SUBJECTS: Andrew Hastie comments on China, Trust in politicians, Beatles album anniversary
DEBORAH KNIGHT: They are out biggest trading partner, but growing tensions with China have been made worse by Liberal backbencher, Andrew Hastie, who also heads up Parliament’s powerful Joint Intelligence Committee. He compared the world’s response to the rise of China to that of Nazi Germany, triggering a swift and blunt response form the Chinese Embassy.
Here to discuss is Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, and Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources, Joel Fitzgibbon. Fellas, good morning to you.
JOEL FITZGIBBON: Good morning, Deb.
KNIGHT: Now, China has hit back at the comments that Andrew Hastie made saying that he’s adopting a Cold War mentality – how damaging, Peter, is this to what is already a tense relationship that we have with China?
PETER DUTTON: Look, it’s not damaging, but we need to be realistic about the fact that we have a very important relationship with China in a trading sense. There’s a lot that we do as well in the intelligence and law enforcement space to stop and to disrupt drugs coming into our country, for example. We do a lot of work with them and we’re very appreciative of that relationship.
KNIGHT: But China’s embassy says comments like this risks eroding trust.
DUTTON: Well, the second point I was going to make, though, is that we need to exert our sovereign right as a nation, as China does, as the United States, as New Zealand – any other country would. We need to recognise the fact there is a lot happening in the cyber space at the moment. Foreign interference is at an all-time high in our country.
So, we need to work through the realities of relationships with different players, and I think Andrew Hastie – who served our country in uniform – deserves respect particularly as the Chair of the Committee, but he’s a backbencher he can use more colourful language than we can.
KNIGHT: He’s a powerful backbencher, him being Chair of that committee.
DUTTON: Well, and he like Labor members that I’ve spoken to on the Committee, are concerned about some of the foreign interference issues in our country. Understandably, I think that’s shared on both sides of the House, and we want to do what’s right in our best interests – in our nation’s best interests – and that’s what we’ll do.
KNIGHT: And Joel is he right? Should we have concern about the rise and influence of China?
JOEL FITZGIBBON: Now, Deb, it’s a very courageous assertion that by Peter that this is not damaging. Of course it is, and there were two mistakes made yesterday. First, by Andrew Hastie, I think that his comments were not in the national interest, and the second by the Prime Minister who refused to repudiate what Andrew Hastie had to say.
It’s time for, Peter, Scott Morrison - and Peter, indeed – to show some leadership and to pull Andrew Hastie into line, and I’d like to see the Prime Minister confirm or otherwise whether he had prior knowledge of the publication of that piece, or indeed, whether he somehow – or his office – authorised the publication of that piece.
KNIGHT: And that’s fair enough. If you’ve got the Chinese Embassy intervening here, very swiftly and very bluntly, surely we need to be more steadfast and be clearer in pulling Andrew Hastie into line if that’s the way you want to go here.
DUTTON: Well look, we’ve been very clear about our interests. An important trading nation, but, as I said – foreign interference in our country is at an all-time high. Now, Australians don’t see it day-to-day, but I can tell you that our agencies – including ASIO, the Federal Police – are working on matters all the time.
We’re worried about influence on university campuses, and we’re worried about theft of IP, we’re worried about influencing people within an amazing community, particularly, within the Chinese community here in Australia as well. So, I think we need to be realistic about what is in front of us, and we’ll do that.
As I said, the Prime Minister, myself, all of us will act in our country’s best interests. Joel’s got an opposition role to play and that was Joel being angry before by the way. He’s – he doesn’t deal with it particularly well.
FITZGIBBON: I’ve very good at that Deb.
KNIGHT: He says with a smile.
FITZGIBBON: I’m really good at that from time to time.
KNIGHT: Well, we welcome that from our politicians.
FITZGIBBON: Deb, can I just say – no one’s asserting that we don’t have international challenges or the balance between our friendship with the US and our trading relationship with China isn’t difficult. What we’re talking here about is language, and the provocative language being used by Andrew Hastie is unhelpful. There is a thing called statecraft, diplomacy, and we do need to balance these challenges and this is not the way to do it.
