National Security

Transcript | ABC RN Breakfast | 12 April 2024

April 12, 2024

Friday 12 April 2024
Interview on ABC RN Breakfast
Subjects: Israel-Gaza, anti-Semitism in Australia, Security risk with TikTok

SALLY SARA: James Paterson is the Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security. James Paterson, welcome back to RN breakfast.

JAMES PATERSON: Good morning. Sally.

SARA: Let's start with some of Peter Dutton's, comments this week. He made some links between a pro-Palestinian protest at the Sydney Opera House on October 9th and the 1996 massacre at Port Arthur. Do you support the comments that he made?

PATERSON: I do. He distinguished it in one respect and compared it in two respects. He distinguished it by saying of course there were no deaths at that protest, at the Sydney Opera House. But he said it was comparable on its social impact on Australia. And he also pointed out that after the Port Arthur massacre, John Howard, as Prime Minister, rallied the country in a decisive wave action against gun violence. And he pointed out that our Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, has failed to do the same in response to a crisis of anti-Semitism. Now, if you talk to Jewish Australians, they say they have never felt less safe in Australia in our history than they do right now. And that protest at the Sydney Opera House really crystallised that fear for them. I've talked to some people in the Melbourne Jewish community who said they are seriously considering moving to Israel where they think they might feel safer, even though it's right now under attack from three different terrorist organisations, than they do walking around the streets in Melbourne and Sydney. And I think that's a tragic thing. It demands more leadership that we just haven't seen from our Prime Minister.

SARA: Do you understand that why there's been a reaction to these comments? We've even seen concerns from the local member of Parliament down in that part of Tasmania, that these comparisons have been regarded as offensive. Do you understand why people might react in that way?

PATERSON: Well, I'd encourage people to read the speech because it was very carefully worded and very sincerely expressed. And Peter, like all of us, has been seized by this awful crisis of anti-Semitism in this country. I never thought we'd see the scenes that we've seen in this country. I mean, in Melbourne, there was a synagogue that was closed during Friday night Shabbat prayers on the advice of police because there was a protest happening outside, a pro-Palestinian protest. And police did not believe that the people inside the synagogue were safe. Now, if you told me five years ago that that would be happening in Australia, I wouldn't have believed you. But that's what's happening right now and I think it demands a stronger response. And that's the point that Peter was making.

SARA: Your Liberal colleague Bridget Archer, who represents a seat in Tasmania, says the comparison was incredibly disrespectful to the victims and survivors at Port Arthur. Does she have a point?

PATERSON: Well, that's Bridget's view. It's not one that I share. I think Peter was expressing a very well-founded concern, which is widely held in the community and particularly in the Jewish community, that we haven't done enough to respond to this crisis of anti-Semitism. It is unprecedented. I mean, bodies that track this data, like the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, stated in the months after October 7 we saw 700 to 800% increase in anti-Semitic incidents. Now, in years of tracking that data, the worst month you might have had a 10 or 15% increase over a previous month. To have 700 or 800% increase is a crisis, and the Prime Minister hasn't used the status of his office or the levers of the federal government to lead in response to that. And to combat that, he hasn't shown the moral clarity required to demonstrate that this is totally unacceptable in Australia. It goes completely against our multicultural, pluralistic ethos, and it has to stop.

SARA: Why compare that to a situation of a mass shooting, which, as far as we know, didn't have that kind of political agenda?

PATERSON: Well, I wouldn't want to comment on the agenda of the attacks there, but what I would say is that Prime Minister Howard at the time rallied the country. He understood the significance of the moment. He seized it and he acted on it. And he led the country in a very non-partisan and very bipartisan way, legislated to deal with the issue of gun violence. What has our Prime Minister done in response to this? It's my understanding that the government will soon announce some special envoys for anti-Semitism and Islamophobia that was first proposed by the Jewish community to the government in December last year. Why has it taken five months to arrange special envoys to deal with this issue? In the meantime, we have had hundreds of incidents of anti-Semitic hate and anti-Islamic hate in our community. It's been allowed to fester, it's been allowed to grow, and it shouldn't have happened in our country.

SARA: Australian intelligence and security chief Mike Burgess said after the protest in October that words matter. Do they?

