue, not one person raised their voice at that.

KEOGH: Yes we did, myself and my fellow frontbenchers did. As soon as the Prime Minister said he would call the Police Commissioner that raised hackles immediately.

JOYCE: Stand in your seat or go to the dispatch box and put forward your issue because we can get that on the Hansard. We can't get he raised his eyebrows on the Hansard.

KARVELAS: We will leave all eyebrows now because we have run out of time. Thank you, to both of you, for coming in.
I'm always raising my eyebrows at the end of a panel.
That is the National 's MP Barnaby Joyce in the Shadow Minister for Defence Industry, Matt Keogh.