Interview: Afternoon Briefing, ABC News





MATT DORAN: The submarines are obviously much bigger than what we currently have in the Royal Australian Navy, the Collins class is a much smaller boat, it's going to need more submariners to actually get these things moving. How difficult is it going to be for governments of any political persuasion to find the people who are willing to do this sort of work?

SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, THE HON. ANDREW HASTIE MP: AUKUS is truly a nation building exercise and that's why it's got to be beyond politics of the day We're certainly going to hold the government to account on things like timing and budgets, and the plan to deliver AUKUS but we need to work together because this is nation building. And so, we need to recruit more submariners, which is going to be difficult, we need to find young Australians who are prepared to do the work of a submariner and we need to recruit more people for industry because building an industry to build nuclear powered submarines in Adelaide is going to be critical. We need to also get people who are specialists in quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and all the other capabilities that are part of pillar two of AUKUS. So, this is this is massive. It's a big task and recruiting and retaining people is going to be a really important part of that going forward.

MATT DORAN: There is clearly a lot of bipartisan spirit that's on show here and we saw that during question time yesterday, with tributes paid to the former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, for his role in bringing about AUKUS. Another bipartisan commitment has been this issue of building submarines in Adelaide. Do you think there's going to be blowback in South Australia because we are now going to be buying, by the looks of things, American made submarines effectively off the shelf, cutting out some of the production work that would have been done in South Australia?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think, given the urgency of the strategic situation, an off the shelf purchase of the Virginia class submarines, if that is indeed the plan, we don't know, but that does make sense because first of all, we've got to respond to the strategic environment. That's critical, absolutely critical. But I think by the sounds of it, and again, we'll wait and see, but these things will happen concurrently. I think the Prime Minister in previous statements has said that there might be up to 10 submarines being built in Adelaide. So I think it's win-win - win for us in preparing to face challenging strategic circumstances and a win for South Australia potentially, if we go ahead with the 10 submarines there.

MATT DORAN: When we've got this, what looks like a plan to develop a brand new type of submarine using the British technology, the SSNR as it's being dubbed in some of this initial reporting, is there a risk that in developing something brand new that there's going to be things like project delays, cost blowouts, things that are pretty commonplace when it comes to defence industry, but likely even more exacerbated because this is such a new form of equipment for Australia?

ANDREW HASTIE: You're right. First of class is a very difficult undertaking, particularly with submarines - probably the most complex military machine you can design and then build. So yes, there is risk in this project. And again, we'll wait and see what is announced on Tuesday morning but certainly, that's something we've got to consider and that's why it's so important that we potentially do things in tandem - off the shelf purchase of Virginia class whilst we build up our own industrial capacity and build this joint submarine over the next decade and beyond.

MATT DORAN: You've cited the sort of global threats that Australia and many other countries are currently dealing with. Chief among them would certainly be China's ambition, not only in the Pacific, but even further afield. The Chinese Foreign Ministry overnight has been quite critical of Australia and the US and the UK saying the three are engaging in a cold war mentality, that they're undermining peace and stability by going down this sort of path. Is that something that would affect any decision making in this sort of space, or is it put in the "they would say that, wouldn't they" sort of category by most?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think it's priced in. Those sorts of comments are priced in and we've been hearing them now for almost half a decade. We took the hard decision back in 2021, the former Coalition government, to strike AUKUS because we were responding to the changing strategic circumstances. China is at the heart of that change. We're investing in nuclear submarines because we want to uphold the rules-based order in the Indo Pacific. We also want to be a good regional partner and we want to invest in maintaining the balance of power so we can protect those goods, those shared goods, of peace and prosperity. And so, these sorts of comments, they're a diversion. We're going to keep pursuing the objective of delivering nuclear powered submarines for the Australian Navy and being a good neighbor to our partners in the region.

MATT DORAN: You're a military man, how do you balance the sort of risk calculation there? One side clearly talking about this being an aggressive act, Australia acquiring equipment which they say is only going to make the situation worse. It continues to move along at some pace, doesn't it?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, there's one country in the region that's undergone the biggest peacetime militarisation since the Second World War and that's the People's Republic of China. So, they can make comments like they have, but it's kind of ironic given what they're doing with their military. We're going to focus on our national interests and being a good partner to our regional neighbors.

MATT DORAN: Andrew Hastie, thanks for your time.

ANDREW HASTIE: Thank you, Matt.