Peter Dutton takes aim at China; says Australians are with Morrison government

“I think part of the public is frankly ahead of where the public debate is because there’s just so much information available online. People see the reported comments of the ambassador and the vice ambassador here, as well as the spokesman out of Beijing.”

He said he wanted to have a “more frank discussion with the public” about China’s intentions.

However, former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd said “the public language of Morrison, Dutton and Pezzullo on China, Taiwan and the possibility of war in the last week serves zero national security purpose”.

“Australia already has a highly problematic relationship with China,” Mr Rudd said.

“Much of this is because of changes in Chinese policy and posture under a much more assertive Xi Jinping. But it is also because Morrison et al. are addicted to the drug of ‘standing up to China’ every day of the week because of its perceived domestic political utility. ”


Mr Dutton said he would not rule out naming the countries behind cyber attacks if the government was certain and doing so didn’t reveal any previously secret capabilities of the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD).

“Where it’s in our interests to call out – whether it’s Russia or China or North Korea or somebody else – we will call them out,” he said. “There’s a lot of capacity that Australia has in the cyber space that clearly we wouldn’t talk publicly about, but gives us a very significant edge over many adversaries, even sophisticated adversaries.”

He said the ASD was “quite remarkable and world-leading” but “there’s more that we need to do”.

Australian military planners have been increasingly concerned about the threat of “grey zone” warfare, which refers to aggressions that fall somewhere between what we traditionally view as war and peace. It includes cyber attacks, disinformation campaigns, intellectual property theft and propaganda.

A state actor, believed to be China, was last year behind a series of cyber raids on all levels of government, industry and critical infrastructure including hospitals, local councils and state-owned utilities.

Asked what the country needed to do to defend against grey zone warfare, Mr Dutton said Australians needed to understand that “we’re already under attack on the cyber front”.

“Under attack by state actors, under attack from very sophisticated criminal syndicates based in the Middle East, based in Asia and based in Europe,” he said. “So that’s the reality and it’s not seen and there’s no casualties on the battlefield but there are companies and victims every day.”

Australia has begun the process of acquiring long-range missiles to protect overseas forces, allies and the mainland, include fitting out Australia’s naval fleet with advanced guided long-range weapons to defend against maritime threats and potentially buying a range of hypersonic missiles.

Mr Dutton said the Australian government’s first priority was “continued peace in our region”, but warned the country needed to “have influence in the region to that end”.


“Is the Australian Defence Force prepared for an action – whether it’s tomorrow, or in 10 years, or three decades time? Yes, I believe they are,” he said. “The focus has clearly been in Afghanistan for the last 20 years, but Defence has been very focused on our region and preparation in our region for a number of years, and that will continue.”

“There are many approaches to Australia from the north and the west and clearly from the east obviously as well. So we need to make sure we are in a position to defend those waters, we need to make sure that we’re in a position to deal with criminal actors who are sophisticated using major naval assets in our waters so protection for our borders and our waters ot the north and west remains a clear priority.”

Labor’s defence spokesman Brendan O’Connor said Mr Pezzullo’s comments last week “were not particularly helpful”.

“If indeed there is a need to say such things … then they should have been said by a Minister,” he told the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday.

Sam Roggeveen, director of the Lowy Institute’s international security program, said the threat of conflict has increased and some of the reaction to both Mr Dutton and Mr Pezzullo’s comments has been over-the-top.

“The chances of conflict remain very, very low. But the point is really that the threat of force as a method of coercion has increased,” he said.

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