GREG JENNETT: Andrew Hastie, always good to have you on the program.
ANDREW HASTIE: Thanks Greg.
GREG JENNETT: You and Peter Dutton have been briefed on the latest involving the MRH-90 crash off the Whitsunday Coast. What do you understand about where things are up to in what is now clearly a recovery operation?
ANDREW HASTIE: It's a tragic incident and we mourn the loss of those four fine Australians. The operation now is about recovery of them and the helicopter and what they can find of it.
GREG JENNETT: You've flown in the MRH-90, I guess, over the years, did it ever give you, as a platform, cause for concern? Obviously, you've never experienced anything this catastrophic but did it cause concern?
ANDREW HASTIE: Well, Greg, actually, I've only ever flown in Black Hawks and the Chinooks but from a parliamentary perspective, since 2015, a lot of concerns about the air worthiness of the MRH-90, [have been] well documented on both sides of politics. In fact, I was talking to Matt Thistlethwaite before I came on this program and both of us are agreed that the Black Hawk, as the future rotary wing capability for the Army, is a very good decision.
GREG JENNETT: Should its rollout, or can its rollout, be accelerated from here?
ANDREW HASTIE: I hope so. I think it's due in the next year or so and I don't think that can come soon enough, frankly. From a Coalition perspective, we would support the expedition of that aircraft into service.
GREG JENNETT: And is that something you think Australia could pursue with the US manufacturers?
ANDREW HASTIE: That'd be a decision for government, but certainly any assistance we can provide to make that happen, of course, we'd be supportive of it.
GREG JENNETT: Alright, let's move on to a couple of other matters in your shadow portfolio. After AUSMIN, there's been a decision to embed US officers within the Defence Intelligence Organisation here to assess Pacific developments. Why, to the best of your understanding, is that necessary? What will it achieve that isn't currently being achieved?
ANDREW HASTIE: Well, I think the Indo Pacific, but specifically the Pacific Island Chain, has changed a lot over the last decade or so. We've seen an increased presence of the People's Republic of China through the Belt and Road Initiative and through other forms of assistance, through law enforcement, for example. And so, I think it's time for Australia and the US to work together to redouble our efforts to understand what's happening in the region and to build a better understanding of our regional partners and support them where necessary.
GREG JENNETT: One of those, of course, is Solomon Islands and it's a matter of record now that Australia has been asked and is open to the concept of supporting the raising of a defence force in that country. Do you have any understanding about how far that could go? Or should there be limits on Australia's support for that?
ANDREW HASTIE: Look, I'm very open minded about this. We have long standing relationships with the Solomon Islands, with the Papua New Guineans, with Vanuatuans, among others, and we want to build on those relationships. We do that through institutions and the Defence Force is a great way to build relationships, peer to peer, and one of the reasons why we have such a close relationship with Papua is through the Defence Force. So, I welcome the idea. Let's see how it rolls out but certainly, operationalising the relationship through the Defence Force is a good way to go.
GREG JENNETT: Through expertise, but also through equipment, I mean, should we be arming them, if asked?
ANDREW HASTIE: Well, that's a that's a question for government. Of course, there'd have to be all sorts of assessments made about that, but certainly working side by side. I did my patrol course for the SAS in Papua New Guinea, worked closely with their soldiers, did combat survival with them. Didn't find a lot out in the jungles there, Greg, but certainly great relationships with our Papuan friends and it would be great to build that with the Solomons as well.
GREG JENNETT: Well, there's nothing new in concept is there about defence forces in the Pacific Islands. Let's see where this one takes us. Andrew Hastie, time has beaten us, love to talk for longer but will thank you and farewell you.
ANDREW HASTIE: Thanks, Greg.
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