Interview - ANZAC Day 2021


Sunday 25 April 2021


CHRIS SMITH: One person who had a very big day planned attending ANZAC marches this morning was Assistant Defence Minister Andrew Hastie who will now have to celebrate the day very differently. But nevertheless, we're very pleased to have him on our program for ANZAC Day. Minister, good morning and happy ANZAC Day to you.


THE HON. ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Happy ANZAC Day to you Chris, great to be with you and your listeners.


SMITH: From an army reservist at university in Sydney, right through to Special Air Service Regiment, you notched up 14 years of service in the armed forces with two deployments to Afghanistan. So what does ANZAC Day mean to you?


HASTIE: ANZAC is a day where we all look sacrifice right between the eyes. And we reflect on those who've gone before us, who have taken up arms to defend our country, our sovereignty, our values, to defend the little guy, I think of 1914 when our troops left, they were going over to defend Belgium and France who'd obviously been attacked by Germany. ANZAC Day is about remembering our forebears who have given all so that we can live in the freedom that we do now.


SMITH: Tell me about Australians, because when the Brereton report came out, there was so much support for Australian soldiers. There were a lot of Australians who didn't want to know what the Brereton report contained. When the Meritorious Unit Citation was announced as being withdrawn from the SAS in Afghanistan. There was an absolute outrage at that. And yet, technically, technically, the ADF was arguing a salient point. What does it say about Australians and their support of the military? Do you think?


HASTIE: I think it's a very positive thing that our troops, our soldiers, sailors, and airmen enjoy such wide support from the Australian public and it is very tough, I understand exactly how Australians felt, I served at the SAS for five and a half years, some of my mates are involved in this. So I know how tough it was and how difficult it is to square our admirations for the armed services with what some of the findings in the burden report were, so it was very difficult. But look, we've got Peter Dutton now as the Minister for Defence. He has restored the Meritorious Unit Citation justly to the 3,000 men and women who served as part of the Special Operations task group over a period of almost a decade. Lots of different people did great work. And the vast majority did so faithfully for our country, and upholding the laws of armed conflict. So I think people can have faith that Peter Dutton understands the issues. And we're moving forward in a positive direction.


SMITH: I've spoken to two SAS former personnel, in the last few days, you're now the third, who've taken part in Afghanistan, they too have been greatly relieved by retaining their Meritorious Unit Citations, because as they said to me, both of them, they know nothing about the kinds of allegations that emerged from the Brereton report, they knew nothing, not even rumour about that kind of thing, apart from what they picked up in the newspapers over the last 12, to 2 years. And so Peter Dutton is right 99% shouldn't be punished for the sins of the 1%. Right?


HASTIE: That's right, we, as a country we don't do collective punishment. We have rule of law. We have a judicial process, and everyone has a presumption of innocence. Now, we can't ignore the findings of the Brereton report. And I'm not seeking to whitewash it. We’ve got to deal with misconduct where we find it. But the Special Operations Task Group yes, it comprised of Special Air Service Regiment, 2 Commando, and 1 Commando regiment as well. But we also had medics, we had logisticians, we had signallers, we had chaplains, we had a whole range of different people supporting that task group and they all did their work safely and honourably, and it's only right and proper that they should be able to wear their Meritorious Unit Citation.


SMITH: Australia joined the United States led coalition back in 2001, to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations to remove the Taliban from power and to defeat Al Qaeda as well. But we haven't had a significant amount of troops there since I think 2013. So it's not such a big impact to withdraw in September, which is what Australia and the United States have agreed to do. But you must in the back of your mind having been to Afghanistan, think to yourself, how long will it take before the Taliban get their claws back in that part of the world.


