The window for taking military action against North Korea appears to be closed, Cabinet minister Steven Ciobo says.
Appearing on Q&A, Mr Ciobo, who is the Minister for Trade, said it was “incredibly hard to act now” on Pyongyang, which has in recent months escalated its nuclear missile tests.
“Unfortunately, North Korea is a clear and present danger. Not just for Australia, but of course for the US as well,” Mr Ciobo said.
“I think perhaps the window of taking military action against North Korea is closed.
“But [these are] the very real decisions that need to be made, because every time you fail to act, when you should have acted, the consequences of then acting further down the track become much more profound.”
Speaking on a panel that also included Labor MP Jim Chalmers, Chinese-American author and journalist Mei Fong, The Australian foreign editor Greg Sheridan, and economics journalist Jessica Irvine, Mr Ciobo said Australia was already “thinking about” missile defence.
“That’s what the Defence Department is looking at,” Mr Ciobo said.
When pressed by Q&A host Tony Jones on whether Australia was intending to develop a nuclear missile defence shield, Mr Ciobo said:
“Analysis around what we should be doing as a country is being undertaken, not by politicians, but by the experts and the Department of the Defence [about] what it might look like.”
‘North Korea China’s buffer state’
Fong, who reported on China for the Wall Street Journal, said it was unlikely Beijing would cede to US demands to sever its ties with Pyongyang.
“China has always maintained and supported North Korea because it is advantageous for them — North Korea is their buffer state,” she said.
“If North Korea collapsed, they’d have all the refugees coming over, and the US would be on their doorstep. They don’t want that.”
She said that of China, North Korea and the US, the only unstable actor was Washington.
“[North Korea] are escalating, but they are doing the same thing, which is trying to go further with the South and develop technology for nuclear warheads. You kind of know where they are,” she said.”The one unstable element now is the other world leader with the crazy hair, which is Donald Trump … He’s unpredictable.
She said there were “many smarter hands at the table” advising the Trump administration on foreign policy, but that “the President may not necessarily take the advice of people”.
Fong was also critical of the impact Mr Trump’s presidency had had on the US’ position as a world leader, saying Mr Trump’s isolationist policies had created a vacuum for China to take more of a leadership role.
“It is a new world order that we are seeing. One in which America is almost withdrawing from its leadership position,” she said.
“The vacuum and the void that is happening will lead to other countries, other nations taking up more of a prime spot.”
No support for changing dual citizenship rule for MPs
One issue on which the panel was largely united was that of dual citizenship rules for federal MPs.
When asked if the constitution should be changed to allow dual citizens to be elected to federal office, Mr Ciobo, Dr Chalmers, Sheridan and Irvine all said no.
“I actually think it’s a good provision of the constitution … if you’re going to be a member of parliament and potentially prime minister of this country, I want you to have civic loyalty only to Australia,” Sheridan said.
The panel was less united on the issue of when Australia should hold a referendum on whether to become a republic.
Labor announced at the weekend that it would hold a referendum on the issue in the first term of a Bill Shorten-led Labor government.
“It’s an absurd situation where the Queen of England is the head of state of this country, and all the arguments about ‘we couldn’t prioritise that’ or ‘maybe after the Queen is gone’, they’re all just excuses,” Dr Chalmers said.
“But you can’t defend the indefensible which is to say to our kids, they’re not capable of being our head of state.”
Mr Ciobo criticised Labor’s weekend policy announcement as a “feel-good exercise”.
“I think frankly the Australian public recognises that at some point in the future we’ll have this referendum again, and I would say that the prevailing view is we would do it after Queen Elizabeth passes away or steps down,” he said.
But Sheridan said he thought another referendum would fail.
Declaring himself a “republican for a constitutional monarchy”, Sheridan said the alternatives to the Queen were too “grotesque” and “deformed” to win over the Australian public.
“Steve and his colleagues will be praying that the Labor Party introduces a republic referendum in the course of their first term because … it will lose badly, and the Liberals will surf back to popularity on the basis of its loss,” he said.