Bill Shorten disagrees with Paul Keating’s comments on China at Labor’s election campaign launch

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Bill Shorten says he does not share former Labor prime minister Paul Keating’s views that Australia’s spy chiefs are “nutters” who should be sacked to help improve relations with China.

Key points:

  • During an interview at the Labor campaign launch yesterday, Mr Keating accused security agencies of running Australia’s foreign policy
  • The head of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute described it as Mr Keating’s “Donald Trump moment”
  • Bill Shorten says he does not share Mr Keating’s views, but Anthony Albanese says they reflect broader concerns about attitudes towards China

The extraordinary rebuke of senior intelligence figures was made on the sidelines of Labor’s federal election campaign launch, but immediately drew comparisons with US President Donald Trump, who has regularly clashed with America’s spy chiefs.

Mr Keating accused security agencies including ASIO and ASIS of running Australia’s foreign policy and called for Bill Shorten to “clean them out” if he wins the election.

“The nutters are in charge,” Mr Keating told the ABC after Labor’s launch on Sunday.

“They’ve lost their strategic bearings, these organisations.”

Mr Keating, who has been appointed to the international advisory council for the China Development Bank, warned Australia was putting at risk its relationship with its largest trading partner.

“You know, China, whatever you think, China is a great state. It’s always been a great state and now has the second-largest economy, soon the largest economy in the world,” he said.

“If we have a foreign policy that does not take that into account, we are fools.”

He also took particular aim at former Beijing correspondent John Garnaut, who became an adviser to Malcolm Turnbull and helped to write a classified report for ASIO on Chinese influence in Australia.

“Once that Garnaut guy came back from China and Turnbull gave him the ticket to go and hop into the security agencies, they’ve all gone berko ever since,” Mr Keating said.

“When you have got the ASIO chief knocking on MPs’ doors, you know something’s wrong.”

Coalition describes Keating’s comments as ‘outrageous’

The Coalition described Mr Keating’s comments as “appalling”, “incredibly reckless” and “completely outrageous”, and called for Mr Shorten to “disown” him.

“For what the Labor Party calls a Labor legend to go out there and attack the credibility of our security agencies that have been saving lives in this country, I think is disappointing,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

“I think that he should be disowned and I think the leader of the Labor Party, Bill Shorten, should be … denouncing what Paul Keating had to say.”

Mr Shorten said he did not share Mr Keating’s views.

“Paul Keating is an elder statesman of Australian politics, he’s never been shy of saying what he thinks,” Mr Shorten said.

“We’ve worked very well with the national security agencies — they know that and we know that — and of course we will continue that.”

The former Labor leader’s comments were also condemned by Peter Jennings, the head of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, who is an outspoken critic of Beijing’s foreign interference activities.

“Well I think Paul Keating is having his Donald Trump moment,” Mr Jennings told AM.

“Frankly, that’s not something a former prime minister should do and I think what he said was blatantly incorrect.

“The Australian intelligence community, more than most parts of government, has a very clear understanding of what China is doing.”

Albanese says Keating’s comments reflect broader concerns

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese said Mr Keating had a right to raise his concerns, and added that they reflect broader concerns about attitudes towards China.

“I think what Paul Keating was talking about was certainly a concern that has been there, certainly I’ve had that concern as well,” he said.

“We need to be very careful that it is not in Australia’s economic interests, essentially, to be xenophobic when it comes to China and the role of China in the region.

“We need to examine legitimate security concerns, which are there, but we also need to acknowledge that China has been a nation [with] which we have a friendly relationship and have had one since the Whitlam government recognised China in 1972.”

By Andrew Greene and Lucy Sweeney
ABC

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