KNIGHT: Okay, okay. Now, banking Royal Commissioner, Kenneth Hayne, he has hit out at the state of Australian politics in our country saying trust in government and in private institutions has been damaged or destroyed. He’s very strong on saying the public simply doesn’t trust politicians, worried that they’re swayed by vested interests – something’s got to change here, Joel, doesn’t it?
FITZGIBBON: Yes, I think Kenneth Hayne has offered us a lifeline, and we should listen. There is an enormous distrust in our institutions, not just here but across the globe, and, you know, I’ve been in the Parliament for 23 years – Peter for almost as long – and I think he’d agree, we’ve seen a deterioration in the standard, in the language, in the tactics, in the attitude…
KNIGHT: So if there’s agreeance on that, why doesn’t anything change?
DUTTON: Well, I have a slightly different view on this, Deb. I think the advent of social media for all of us, I mean there’s more scrutiny on, you know, TV celebrities or public figures otherwise, and it is such a fast moving media cycle that people want the splash and they want the colour and movement, and in a way politicians have become free content for the 24/7 news cycle.
So, I think we’ve got to get the balance right. If you look back at the debates in the 60s and 70s, they were just as colourful. There were characters who wouldn’t survive in the modern age given the scrutiny of public…
KNIGHT: But we also had policy change, and if you look back on the Hawke years, for example, there were huge changes in policy brought about during that era.
DUTTON: But there was change, there was change then because John Howard took Opposition supported that change through the Senate, and at the moment we’ve got – and we have had for a number of years – a balance of power since the Democrats imploded, and that’s changed the dynamic I think for both sides within the Parliament. The Labor Party’s more aligned now with the Greens. We can’t get legislation through without the support of the Labor Party.
So, it provides a more opportunistic environment, but look I don’t think we should undersell – we’re the best democracy in the world. We’ve got low unemployment, low interest rates; strong economic growth. We want to support families, business et cetera. I think we’ve actually drawn a line at the last election under some of the turbulence of recent years and I actually think we’re on the horizon of a much more stable environment.
KNIGHT: Now look…
FITZGIBBON: Well, we don’t have strong economic growth and we’ve got two million Australians either out of work or looking for work, so I can’t let that pass by, Deb, without comment. But, a bit of colour and movement is okay, but they also want leadership and policy, and there’s a huge policy vacuum at the moment and very little leadership, Peter.
KNIGHT: Well, speaking of colour and movement let’s bring some shall we? Can you guys come with me? It is the 50 year anniversary today of the famous Beatles Abbey Road album cover. So, you’re good sports we’re going to try and recreate it here on our big screen. We’ve got it here, I know Joel you’ve been here and done this with your family at the Abbey Road studios.
FITZGIBBON: I have, yes.
DUTTON: That was sober as well.
FITZGIBBON: It was, indeed.
KNIGHT: Alright, so you guys stand in here, we’ll face this direction. We’re going to have it reflected here, behind us. Here we go. Here we go. One foot forward. What’s your favourite Beatles’ song, Peter? As we do this.
DUTTON: Let It Be, I think.
KNIGHT: Let It Be. Joel?
FITZGIBBON: I Feel Fine. You don’t want me to sing it.
KNIGHT: I Feel Fine. Do you feel fine?
FITZGIBBON: I do, indeed.
DUTTON: No singing. No dancing.
KNIGHT: Alright, here we go. The Beatles album cover recreated with our pollies on Friday, what more could you want?
DUTTON: Is that it?
KNIGHT: It’s working.
DUTTON: It feels a little stilted.
KNIGHT: You’re going to dance for us now, Pete?
DUTTON: There’s no dancing.
KNIGHT: Okay, no dancing.
FITZGIBBON: No singing, no singing…
KNIGHT: Well done. We’ll walk off as we light the Abbey Road and we’ll head on over to the news for you, Tom.