National Security

DJI drones linked to Chinese military companies a 'national security' and 'moral' concern | Transcript | James Paterson on Sharri

April 17, 2023

Monday 17 April 2023 

Interview with Sharri Markson, Sharri 

Subjects: Audit of DJI drones in the Australian Defence Force, State Premiers’ official trips to China, Media reporting on the Voice 


SHARRI MARKSON: The person responsible for uncovering all of this is Opposition spokesman for Cyber Security Senator James Paterson, and he joins me now. James, welcome to the show.

Is there any justification here for the ADF buying drones, using drones, that even the Pentagon says it's too risky because of the company's links to the People's Liberation Army?


JAMES PATERSON: Sharri, thank you for having me. I can't think of a good justification. Certainly, after October last year when the Pentagon made that decision to blacklist the drones on the basis that the company that makes them, DJI, was secretly controlled or influenced by the People's Liberation Army of the Chinese Communist Party, and after the US government also sanctioned DJI for their involvement in the oppression of Uighur people in Xinjiang. You've got both a national security concern here and a moral concern here, which I think combine to be a very powerful argument. At least since October last year when it was evident that our closest ally was deeply concerned about both of those things, I think it should have been under review from the Australian Defence Force.


SHARRI: Well, thanks to your efforts raising this, you submitted numerous questions to the government, the Labor government, Richard Marles has now said he is going to be conducting an audit - an audit of technology, including these drones that are linked to Chinese military companies. I mean, this comes after you raised concerns about TikTok. The government's had to act. You raised concerns about the Chinese cameras that were in 88 politicians’ offices. You know, the government is very flat-footed here. Obviously, this is the Coalition government's original fault, I suppose you could say. But are we now just playing a game of espionage whack-a-mole?


PATERSON: You're right, Sharri. It was three weeks ago that I submitted dozens of questions on notice to every government department and agency, including the Defence Department, about whether or not they had these drones. And in response to that, the Defence Minister's office has announced that they are conducting an audit into it. I give them credit for responding more quickly this time than they had previous times. I mean, it took me six months to build the case on the Hikvision and Dahua cameras. It took me nearly a year to build the case on the social media app TikTok. But this time they've responded more quickly, although still in response to my questions. And it is appropriate.


Now to the question of whack-a-mole. Look, I think it is appropriate when we identify these real risks that we act on them, that we single them out and we address them when they're real risks. But we're also clearly going to need at some point a more comprehensive response to this. We've recognised in this country since at least 2018 when Huawei was banned from our 5G network by the previous government, that Chinese technology companies propose a systemic risk to our country - a national security risk. And that is because they are beholden to an authoritarian government which is trying to economically coerce Australia and covertly intervene in our democracy and undermine it. So, we can't treat these companies just like any other company, and we have to have an assessment of the risks that they pose to our national security in other areas.


SHARRI: Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, it's not a case of Chinese companies operating in Australia. Of course, Australia would welcome that, but it's in these highly sensitive defence areas.


James, I just want to turn to another topic. We've seen that Victorian Premier Dan Andrews obviously travelled to China without journalists. The Premier of WA Mark McGowan is now also going to China for an official visit. Look, what is your view on these visits?


PATERSON: It can be appropriate for a subnational leader or a state premier, for example, to visit other countries internationally to promote trade and commerce between their state and Australia. That can be appropriate. However, it's important that when they do so, that they do so in complete transparency. And Premier Andrews failed that test when he didn't include any journalists as part of his delegation and gave frankly, surface level information about the meetings that he had. There was no transparency. That was worrying.


It's also concerning that both Premier Andrews and Premier McGowan have refused to raise on behalf of the Australian people, the Australian government, the cases of Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun, the two arbitrarily, wrongfully detained Australians. Every Australian who goes to China, who has the opportunity to meet with influential people in the Chinese government, whether they're a business leader, a political leader or a premier, should be raising the case of these Australians and it is not good enough to say to them that that's someone else's problem, particularly to the family of those Australians who are deeply distressed about the years of incarceration and separation from their loved ones.


SHARRI: I completely agree with you. I couldn't feel more strongly about this. I mean, we saw Cheng Lei's husband, Nick Coyle, begged, you know, he wrote to Daniel Andrews' office saying, please raise the case. You know, Cheng Lei is Victorian. Her two children haven't seen her for two and a half years. It's outrageous that he got the access that he did and didn't raise the issue. It's just extraordinary. 


Look, I want to turn to the Voice. The referendum is later this year. We've seen a report in The Australian today by Nick Tabakoff that Jacinta Price has expressed reservations about going on ABC host Patricia Karvelas' program. Doyou think that too many journalists, particularly at the national broadcaster, are expressing personal opinions about the Voice?


PATERSON: I can't blame Jacinta Price for feeling that way because on the evidence available to me, listening to her interviews and interviews conducted of other people,especially supporters of the Voice, that the tone couldn't be any more different. And of all people, Lidia Thorpe was one of those to call this out. She's an opponent of the Voice from the left, and she pointed out that her treatment was much more hostile than treatment of Voice supporters. And I think Jacinta Price is making an equally compelling argument here. It seems that if you're sceptical about the Voice, about its constitutional risks and implications, about whether or not it's going to have a tangible effect on the ground to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians, then you get one sort of treatment on the ABC and you get a very different sort of treatment, a very friendly treatment if you are a Voice advocate, including by the way, if you're Noel Pearson and you want to use the platform to attack your political opponents and smear them with mud. I think the ABC, like all broadcasters, but particularly as a taxpayer funded broadcaster, has an obligation to be utterly impartial and utterly fair in relation to this upcoming referendum. And journalists who clearly have their own very strongly held views on this are going to have to put that to one side while they're in their professional duties as journalists and treat people equally when they're appearing on their program.


SHARRI: Yeah. All right. Senator James Paterson, thank you so much for your time this evening.

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