HASTIE: Yeah look, Afghanistan is a beautiful country, the mountains and the valleys and the people are lovely as well. It's an amazing part of the world, incredibly resilient, their culture is incredibly resilient. It's a very difficult undertaking to change a country and essentially, build a functioning government when most of the people are self governing, there are little tribes within different valley systems. It's a country that's broken up into the hundreds and thousands of little villages across the whole country. So very, very difficult. Of course, we all want to see peace and stability in Afghanistan, and that is still our hope. Let's see if we can achieve it. But as we all know, the war went on for 20 years. Sergeant Andrew Russell, our first casualty of Afghanistan, who perished in early 2002. He died when his daughter was 11 days old, the Prime Minister referenced her in his speech at the dawn service in Canberra this morning. She's now 19 and studying criminology, it's been a really long war and at some point, we need to transition out of it particularly because the biggest challenge to our national security and sovereignty is going to come from the Indo Pacific region and that's where our focus must now rest.


SMITH: What a human measurement that is, with that 19 year old now at university, I want to ask you about ANZAC Day in Perth, this should have gone ahead as planned, surely?


HASTIE: Well Chris, I'm very disappointed. I’m gutted. It's a wonderful day ANZAC Day, it's a sombre day, but it's a day where we come together as a community united and we remember our fallen and we give thanks for those who are serving now. My little boy, he's five and a half. He's been hassling me all week about ANZAC Day about marching with me. He marched with me in ‘18 and ‘19, we missed out last year, and this morning, we did the driveway service. We've got to follow the health advice. I'm just not in a position to say otherwise.


SMITH: But I wonder whether it was health advice, Andrew, I couldn't see the WA chief health advisor there. I understand he's on holidays. And you could have done ANZAC Day, the dawn service and the march safely in COVID terms surely?


HASTIE: True, look, I think I think that's a very legitimate point Chris. The thing I worry about is when we actually reflect on what our forebears did, I think of, you know, the 10th Light Horse who fought bravely at Gallipoli, who didn't go into lockdown in the trenches when the bullets started flying. They did their job and long term, my fear is that we will become more risk averse, than courageous. We need a courage culture in this country, particularly, if we're going to push back against cancel culture. We need people who are willing to stand up and that's what the ANZACs represent and that's why ANZAC Day is so special. Because we're the ones carrying the fire now, it's been passed to us, and we need to keep it alight to pass it on to the next generation as well.


SMITH: That is so superbly stated, we've got to face adversity like they did. And we've got to have a courage culture, not be risk averse. And I just have a feeling the poor people in WA, despite the fact that they want to be safe and we understand all of that, especially at the height of the pandemic in Australia, but we're not in that situation anymore. And the fact that they're locked down for three days on a long weekend, which coincides with ANZAC Day is just terribly unfair, and terribly unfair to your five year old son. You've just stated it superbly.


HASTIE: He went into the garage and he pulled out my old dress uniform, and made me cook bacon and eggs this morning, in my uniform. So hey, ANZAC Day is, takes on its own meaning in its own different way, particularly during lock down, but we still made sure we did as many of the rituals as possible because that's what's important.


SMITH: A very creative approach by him. What are you up to this afternoon? Nothing?


HASTIE: Well Chris, I can’t go, I can't really spend- I can't get outside, we get an hour of exercise I’ll probably take the kids out, but I'll be I'll be reflecting on our ANZACs, I'll be reflecting on my grandfather, and the mates I went overseas with, and I was due to give a speech this morning at the dawn service, and the subject of my speech was going to be Wing Commander Charles Learmonth, DFC & Bar, a great Australian, who perished over Rottnest Island when his Bristol Beaufort plane crashed. He distinguished himself in war, fighting the Japanese up around Papua, but when he came back he was flying a training run with some other planes. He had a technical fault in the aircraft, which was already problematic and he could have, he could have panicked, but he didn't. He radioed through the problem with the aircraft before he plunged into the sea and perished with the rest of his crew. And because he made those radio transmissions, they were able to fix a long term fault in the aircraft and save the lives of many other Australians. My point was going to be, good things come from sacrifice, Charles Learmonth is someone we can be inspired by and continue to sacrifice in the same way.


SMITH: You'll have to save that one up for next year, fingers crossed. Your contribution to our ANZAC Day broadcast here on 2GB has been immense. Thank you so much for your time this morning, Minister.


HASTIE: My pleasure, Chris. Thanks for having me on.