Interview: Gary Adshead



Thanks very much for your time, Andrew.

ANDREW HASTIE: Good to be with you, Gary.

GARY ADSHEAD: You served. What were the concerns about allowing people from foreign backgrounds into our Defence forces?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, one of the things we know is that espionage and foreign interference is at an all time high in our history. The Director General of ASIO has said that it's happening at unprecedented levels. So that would be one of the risks that we'd need to manage. There's also a challenge for Pacific nations, we want them to hold on to their people and to build the strength of their countries and so there's also the challenge of potentially recruiting the best of their people to Australia. So there's a couple of risks, I think that need to be considered and managed but when we talk about grafting in people to Australia and making them citizens, I think serving in our military is potentially a great way to do it. Now, this isn't Coalition policy, a migration review was announced by Labor last week, and so I think, to grow the defence Force - you mentioned eighteen and a half thousand people over the next two decades - to grow out our Defence Force we need to have all options on the table and it's worth considering.

GARY ADSHEAD: I know that it's early days, but would there be certain countries that would have to be off limits? You talked about Pacific Islanders, I know that obviously, New Zealanders? Who would you feel comfortable recruiting from?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think, you know, we have a great relationship, obviously, through Five Eyes, so Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US and UK work closely together already. We have lots of exchanges, military to military through that arrangement and so that would be a natural recruiting pool. But then experts today have also flagged the potential for recruiting Pacific Island nations as well and so I think that's what's on the table. But first of all, we've got to consider what our country's needs are, whether it's viable, what are the risks, and it's worthwhile having a public discussion about this. But certainly, I think it's a great way to graft someone into Australia, to give them a sense of home, a return of [service] obligation as well. When I went through the Australian Defence Force Academy, and when a lot of our young people go through specialist training, whether it be pilots or what have you, they have a return of service obligation imposed upon them to do four years training and you pay the country back with five years of service and I think, if we're going to bring people over, I think 700,000 people over the next couple of years is what the government's talking about, wouldn't it be good if some of them actually joined up and served our country in the process?

GARY ADSHEAD: There's some interesting avenues to go down here but first up, do we have the sort of manpower and the sort of infrastructure that would be required to set up the sort of training facilities for this?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, that's another great question, Gary. Again, this isn't a policy position from the Coalition, these are questions which government should be considering. Just on AUKUS alone, we've got to grow our submarine fleet by significant numbers, we need to grow our industrial base by significant numbers and we can only do that either through two ways - we increase our fertility replacement rate, which I think is about 1.9, it needs to be up at around 2.1, so people can have more babies, or people can migrate from other countries. And we need to have a process in place that has integrity and that has an economic or a security dividend for Australia and they're the principles that we'll keep coming back to.

GARY ADSHEAD: We see all the ads that run in terms of recruiting to the RAN and the Air Force and the Army, they're pretty specky, they're great. They get your interest and you think 'maybe I could do that'. But could we be doing more to pluck these people, these young men and women that we need from high schools? I mean, gap years are an option, but do we go hard enough for them?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think the first thing we need to do, Gary, is make it a values proposition. If you want to be distinct in a job market that's already very competitive, given the low unemployment rates, you actually need to say there's something unique about service in the Australian Defence Force. It's unlike any other job in this country because ultimately, you're signing up to serve your country and to fight for it if necessary and there's something special about that. And so we've got to encourage people to think about service, country. There's the opportunity to develop leadership skills, do something adventurous, to do something challenging. And then we've got to send the signal, as well, through pay and conditions, we need to show that we value people serving, so that's a discussion you could have about, are we remunerating, ADF personnel well enough, and then are we looking after them enough with families? And, of course, the big issue that all Australians are concerned about is housing. We have a massive housing shortage here in WA, but across the country, and for young people, we want to be able to encourage them to get into a home and maybe that's another incentive for people to serve in the ADF - you serve in the ADF, you've also got a stake in the country through a home and there's already a system in place there. But these are some of the avenues that we can use to recruit young Australians into the ADF.

GARY ADSHEAD: Well, certainly. My son as an example, he went to a gap year but he ended up spending about two and a half years with the Australian Air Force before moving into police. But on the back of that, I mean, he was 20-21 and he bought his own place because of the money that he saved during that time in the Defence Force. I mean, that's encouraging.

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, this is going to sound like a recruiting ad, Gary, but it's such a great way for young Australians to start their life, whether they go into the enlisted ranks - Army, Air Force, or Navy - or whether they go through the officer stream through the Australian Defence Force Academy or the relevant officer training facilities. It's such a great start to life, you're with friends, you've got a shared sense of purpose and mission, you're paid and you're learning skills that, like your son, you can transfer into other areas of life, whether it be the police force, or business, or teaching or what have you. It's just such a well rounded start to life as a young adult.

GARY ADSHEAD: Alright, now, here's the last one for you. National service, Andrew. I mean, if we're serious about this and we know how countries like Israel deal with the requirement to have a functioning Defence Force at all times, do we need to start looking at a national service again?

ANDREW HASTIE: Gary, it's a really good question and not a week goes by in this job where I don't have more senior Australians talk about the importance of national service. That would be a discussion for the whole country and I think it would be something that would have to be voted on in a plebiscite, because the last thing a government wants is to be sort of press ganging - to use the old language - press ganging young Australians into uniform. You don't get good soldiers, sailors or airmen that way. We want the whole country to be behind something like that and I think that would be something first discussed with the Australian people, a public debate and then probably something like a plebiscite to follow.

GARY ADSHEAD: It's always an interesting talking point. I do appreciate you joining us today, Andrew, thanks for that.

ANDREW HASTIE: A pleasure, Gary. Thanks for having me.