Senate debates

Tuesday, 30 November 2021



1:48 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Defence Minister Dutton has had a lot to say about Taiwan in the last couple of weeks. He has repeatedly stated that it would be inconceivable that Australia would not provide military support to the United States in defending Taiwan against Chinese attack. I have long expressed concerns about China's growing military power and the need to support Taiwan. I agree with some of what Mr Dutton has said—though not all. I'm not in agreement with the way he's expressed the government's position.

He has very deliberately ramped up the rhetoric in the hope of a khaki election. That is a very dangerous tactic, both in terms of Australia's diplomatic interests and the potential impact on the nation's social cohesion. He has missed a key point. China is unlikely to try to invade Taiwan in the next few years; such an undertaking would be fraught with too much risk. But Chinese action against Taiwan's small islands in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea could well be on the cards, possibly as an act of intimidation in the run-up to Taiwan's 2024 presidential elections. So perhaps the media should press him harder on precisely what he means. Is Kinmen Island, just 10 kilometres off the Chinese coast, or Matsu island further north part of the Pacific area for the purposes of article 4 of the ANZUS Treaty? Does the Australian government consider the South China Sea, including Taiwan's Taiping and Pratas islands, to be part of the Pacific area for the purpose of the ANZUS Treaty? The US, Japan and Australia do need to deter a Chinese communist takeover of Taiwan, but those indefensible small islands certainly would not be worth the risk of a major conflict; better that we draw clear lines about our obligations on what we will and will not support and stick to that.