National Security

Transcript | Sky News AM Agenda | 08 April 2024

April 8, 2024

Monday 08 April 2024
Interview on Sky News AM Agenda
Subjects: Israel-Gaza, Another illegal boat arrival, Mike Pezzullo’s AO

LAURA JAYES: Joining me now is the Shadow Home Affairs and Cyber Security minister, James Paterson. James, Mark Binskin, he is a respected military man by both sides. Is he the right appointment?

JAMES PATERSON: Good morning, Laura. Certainly, Mark Binskin is a very respected, very senior former defence official and exactly the kind of person that you would appoint. And it is appropriate that Australia conduct its own inquiries into the death of Zomi Frankcom, which is tragic and which should not have happened. It's welcome and important that Israel has launched its own inquiries, that it's taken some preliminary steps already of sacking the soldiers identified. And I'm sure there will be further action on Israel, because Israel is a liberal democracy and they do not intend to kill civilians and certainly not aid workers. It's appropriate that they ensure that all the questions that we have about this are answered.

JAYES: So he's the right man, but you're not sure that it's necessary from Australia's point of view?

PATERSON: No, no, I'm not suggesting that at all, Laura. I think he's an appropriate appointment. I think it is welcome that we will conduct our own enquiries that will establish our own facts. I do note, though, Laura, that Zomi Frankcom tragically is not the first Australian who was killed in this area. On the 7th of October, another Australian was killed, Galit Carbone. She was living in Kibbutz Be'eri. She was minding her own business on a Saturday morning in her unit. And Hamas fighters came into her home and killed her. And there hasn't been the same strong response from the Australian government for her death. There's been no one appointed to investigate her death. There's been no calls for Hamas to investigate it. Hamas hasn't sacked any fighters, unsurprisingly, as a terrorist organisation. And I frankly, I think all Australian lives are of equal value.

JAYES: Yes, I agree with you. So you're saying the Australian government should have perhaps launched an inquiry earlier into the actions of Hamas? Because I know what you're saying there, but it's really hard to, investigate a terrorist organisation unlike Israel, it's all so complex, isn't it?

PATERSON: Sure. You're right, Laura. We do hold Israel to a higher standard than Hamas, and we should hold Israel to a high standard. They're a liberal democracy, and we expect more of them than we expect from a terrorist organisation. But I just note that there has been a very strong response from the Australian government in response to Zomi Frankcom's death, as there should be. And I don't think there's been the same strong response about the Carbone's death. In fact, you'd be hard to find Australian government ministers even speaking about her death, let alone holding all the press conferences that the Prime Minister has, calling the Israeli Prime Minister demanding answers, as he has done for Zomi Frankcom. So, all I note is there is a different response here from the Australian government, and it's up to the Prime Minister to explain why that's the case.

JAYES: Yeah. There has been a bit of a different response from America, the UK, our AUKUS allies as well, it is six months, since Hamas first launched that attack on October 7, We have seen tens of thousands of deaths in Gaza now, and thousands of deaths in in Israel as well. Is there a turning point? Are we seeing a shift here from Israel's allies, including from the Australian government, do you think?

PATERSON: It does appear to me that there is a shift including here in Australia, Laura. I mean, my view and the Coalition's view is that it is still an appropriate and legitimate military objective to remove Hamas from power in Gaza and that if the military operations cease with Hamas still in power, then we risk repeating the events of 7th October again and again and again, as Hamas has promised to do.

JAYES: Are they still in power?

PATERSON: Well they control Rafah. They have at least four brigades, the IDF believes, in Rafah. They control hostages in Rafah. If Israel withdrew now, then they could use that position to regain control of the rest of Gaza, as they have done previously when the IDF withdrew in 2005 unilaterally from Gaza. And the Australian government position, on the one hand, is Hamas should have no future role in governing Gaza. But on the other hand, there should be an immediate ceasefire. Well, an immediate ceasefire without Hamas giving up their arms and without the hostages being returned would see Hamas having an ongoing role in Gaza. And so the Foreign Minister who's articulated this has to explain what is the strategy for removing Hamas from power? If the IDF is to stop all operations in Gaza, how will that possibly be the case? Do we think they'll just walk away once the IDF departs? I'm sceptical that would happen.

JAYES: Yeah. Australia once again is following the lead in many ways of the the US and the UK. Would you prefer the Australian government and the Foreign Minister not be in lockstep with those two countries?

