Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan has described Mike Pezzullo’s “drums of war” message as “totally unnecessary”.
In a recent ANZAC Day speech, the home affairs secretary said free nations are once again hearing the “beating drums” and would need to brace “for the curse of war”.
But McGowan on Tuesday criticised Pezzullo’s language, urging him to “tone it down”.
“I just urge the commonwealth and people in this position, elected and otherwise, to tone it down. Tone it down,” he said during a press conference.
“What good does that do, saying things like that? It’s totally unnecessary.”
The premier said those kinds of comments would attract media attention, but they weren’t in anyone’s interest.
“Diplomacy should be conducted diplomatically by people in elected office and also by those who are public servants. I suggest to them they don’t say things like that anymore,” he said.
Former Labor senator Doug Cameron argued that most public servants would not be able to make such comments without facing serious consequences.
“Why is Michael Pezzullo pontificating on the prospect of war,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Seems to be two rules for public servants, if you’re a mate of [defence minister Peter Dutton] you can say what you want. If you’re a member of the [Community and Public Sector Union] you lose your right to voice your opinion and probably your job!”
Labor’s Penny Wong and Bill Shorten have also criticised the remarks.
Senator Wong on Tuesday was asked by a reporter whether Pezzullo would be a good fit for the role of Department of Defence secretary. While she didn’t comment on that specifically, she did say that the Morrison government should treat its relationship with China with “less politics and more strategy”.
Asked specifically about the drums of war speech, Wong said that “words matter”.
“My view about this is this; when it comes to issues of national security, when it comes to issues of foreign policy, when it comes to issues as sensitive as Taiwan, our language should be sober and it should be cautious,” she said.
“I think it is for the government to explain how Mr Pezzullo’s words are consistent with government policy and how they further Australia’s national interests. I would make the point they do appear to be inconsistent with Mr Dutton himself who said on Insiders, ‘We are in peace time and we want to stay in peace time’. So, his language is a little more measured.”
During his appearance on Insiders over the weekend, Dutton said that, in regard to China, a conflict over Taiwan “should not be discounted”.
“China has been very clear about the reunification and that’s been a long-held objective of theirs. They have been very clear about that goal,” he said.