Former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer clashed with panellists on the ABC’s Q&A on Thursday over Australia’s intelligence gathering in the Pacific.
Mr Downer says the government should have taken a harder line with the Solomon Islands over a planned security deal with China.
Saying leaders in the Solomons were given “inducements” to encourage the deal, Mr Downer said Australia should have been louder about its opposition on the deal with the country’s Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
Mr Downer served as Australia’s foreign affairs minister for over a decade from 1996 to 2007.
“I had my own arguments with Prime Minister Sogavare, and I just took him on. And maybe the Australian government should have taken him on – maybe in the future should take him on more directly,” Mr Downer said.
“I think that we should call for … greater transparency about what has happened in the Solomon Islands and about the relationship between China and the Solomon Islands‘ leadership.
“I think the Australian public would like to know much more about that relationship. And so, by the way, would the public of the Solomon Islands.”
Asked how Australia could uncover the nature of China’s activity in the Solomon Islands, Mr Downer said there are “all sorts of ways” for the Australian government to gather intelligence.
“We have all sorts of agencies which collect evidence,” he said.
Green Party representative on the panel, Senator Mehreen Faruqi interjected, “With bugs, yes.”
“We’ve used intelligence agencies for decades to do this sort of thing,” Mr Downer responded.
“The suggestion that we somehow have intelligence services but they don’t collect intelligence is absurd. Of course they collect intelligence.”
He clarified he wouldn’t comment on any specific operations including allegations Australia planted a listening device in an East Timor cabinet room in 2004.
Senator Faruqi said, “Mr Downer is a relic of a time and a government that thought going to war in Iraq was a good thing.”
“I don’t think anyone should be taking advice on foreign affairs from Mr Downer.”
She accused Mr Downer and others of having a “colonial, superior, big-brother” attitude.
“These are sovereign nations who have every right to make decisions about their foreign policies with whoever they want to,” she said.