Interview: Andrew Bolt, Sky News





ANDREW BOLT: Joining me is Andrew Hastie, a former SAS captain, now the Opposition's Defence spokesman. Andrew Hastie, thank you so much for joining me. Your response to Peter Leahy’s comments today that the Army has been gutted, it's getting smaller, it's getting less protected?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, Andrew, I'm surprised it took General Leahy this long to come out and say this because we've been saying it since April 24, when the Defence Strategic Review was handed down by the Albanese Government. We know that they cut the Infantry Fighting Vehicle program from 450 vehicles down to 129, we know that they're taking money from Army and putting it elsewhere in the Defence budget, and that's why we're seeing Army shrink and Army being re-postured up to the north, which is going to have issues for recruitment and retention.

ANDREW BOLT: But, Andrew Hastie, the money is going from one part of Defence to the other. Smaller Army, one would hope more missiles or something, I don't know. Is it a question of simply priorities or would you, if you were in power, be actually spending more on everything in Defence?

ANDREW HASTIE: Anthony Albanese and Richard Marles keep getting up in front of the Australian people and saying that we're facing the most difficult strategic circumstances since the end of the Second World War, they keep saying that. If that's the case, then we should be investing more in Defence, not gutting Army and moving money around, because all the DSR really produced was cuts to capability, cannibalisation of capability and more reviews. We still don't have a Defence strategy from this Government. The surface fleet review, which they commissioned, has reported to government but we're not going to hear about it until next year. So I'm calling on the Government, if they really believe that we are in such difficult circumstances, and I believe we do face a number of threats from authoritarian powers - we've seen what's happening in Ukraine, we've seen what is happening to Israel with the attacks by Hamas - we do have big challenges and we do need to invest in our Defence Force and so far, the Government is all talk and no action.

ANDREW BOLT: You're suggesting you would spend more, can you give us a figure of how much more? Is it half a per cent more of GDP than the Government? Just roughly ballpark.

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, I think that's on the table and, of course, I can't commit to increased spending without a discussion with Shadow Cabinet. But I think the Coalition does take seriously our strategic circumstances, we do recognise the need to invest in the Defence Force, but until a strategy is in place, we can't actually come to a definitive number because you either spend too much or you spend too little. So, you really have to work out what the threat is that you're dealing with, how you're going to deal with it, and then develop the capabilities that you need, and then you come up with a figure to achieve that. I think it's quite obvious that we need to be able to deter adversaries in the region, we need to be able to contribute to challenges that are not just here on our shores but afar, and in order to do that, you need an Army that's robust, that can be deployable, as we've seen over the last 50 years or so through a number of different conflicts that the Army has been involved in.

ANDREW BOLT: You've been actually making that argument for a while, I should acknowledge that. The government seems to be putting almost all its eggs in one basket - the submarine project. Now the thing about the submarine project is not just that it seems to be delayed, the Americans aren't handing over the technology yet that we need. The other point is this - the plan is to build most of the subs ultimately in Adelaide and that means massive extra costs. The whole project an incredible $368 billion, although that is over 30 years. Former Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, says building them in Adelaide is a fantasy, just adds to the cost, but no political party dares say so, do you?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think that figure was very unhelpful, $368 billion dollars over 30 years within the Defence budget as it exists now. The Defence budget is about six to seven per cent of overall Commonwealth spending, so I think that number is unhelpful and Labor, again, showing how ham-fisted they are with public advocacy.

ANDREW BOLT: Would you build the submarines in Adelaide or not? Would you pull the plug on that?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, if I was the Minister for Defence, I'd be doing everything I could possibly do to get Adelaide ready to build a submarine, that's the plan as it exists now. Alexander Downer is entitled to his view, my personal view is that we need a strong industrial base, we need to be able to build ships here, we need to be able to build submarines here. We did it with the Collins class, we've learned a lot of lessons there, and if we're partnering, as we are, with the UK and the US, I believe we can make this happen. But Government has to lead and so far, we're seeing a lack of leadership from Anthony Albanese, we're seeing a lack of leadership from Richard Marles, and we're not seeing leadership from the WA state government.

ANDREW BOLT: Andrew Hastie, good to catch up with you. Thank you so much for your time.

ANDREW HASTIE: Thank you, Andrew, always a pleasure.