Interview: Nadia Mitsopoulos, ABC WA Mornings




Topics: Illegal boat arrivals, Operation Sovereign Borders, Surface Fleet Review.


NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Andrew Hastie is the Shadow Defence Minister and also acting as Shadow Home Affairs Minister. Thank you for talking to me, good morning.

ANDREW HASTIE: Good morning, Nadia. Good to be with you.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Is the Liberal Party encouraging people smugglers, as the Prime Minister says?

ANDREW HASTIE: Absolutely not, Nadia. The Prime Minister was the Deputy Prime Minister at the end of the Gillard prime ministership, and that is the period of time that is stalking the Prime Minister now because during that time, they had 1,200 deaths at sea, 50,000 illegal arrivals on about 1,200 boats. Since Anthony Albanese was elected Prime Minister, we've had more than 300 illegal arrivals on what appears to be 13 boats and the last group of these people came last week. I think what's happening is they're testing the Prime Minister – he's ripped $600 million out of the Australian Border Force (ABF) budget, and even the Australian Border Force Commissioner, last week at Estimates, said that that leaves his force stretched. So, our concern is around the Prime Minister's lack of resolve, the lack of resourcing, and our government's ability to surveil the north-west coastline and stop these people smugglers. They're going to test him – they're doing that right now – and he's got to show strength and resolve.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: On the issue of resourcing, does there need to be more transparency about where the money goes?

ANDREW HASTIE: The money needs to go into, I think, surveillance. It's a massive coastline, we have a huge coastline here in Western Australia, and it's clear now that people smugglers have worked out how to penetrate our border under this government. We need to invest in future technologies, unmanned platforms, we need to make sure that we keep Temporary Protection Visas, which this government has committed to abolishing. There are a number of different things that are pillars of Operation Sovereign Borders, and I think it's clear the Prime Minister is not committed to continuing on with Operation Sovereign Borders.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: If you're publicly describing the resourcing as weak, doesn't that encourage the people smugglers?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, that's our job as Opposition. We want a strong border, we want a strong government and we want resolve. So, in order to highlight existing weakness, we need to make it public. We need to call this government out just like we did with the decision by Minister Andrew Giles to release 149 criminals into the community. That was a very unpleasant episode when we had murderers and sex predators walking the streets, but it's our job to bring transparency to the government and their failings, and they are failing both on borders and on issues like the case that Minister Giles oversaw.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Andrew Hastie is my guest this morning, he's the Shadow Defence Minister and at the moment, also the acting Shadow Home Affairs Minister. I'll get to your calls in one moment – 1300 222 720 – I can see the phones are running hot and it doesn't surprise me. The head of Operation Sovereign Borders said the mission today is the same as it was back in 2013, and he says any alternative narrative will be exploited by people smugglers to deceive potential irregular immigrants and convince them to risk their lives. Now, you don't often hear that kind of a statement from Border Force. They're directing that at you, aren't they?

ANDREW HASTIE: He also said last week – this is the Australian Border Force Commissioner – that his frontline forces were stretched because of the $600 million that was ripped out of his budget. That's a demonstration of weakness and it's our job to highlight that. We don't want to see the boats starting up, but this government thinks it can take money away from its frontline resources, including Defence, which has a role to play here, and expect everything to be fine. That's not the case as we've seen already with 300 illegal arrivals since May 2022.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: The response though, could you argue, what was it swift enough? I mean, these people were sent to Nauru within 48 hours of arriving. Does that send a strong message?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think it does send a strong message, but I think the Prime Minister is clearly not across his brief. On Friday, he started a press conference unaware of the whole situation, even though he'd been traveling in his car with his phone. This is a government that’s national security instincts are not good. In fact, they're weak – they're weak on Defence, they’re weak on border security, and the reason why we can say that, with confidence, is because of the money they've taken out of both of those portfolios. Defence is going backwards, inflation is eating into purchasing power, and with the handing down of the Defence Strategic Review in April last year, we saw that there was no new money, and we now know that ABF has had $600 million ripped out of its operating budget. What else can we expect but for the boats to start up again?

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Where would you put the $600 million? Where would it go specifically?

ANDREW HASTIE: I see a big problem in surveillance – getting the unblinking eye operating up north where these boats make their approach through to our border. If you have unmanned platforms, like drones, which are low cost and can loiter for long periods of time – far longer than humans in an aeroplane – that gives you better surveillance and coverage of our coast. The question to the government is, where's your investment in the latest drones to make sure that we keep our borders safe and secure?

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Andrew Hastie, before I let you go, I just want to ask you about the government's review of the Navy's surface fleet, which is actually due to be released tomorrow. Now, I'm not sure if you've seen but The Australian is reporting the Hunter-class frigate program would be retained in Adelaide, but a new fleet of smaller ships would also be acquired. The first few would be built overseas, but then the rest built here in WA, so that we have a continuous shipbuilding capacity here. Do you like the sound of that plan?

ANDREW HASTIE: I want to look at it in more detail. I know that if you cut the Hunter-class from nine to six vessels, the cost per unit goes up significantly. But the bottom line here, Nadia, is that in the end, we need capability for our Royal Australian Navy – we couldn't even send a single ship to the Red Sea under this government. I think the question has to be for the government, what can we fix by 2026? Because the strategic situation is deteriorating. So, I'll be asking that question when they unveil their package tomorrow, but certainly we’ll scrutinise it closely and will always act in the best interest of this country, because Defence is something that is absolutely critical for our future going forward.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: All right, we'll leave it there. Good to talk to you, Andrew Hastie, thank you for your time.

ANDREW HASTIE: Pleasure, Nadia. Thank you.


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  • Andrew Hastie
    published this page in Latest News 2024-02-19 11:20:55 +0800