War of words erupts after WA Premier’s hot mic blunder

McGowan sparks war of words

An extraordinary war of words has erupted between the Western Australian Premier and a federal opposition frontbencher after an embarrassing hot mic episode.

Opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie has blasted WA Premier Mark McGowan as “a prison guard looking for work now that the pandemic has finished” after footage emerged from an event in Beijing on Tuesday.

The footage from the China-Australia Chamber of Commerce event on Mr McGowan’s visit to Beijing, circulated to WA media, unwittingly captures him speaking to Australian Ambassador to China Graham Fletcher and the organisation’s chair Vaughn Barber.

The film was distributed because of visa issues have restricted most local media travelling to China with Mr McGowan.

In the footage, he can be heard criticising Mr Hastie and praising former WA Coalition senator Mathias Cormann.

“I like Mathias Cormann, he had the same view as me, but he had no sway… on this issue. He had a lot of sway, but on this issue, he was the odd one out,” the Premier is heard telling Mr Barber.

“The other Western Australian who was senior, well, there was a few of them actually – Hastie.

“He swallowed some sort of Cold War pills back… when he was born, and he couldn’t get his mindset out of that.”

On Wednesday, Mr Hastie – who chaired the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security from 2017 to 2020 and was assistant defence minister from 2020 to 2022 – said Mr McGowan was out of his “intellectual depth”.

He said he was “not surprised [Mr McGowan was] running down Australian MPs in China”.

“Mark McGowan is out of his intellectual depth. The truth is that he’s a prison guard looking for work now that the pandemic is finished,” he said in a statement to Sky News.

“But it is surprising from a former legal officer in the Royal Australian Navy. I’m not sure I’d want to serve alongside him on a naval ship in a crisis.

“Character is everything. What’s he really saying when the cameras aren’t running?”

Mr Hastie is a former SAS officer and China hawk who was assistant defence minister in the former Coalition government .

He urged Mr McGowan to “do himself a favour and read” Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong’s speech to the National Press Club on Monday. In that speech, Senator Wong described China’s military modernisation as lacking transparency.

It is not Mr McGowan’s first run-in with the federal Coalition over China. In May last year, he unleashed on former defence minister (and now Opposition Leader) Peter Dutton over his handling of Australia’s relationship with Beijing.

“Peter Dutton was out there talking about war and war-footing and conflict … that’s absolutely crazy,’ Mr McGowan said.

“We’re a country of 25 million people, China has 1.4 billion people, with nuclear weapons. Why would a mainstream political party be talking about that? Let’s just have a sensible, strong relationship with China and continue our strong alliance with the US and Britain.”

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