PATERSON: Well I don't think we have been in lockstep. We've been far out ahead of them in some respects, in abandoning Israel and walking away from the support we offered them on the 8th of October and onwards. It was, of course, the Australian government that voted for a unilateral ceasefire motion in the General Assembly at the United Nations, when the United States and our allies, like the United Kingdom, did not do so. And confusingly put out a statement saying that they voted for a unilateral ceasefire, actually, what they meant was a sustainable ceasefire, once the hostages were released and Hamas gave up their arms. They can't have it both ways. They have to decide what sort of ceasefire they're in favour of, and what circumstances Hamas should be allowed to continue to rule Gaza. They haven't given those answers, and I think it's very easy from the cheap seats 12,000km away to give this advice to Israel. But how do they think Hamas should be removed? And what do they think the consequences would be if Hamas is not removed?

JAYES: Yeah, but it's the US and the UK that have been saying just in recent days that their support is not unconditional. We haven't done that, have we?

PATERSON: Well, Australia should be concerned and we are all concerned about the civilian death toll in Gaza. It is shockingly high and higher than anyone wants to see, including Israel. I was there only a month ago. I saw that. I've heard that firsthand myself. But that civilian death toll is a result of Hamas and the way they've decided to conduct this war. It's result of their attack on the 7th of October, and it's result of the fact that they burrowed themselves in civilian areas, building a network of tunnels underneath schools and hospitals and mosques, and even under the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza. I mean, it's very difficult to conduct a military operation in those built up civilian areas to remove a terrorist organisation without there also being civilian casualties. And tragically, that is what we've seen.

JAYES: I think the hardest thing, James, is how you explain the deaths of 13,000 children. I'm not saying I have the answers, but I think that's what, that's what's really hard to get your head around, right?

PATERSON: It is. It's utterly tragic. Deaths on a on a shocking scale and many of the people who have died in Gaza are completely innocent. They are themselves also victims of Hamas. They are effectively being held hostage by Hamas, just like the Israelis are being held hostage. Hamas deliberately puts them in harm's way and deliberately seeks a high civilian death toll to use as a weapon in the public relations war against Israel internationally, with some success. It is hurting Israel. We know that. But I'm not going to be here and be an armchair military operations expert and tell Israel there is some better way to do this. There are a lot of those experts on Twitter. Some of them, you know, even in the Albanese cabinet who think they could do better. But without being there on the ground, without having that military experience, I'm a bit more reluctant to provide that free advice.

JAYES: Yes. And so my but look, I don't like to shy away from the tough conversations. And I think we should have them. And I thank you for having that with me this morning, if briefly, because, you know, we could dedicate a whole show to this. So, James, thank you for that. I want to, just finally ask you about a number of boat arrivals, over the weekend. From my understanding, I think they are Chinese asylum seekers, and they have been sent to Nauru. This is exactly what a Coalition government would have done, would it not?

PATERSON: It's very clear that the Prime Minister has lost control of the borders. In the last five months three boats have made it all the way to the Australian mainland, dropped off passengers and departed again without being detected, a virtually unheard of occurrence in the last decade of border protection history. And they are among the 13 boats that have attempted to make the journey. More than 300 people have tried to come. Unfortunately, the advice we gave this government not to undermine and not to water down Operation Sovereign Borders was ignored. And the prediction that we made that that would result in people getting on boats again, has been proven to be true when they abolished temporary protection visas, when they trashed offshore processing, when they planned to cut $436 million out of the border protection budget over the next three years. All of these eventualities were sadly predictable and are now eventuated, and the Prime Minister has no plan to get it back under control.

JAYES: Is the High Court decision and what happened in Parliament before it rose before the budget, do you think that's playing into the hands of the people smugglers? Is that being marketed?

PATERSON: It's certainly possible that that is one of the reasons why people are getting on boats again, but the reason why they're getting through is because aerial surveillance hours are down 20% and maritime patrol days are down 12% on this government's watch because they're not adequately funding Border Force. And if you don't have those patrol days, if you don't have those surveillance hours happening, it's no wonder that boats are able to slip through and make it through to the Australian mainland. And this government has no plan to deal with that. I mean, it was in October last year that Commissioner Outram told me about those statistics, those shocking statistics of collapsing surveillance. And what's the government done to fix it? Absolutely nothing.

JAYES: So hopefully there's something in the budget. Just a final question with that notice, James, do you know where the Labor still plans to strip mike Pezzullo of his Order of Australia?

PATERSON: No, I don't, Laura. And I think it would be a very petty thing. I think Mike Pezzullo has already paid a very high price for his misconduct in exposing those text messages. But neither you nor I or any other politician or bureaucrat in Canberra would survive having all of our text messages public, in the way that his were. And I think he's paid a high price for already. Taking away his AO would be punitive and petty, in my view, because he was given that for his service to our country. And he has served our country very admirably, including to help get those borders back under control again.

JAYES: Yeah. For decades. James, good to talk to you as always.

PATERSON: Thanks Laura.


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