ABC NEWS AFTERNOON BRIEFING
MONDAY, 30 NOVEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: China’s offensive tweet; military awards.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time now for my political panel and in Canberra Parliament is sitting again, can you believe it? Liberal MP Katie Allen and Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones, welcome to both of you.
STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good to be with you.
KATIE ALLEN, LIBERAL MP: Good afternoon PK.
KARVELAS: Katie Allen, does it look like China has an appetite to repair the relationship with Australia after this tweet?
ALLEN: Look, I think there is some clearly quite aggressive moves that are taking place. And listening to Professor Clive Hamilton before, I would concur we've been taken a bit of the example in the Asia Pacific. We’re seen as an honest broker, we're seen as a middle order power. And I think that the world will come to us to see that we stand by our values, that we continue to be Australia. I think the Prime Minister has said that the commentary coming from those fourteen points that the Chinese Government said about Australia, in its complaints about Australia, really related to issues about what we stand for. Things like we weren't controlling our media, and free media is an absolute tenet of our Australian democratic process but also of who we are as Australians. That likewise with freedom for an MP to have an opinion. And so I think these are difficult times at the moment but there's a lot of work going on behind the scenes with regards to, you know, re-realignment I would say. I sit on a trade-investment growth committee which is doing inquiry at this very moment into diversification of trading partners. I know the Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham has been working very hard with free trade agreements. And we know that as the US is going through a difficult time looking internally with the presidential elections that there is a readjustment going on around the world. And you can expect that some countries make might take advantage of that transitional period in the global world order.
KARVELAS: Stephen, should Australia be bracing for more economic sanctions from China given the dramatic escalation we've seen today?
JONES: Well, I hope not. But here's a couple of things that we've got to do. Firstly, what we don't need to be engaged in is a continual escalation of the tensions. I think right now cool heads are needed. The tweet that was put out was atrocious. It was juvenile. It was atrocious. It was deliberately provocative. But I don't think we need to be escalating tensions right now.
Couple of things that I think we need to be looking at over the long term, which probably amount to a reversal of the position that the Morrison Government, before that the Turnbull and Abbott Government, have adopted over the last seven years. First, diversifying our trade. Second ensuring that we have more sustainability and more options locally within our local manufacturing capacity in our local industry. But thirdly, I think we need to revisit our approach to our relationship with international institutions. It's just 12 months ago that the Prime Minister himself was talking about the United Nations and other international fora as aspects of “negative globalism.” I think now more than ever Australia needs to revisit some of those views, to rethink some of those views. Now more than ever it's important that Australia engage multilaterally with other countries, middle power countries. We have a lot in common. We need to ensure we’re reaching out to those countries with whom we have shared values, shared economic relationships, to ensure that we move forward on these challenges together.
KARVELAS: Katie Allen, it's a bit of a dilemma for the Government. What happens if we actually don't get an apology from Beijing? We heard from Clive Hamilton, he thinks it's incredibly unlikely we'll get an apology. What do we do then?
ALLEN: Well, I think the first thing is this is an incredibly offensive tweet, but it is a tweet after all. And the most important thing is that, do we see it as something that’s provocative? I think it's very important that we say, this is behaviour that we don't agree with. We don't support. We were offended by it. This, you know, sort of behaviour to actually make information up, fake news, is a really bad direction to be going in. So I think first thing to say is that we don't agree with that sort of behaviour and we certainly wouldn't stoop to that sort of behaviour ourselves. So we need to call it out. But there are other things that we are doing and will continue to do. We’ll continue to reach out to China to build mutual respect and continue our relationship. They are our largest trading partner and will be in the foreseeable future, the short-term difficulties that we are having apart. But we're also developing lots of other trade agreements and we’re also developing lots of other arrangements, there’s the Five Eyes, there’s the quad quote agreement. There's lots of different bilateral and multilateral relationships that have been built, will continue to be built and are growing. And I think that we are seeing an adjustment around the world as things change. In the post-covid opportunities that arise is going to be a forward leaning aspect of Governments taking opportunities as they arrive economically around the world. We want to strategy be part of that.
