INTERVIEW WITH GREG JENNETT, ABC
MONDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2023
GREG JENNETT: Andrew Hastie, welcome back to the program, I'm sure you've had an opportunity to hear the Prime Minister there in his earlier interview, but because there are no specific confirmations or denials from the Government, has the Opposition formed a working hypothesis on whether the Prime Minister did or did not raise this attack with Xi Jinping?
ANDREW HASTIE: It's good to be with you, Greg. The Prime Minister was asked and he didn't answer the question. And so there's really two options, either he wasn't briefed to give him plausible deniability. And that is a serious concern that the Prime Minister was not briefed on a serious action taken against Royal Australian Navy divers, or he knew and he didn't raise it with Xi Jingping. To use the Prime Minister's own words where he says, "we must cooperate where we can with China. And we must disagree where we must". Well, this is a point where we do disagree. And it's a point of disagreement that he could raise man to man, peer to peer, with Xi Jinping.
GREG JENNETT: Do you regard those interactions between Prime Ministers and other world leaders on the sidelines of these summits, as in any way, private meetings that need to be protected?
ANDREW HASTIE: Well, Greg, there are always readouts from these meetings. And I think every Australian would expect the Prime Minister to raise a Chinese sonar attack on Royal Australian Navy divers, with Xi Jinping. We'd expect our Prime Minister to do that, he is our leader. It wouldn't have been a comfortable conversation. But this is where you raise the issue and you seek an apology, and that's the Coalition position.
GREG JENNETT: Okay, let's step it back into some accumulated knowledge that I'm sure you have on these sorts of activities, Andrew Hastie, are military chain reports on operational incidents of this kind, classified until declassified?
ANDREW HASTIE: Well, of course, they're classified, they're briefed to the Deputy Prime Minister as the Minister for Defence in the first instance. And then I'm sure that information is shared across the National Security Committee of Cabinet, which the Prime Minister heads. But it's been made public, it was made public on Saturday, five days after the incident, and well clear of APEC. And again, the question that we are putting to the Prime Minister is, if he was briefed, why didn't he raise it? And if he wasn't briefed, why wasn't he briefed by the Deputy Prime Minister?
GREG JENNETT: Aren't there protocol arrangements or rules that would suggest it inappropriate to raise with a world leader, an incident about which Australia had knowledge, but which was still up to that point in time classified?
ANDREW HASTIE: Well, these are questions for the Government. I can't answer those for the Government. But they are serious questions. And again, it goes to the safety of the Royal Australian Navy divers doing their jobs, in a tough environment. It's dangerous enough to be diving under a ship cutting the propeller free of fishing nets with swell and all the rest of it. It's another thing to have a Chinese destroyer launching a sonar attack on our divers potentially risking their health through serious injury, pressure injuries, because after all, a sonar wave is a pressure wave. And at 10 metres of depth for a diver you're already at increased pressure up to 14.5 psi. So we're talking barotraumas, we're talking nasal passage damage, we're talking lung damage, and potentially in the worst case scenario, brain damage. So this is very, very serious. And that's why it should have been raised.
GREG JENNETT: Now, is there any possibility, you are quite clear there, in reasserting that these fishing nets were entangled around the propeller or propeller shaft, that aligns completely with what Richard Marles said in his statement over the weekend. The only reason I asked about this Andrew Hastie is the Prime Minister said this afternoon, the divers were freeing up a fishing net from the equipment that was required under the water. Does that suggest it may have been some other appendage other than the propellers that and if so, is that suggestive of some sort of operation by the Australian Navy there?
ANDREW HASTIE: Look, I don't know because I haven't been briefed yet. I've requested a brief from the Deputy Prime Minister on Saturday, and I'm hoping to have that either tomorrow or Wednesday. Regardless, we had divers in the water and that means that a flag Alpha would have been raised by the vessel which is a universal flag to indicate to other vessels that there were divers in the water. And the bridge or someone on the watch would have been communicating with other vessels in the area, letting them know that Toowoomba had divers in the water. So there's no excuse for launching this sonar attack. And that's the main point, that's the principle at stake here, that lives could have been lost in the worst case scenario or our personnel could have been very seriously injured.