PATERSON: Of course I do. I agree with Mike Burgess. All of us, should be careful about the words we're using, including the Prime Minister, who unfortunately, in my view, I think has made a false equivalence between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. They're both equally morally repugnant. That's clear, but one of them is much more prevalent. The data kept by Victoria Police and published by Victoria Police shows that in the three months after October 7th, there's been almost ten times the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Victoria than Islamophobic incidents. It's very clear that this is a much more widespread thing.

SARA: Then why not talk about that issue on its own merits, rather than comparing it to a mass shooting from a different time and context.

PATERSON: Or to take a different approach, why not talk about anti-Semitism on its own merits without always comparing it to Islamophobia, when we know that it's a far more prevalent problem in our community? There have been no, thankfully, there has been no mosques shut during Friday night prayers, brought on by police advice due to safety concerns, we haven't seen any anti-Islamic rallies like the one at the Sydney Opera House. I mean, let's remember these were rallies that took place just days after the 7th of October. Well before the IDF had responded in Gaza. I understand the concern many Australians have about the humanitarian toll in Gaza, but there was no humanitarian toll on in Gaza when those protests took place. It was a deeply shocking event. There's been no equivalent. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister can't talk about it without also at the same time comparing it to Islamophobia, when they're just not the same in prevalence.

SARA: Do you understand and acknowledge that Islamophobia has been long standing in some parts of Australia, and that kind of abuse has been unfolding?

PATERSON: Yes, absolutely. It is a longstanding problem in Australia and it has increased since the 7th October, but just nowhere near as much as anti-Semitism has, which is also a very long standing issue in Australia. And we now know, thanks to data provided by Victoria Police, a far more prevalent problem, a far more significant problem in the community.

SARA: James Paterson, the opposition, has criticised the government's call to talk about Palestinian statehood. They've said Hamas can't be part of a two state solution. Conservative UK Foreign Minister David Cameron says Palestinian statehood is something that we should be talking about. Why is this conversation, not appropriate after decades of violence?

PATERSON: Well we support the two state solution too. We just don't think it should be unilaterally imposed from the outside. We think recognition of a Palestinian state should be the outcome of a successful peace negotiation between the parties on the ground in the region. And no external power can impose that on them if there isn't the willingness to sit down and negotiate. As you would know, Sally, there haven't been negotiations for this peace process in about a decade. And the reason for that is that Israel does not have a partner on the Palestinian side which is even willing to sit down and have those negotiations. And that is an enormous stumbling block, let alone the events of 7th October, which obviously set it back many years.

SARA: James Paterson, we were speaking earlier to the general manager of TikTok in Australia, Brett Armstrong, he was talking about a study that they'd commissioned into the monetary value of TikTok for businesses in Australia. Are you convinced that the value that TikTok brings to the Australian economy outweighs security concerns?

PATERSON: Not even close. I mean, companies do this from time to time, they pay consultancies generous amounts of money to demonstrate with ridiculous assumptions how much value that brings to the economy. But the truth is, if TikTok wasn't there tomorrow, another social media platform would fulfil the same role. And actually, really, no one's proposing to get rid of TikTok, we're just is trying to make TikTok safe for Australians by removing the Chinese Communist Party's influence over it, by severing the connection between TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, which is beholden to the Chinese government and must comply with its intelligence gathering laws. I mean, the reason why the Australian government has banned it on all government devices is because it represents a very serious espionage and cyber security risk and some alleged economic benefits don't outweigh that.

SARA: TikTok admitted last year that Australian data is accessible to TikTok employees in China on a very strict basis. That's the way they described, has the company gone anyway, in convincing you that the data is safe?

PATERSON: No, because they made that admission to me during a Senate inquiry process. And I asked them, therefore, if it was so strict, could they tell me how often Australian user data had been accessed in mainland China? They refused to do so. Presumably there is some log of some record of that, but perhaps the number is too high that they didn't want to share it publicly. They also usually say that it's safe because it's stored in Singapore, United States, or elsewhere in the region, not in China. But that's an irrelevant consideration if it is being accessed, as I believe, repeatedly by the China based employees who are subject to those intelligence laws of China, have to cooperate with the Chinese intelligence agencies and keep that cooperation secret.

SARA: James Paterson, we'll need to leave it there. Thank you for your time this morning.

PATERSON: Thanks, Sally.


Recent News

All Posts