Former prime minister Paul Keating says Australia’s spy chiefs are “nutters” and should be sacked to help improve relations with China.
- During an interview at the Labor campaign launch yesterday, Mr Keating accused security agencies of running Australia’s foreign policy
- He said the policy was risking Australia’s relationship with China
- The head of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute described it as Mr Keating’s “Donald Trump moment”
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.”
The former Labor leader’s comments have been 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.”
Labor won’t be ‘cleaning out’ security agencies
Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibsersek said while Mr Keating was right to say that China is a vital economic partner for Australia, he was not running party policy.
“People love Paul Keating for his colourful language, and that was on display yesterday,” she told RN Breakfast.
Ms Plibersek said there would “absolutely not” be a full-scale clean-out of the security agencies under a Labor government.
“We have a very good relationship with Australia’s security agencies, we receive regular briefings — I do, Bill does, the shadow national security committee does,” she said.
“I think it’s important for any government or potential government to heed the information we get from our security agencies and we take it very seriously.”