KARVELAS: Stephen Jones the Director of Human Rights Watch in Australia has said that the tweet is breathtakingly, gobsmackingly hypocritical, given China's human rights record. Do you think that’s right?
JONES: Look I think the tweet was offensive …
KARVELAS: … but on this issue …
JONES: … I’ll use my own words, not somebody else’s. I think it was offensive. And I will make this point; the reason that Australians and the world know about the alleged crimes that have gone on in Afghanistan is that an investigation occurred, a report was compiled and then published not only to Australians but to the world. There's not many other countries around the world that can say when we've done something wrong, we’ll investigate it, we’ll own it and we’ll put in place a process for dealing with that in ensuring justice follows. Not many other countries in the world that can say that so before other countries in the world start throwing stones at us, maybe they might look to the way they handle their own problems and their own human rights issues and instances that might occur within their own Armed Forces. I'm proud of the way that Australia's forces have dealt with the investigation and the review and the fact that we have made it public. I don't agree with all the steps that have been taken subsequently to that. But I think we can be proud of the way that we've dealt with this as a country.
KARVELAS: Okay, I want to go to the way we're handling it as a country and start with you on this Katie Allen. Samantha Maiden from news.com.au is reporting that the Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell will back down on plans to strip 3,000 soldiers of honours they received for service in Afghanistan. Is that a result of political pressure?
ALLEN: Well, I think the best way to look at this situation is that there are you know shocking allegations that have really shocked Australian public. I think they've shocked members of Parliament, of what has potentially happened in Afghanistan. And I think the Government and the ADF are very keen for there to be careful steps around investigating this and criminal proceedings may ensure. There is a second issue about a culture that may be surrounding why these activities may or may not have occurred. And I think the cultural aspect of this is something that has resulted in what might be seen as swift steps with regards to removal of those awards. And I think that the general public can make the distinction between a few people with their criminal potential criminal allegations and the pride that we feel towards people who putting their lives on the front line to keep us safe in Australia. So I think Australians are very proud of the ADF in general.
KARVELAS: So you think the honours should be kept, that’s what you’re saying?
ALLEN: Well I think that there is a case for looking carefully at whether it’s the culture that has resulted in this outcome. And therefore what are the measures that would therefore reflect that the culture is wrong and whether we should reward or not reward the culture may have resulted in this bad behaviour. I don’t think in my mind that I’m clear about that. So I would not be removing these awards at this point in time because I think it’s too early until we distinguish between the cultural issues and the criminal proceedings.
KARVELAS: Sure but the Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell said they would be removed. Now they're not. What are we to make of that?
ALLEN: I don’t think he said they're not, he's just going to pause on it and he's thinking about it. So I think to be fair there is a very strong view by general public that they support heroes that have done extraordinary things on the path of Australia. And we've talking about in one instance some very targeted things that have been, you know allegations that are quite serious and confronting for the Australian public. And on the other part, there are people who've done some extraordinary things. And so to remove all of the awards from a general group of people who have been doing the best for Australia because of a few people who've done the wrong thing, I think Australian see there is a distinction between those two. So I think there needs to be more understanding of the culture, the pervasiveness of the culture, and whether that pertains to the full 3,000 people would have their awards removed or whether it's a specific issue. And I think that yet has to be clarified and there is a special office that's being set up to look at the allegations, but also to look at the accountability around this these things. There’s accountability and there’s culpability. I think we need to look at these two things separately at the moment.
KARVELAS: Okay, what do you think about that Stephen? Because that was what we originally heard, that they would be stripped. There's a pause on it as Katie Allen says. Is that a result of political pressure?
JONES: Point number one, I don't support collective punishment for the sins of individuals. If there have been individual crimes committed, then of course medal citations, they should be removed in accordance with normal military practice. But I don't think you can visit the sins, the crimes, of are relatively few, I think less than 20 out of several thousand serving military personnel. We shouldn't be visiting a collective punishment upon all of them. That's the first thing. The second thing, I think all Australians will be incredibly disappointed if they see the top brass handing out this punishment and don't cop any of themselves. It beggars belief that people up the chain didn't know what was going on. And it beggars belief, in fact it'll be absolutely incredulous, if they don't cop some of the punishment themselves. Some of the top brass are going to have to fall on their swords.