GREG JENNETT: So apart from what Defence Minister Marles has already done, and the diplomats have done through their own respective channels, are further forms of diplomatic sanction or military to military protest appropriate to escalate this further from here, Andrew Hastie?
ANDREW HASTIE: That'd be a decision for the Government, but we hope that our Royal Australian Navy personnel are represented by our Government at the highest levels. And an apology is sought because this behavior is not to be tolerated. And it's a growing pattern. We remember last year in February and June where the Chinese Navy and a Chinese fighter, both compromised the safety of two P-8A Poseidon aircraft, conducting routine maritime surveillance. This is a pattern that is growing, and we need to draw a line under it and assert our interest and our sovereignty and our values.
GREG JENNETT: Might this have a side effect unintended, I'm sure, at the beginning of solidifying allied support for one another? And I asked that question, because you'd be aware I imagined that the ranking member of the [US] Senate Armed Services Committee, Roger Wicker in the United States has said Beijing is once again harassing US allies and partners in the Indo Pacific, might that have the effect of dissipating some of the congressional reservations about AUKUS that are held there in Washington?
ANDREW HASTIE: I think it's a strong reminder that geopolitical competition is back and it's here to stay. And despite whatever signals the Prime Minister is sending to China, he cannot overcome that structural reality, that the US and China are in competition, and it affects us and our interests. I met with Senator Wicker last year in the US Senate. I know he's a friend of Australia. He indicated to Senator Paterson and I that he was keen for AUKUS to progress. And I think this incident underscores the need for the US to build up the capacity of its allies in the Indo Pacific region.
GREG JENNETT: Let's move on from that unfortunate incident to another front that hasn't been getting quite as much attention of late, Andrew Hastie, Ukraine. It's being reported that Australian veteran Matthew Jepsen was killed in fighting in Ukraine. It's not illegal, but it's also not encouraged. However, in this consular case, Australia's relying on New Zealand's Honorary Consul in Kyiv, to help coordinate the necessary arrangements, because there's no Australian post that's active there at the moment. Should that be rectified? Should that be reopened soon?
ANDREW HASTIE: We'd like to see strong support from the Albanese government for Ukraine in their fight against Russian aggression. I think we're falling behind other partners and allies in terms of the material aid that we're sending to Ukraine. And I think we're also behind diplomatically in that we're yet to reestablish a diplomatic mission in Kyiv. I think about a number of countries that have established diplomatic missions there, the US, the UK, Canada, Indonesia, China, France, Hungary, among many others. So I think it's time that this Government sent a message that we are friends with Ukraine, that we support their efforts. And that would mean reestablishing a diplomatic posts there in Kyiv.
GREG JENNETT: So in your assessment, are there any outstanding dangers that would apply to an Australian post that warrant this caution? Or is it excessively cautious by DFAT?
ANDREW HASTIE: I think it's excessively cautious. I think there's always risks wherever you are, we managed to maintain diplomatic presence in Kabul and Kandahar. And I think we can do the same in Ukraine as well.
GREG JENNETT: And the message to Australian would-be fighters like Matthew Jepsen, I don't think he's the first to be reported as having been killed in fighting there. But are you satisfied that the messaging is strong enough against participating if you're an Australian?
ANDREW HASTIE: Every loss of life is tragic, particularly in the Ukraine war. We don't want to see more Australians perish. So that's why I advise along with both sides of Parliament to not travel to Ukraine, if you can avoid it. I understand young people are going to do that. But it is an offence to participate in hostilities if you're not a member of another country's armed forces. And I think that point is worth remembering.
GREG JENNETT: And highly dangerous as is demonstrated daily in that war.
ANDREW HASTIE: And highly dangerous.
GREG JENNETT: Andrew Hastie, I know you've got a flight to catch. I appreciate you finding some time before doing so. We'll talk again soon. Thanks for joining.
ANDREW HASTIE: Thanks, Greg. My pleasure.
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