Interview: Gary Adshead, 6PR




GARY ADSHEAD: The Opposition Defence spokesperson joins me. G'day, Andrew.

ANDREW HASTIE: Good morning to you, Gary.

GARY ADSHEAD: In your assessment, or in any sort of knowledge that you may have, would our Prime Minister have been made aware of such an incident fairly soon after it occurred?

ANDREW HASTIE: This is a very significant incident. It endangered the lives of Royal Australian Navy personnel. They were in international waters, in Japan's economic zone, and the Defence Minister would have been notified immediately and this is something that he should have raised directly with the Prime Minister before he went to APEC. I think the question remains, why didn't the Prime Minister raise this with President Xi Jinping in San Francisco at APEC?

GARY ADSHEAD: Well, there is a possibility he did, because we haven't heard from the PM at this stage.

ANDREW HASTIE: There's a possibility, and if he did, then he should let the Australian people know because I think there is grave concern that we're being treated like fools. This is significant enough that he should raise it, man-to-man, peer-to-peer at APEC.

GARY ADSHEAD: What do you know, even from your Defence background, your own service, what do you know about the notion that we've got divers in the water and the Chinese ship sets off its sonar, what can be the impact there, Andrew?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, the first thing I'd like to say, Gary, is that diving is inherently dangerous. Everything under water is magnified. If you make a mistake under water, it can be a lot more costly than on the surface because every time you go 10 metres of depth, the pressure increases by 14.5 psi, so there's a lot of risk in diving. Toowoomba had fishing nets entangled around its propeller and would’ve sent Navy divers down - they’re usually drawn from the crew so cooks, bosuns, mates, stokers. It’s dangerous enough getting under the hull in open waters with the swell and then what sonar does is it sends pressure waves that bounce off things in the water, and the timing of the pressure wave bouncing back is used to measure distance and develop images of what is underwater. So you can already appreciate that divers are under pressure under water, and then sonar would increase that pressure. You already have, at that depth of say 10 metres, increased pressure on your sinuses, your ears, your lungs, and so potentially, what an active sonar could do is really damage your ears, your sinuses, your lungs, but also other organs, including your brain, because a sonar transmission is a bit like an explosion underwater, whether it be a mine, or torpedo, or a depth charge. So this was very, very reckless, if not malicious, it put our divers at risk and that's why it should be escalated and raised at the highest levels.

GARY ADSHEAD: So this Chinese destroyer was obviously monitoring the Toowoomba, and other naval activity in the area of Japan, but we communicated to the Chinese vessel and it still kept coming closer and closer. There can be no mistake here, can there, that they deliberately activated the sonar to do this, or could they argue they were only doing it to see what was going on?

ANDREW HASTIE: Here's the thing, Gary. I've consulted with Surface Warfare Officers and a Clearance Diving Officer and I've been told that a flag Alpha - which is a flag that signals a vessel has divers down, it's an international flag - would have been raised. So all the ships in the immediate vicinity would have had visual that there were divers in the water and moreover, the ops room, or the bridge of the HMAS Toowoomba, would have been communicating with other ships in the area, letting them know that they had divers in the water and not to use sonar. This is typical behaviour that we've seen over the last five years. I'll remind your listeners that in June last year, a RAAF P-8A Poseidon had a Chinese fighter fly in front of it and release chaff countermeasures in front of it, which is dangerous because it could damage the engine of a P-8A Poseidon. And then in February of last year as well, a P-8A Poseidon was doing routine maritime surveillance in the Arafura Sea and it was lased by a Chinese warship. This is what we call grey zone tactics - it’s not peace, it's not war - and the Chinese military is using these tactics to get inside the heads of free countries like Australia. That’s why it's important that our Prime Minister makes representations and raises this directly when he has the opportunity, as he did last week.

GARY ADSHEAD: It was clearly a flashpoint moment, though, given that it was Tuesday and then he's due at APEC I think it was the following day. But you are confident, I mean, we don't know, but you are confident that he would have been briefed on that incident off Japan?

ANDREW HASTIE: This is a significant incident and he should have been briefed. In fact, if he wasn’t briefed, I'd be asking questions as to why.

GARY ADSHEAD: Is it the plausible deniability thing or not, does it still happen?

ANDREW HASTIE: The Minister for Defence would have known, the Prime Minister should have known, and if he didn’t know, there's a question mark as to why. Because that would have been a perfect opportunity for us to seek an apology and an explanation from the Chinese leadership.

GARY ADSHEAD: All right. Now, one thing I think is crucial to this is we don't really know what the condition of these naval divers are. We know that they're saying that they sustained minor injuries, is there any suggestion that things can linger on after an incident like that?

ANDREW HASTIE: That will be up to the doctors on board and when they return. But it's not so much the injuries themselves, it’s the principle here, and it was reckless and malicious behaviour. I think it was a post-Washington, post-Beijing, post-Tuvalu and mid-APEC test for this Government, and it appears the Government has blinked. I think the government really was trying to engineer a 50-year anniversary of Gough Whitlam traveling over to China in 1973. But the world has changed in 50 years, and we must see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. So, the Prime Minister needs to be stronger, I think he has demonstrated in the last week that he's absent, he's distracted, he’s weak on national security and the Australian people are right to be concerned about his leadership at this time.

GARY ADSHEAD: There's no Parliament this week, so I assume it'll have to wait until you can question him directly, but you would expect that the PM’s office should be issuing a statement, at the very least, on this?

ANDREW HASTIE: Absolutely. This is why the Prime Minister gets paid the big bucks. It's not a job for everyone. It is a unique job, it’s an incredibly demanding job, and he's there to represent the Australian people, our values and our interests.

GARY ADSHEAD: We’ll wait and see what comes out of the Prime Minister’s office today. I do appreciate you joining us, Andrew.

ANDREW HASTIE: Thanks, Gary. Good to be with you.


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