Interview: Andrew Bolt, Sky News





Topics: Labor’s embarrassing contribution to RIMPAC


ANDREW BOLT: Joining me is the Opposition's defence spokesman and former SAS Captain, Andrew Hastie. Andrew Hastie, thank you so much for your time. Sending just one ship to this major exercise with the US, is that extraordinary?

ANDREW HASTIE: It is extraordinary, Andrew, and good evening to you and your viewers. Under the Albanese Government, the Defence Force has grown weaker, our nation's security has grown weaker. And here's another data point, we're seeing an 80 per cent reduction in the size of the force element that is going to participate in the largest US-led exercise in the Pacific, RIMPAC, which happens every two years. We last participated in 2022 and since we've had two years now of Labor, the force element that's going to participate this year has been reduced by 80 per cent to one [warship], just over 300 people and a single aircraft.

ANDREW BOLT: No doubt China will be terrified by the thought that we can put one ship to sea. Why are we down to such small pickings?

ANDREW HASTIE: There are a number of issues here. I think there is a recruiting and retention crisis – the numbers bear that out. We're about 5,000 people short in the defence force, we can only crew five of our seven frigates. But we're also not retaining enough people, the separation rate is too high. There are a number of reasons why this is happening. There are structural problems with the defence force with the incentives for people to continue serving. I think there's been issues, at least at the lower levels, with leadership. But I also think the political signals that our serving members are getting from the defence force is that this government is not serious about defence. This government is apparently investing $50 billion into the defence force over the next 10 years, and they keep telling us that we're living the most dangerous time since the end of the Second World War, but they're only spending $5.7 billion of that money over the next four years and $3.8 billion in the fourth year of that four-year period. This is a government that's only doing window dressing. They're not serious about defence, they're actually weakening our defence force, and I think this small paltry contribution to RIMPAC this year is another data point that bears this out. I should remind your viewers as well that we were asked to participate in the Red Sea operations policing the Houthis and their affiliates, keeping our shipping lanes open – we couldn't even contribute a single ship and that says everything you need to know about the Albanese Government.

ANDREW BOLT: That is really shocking because that's a major sea lane that's been strangled by just a ragtag bunch of Islamist fighters, it's just quite extraordinary. Now we've got a number of ships laid up, docked submarines as well. Boy, we're really down to next to nothing. Can you tell us, give us a bit of context here, these exercises with the US, how important are they?

ANDREW HASTIE: They're very important because they are part of our deterrence strategy. When we come together as an allied force, and we demonstrate our prowess across all the domains, whether it be sea, air, land, space, even cyber, all of that matters because it demonstrates to the world and our potential adversaries that we have hard power that we can put into the field, that we can deploy at short notice. So what we're actually signalling by reducing our force element by about 80 per cent is weakness. We're suggesting that we don't actually care so much about our alliance contributions at the operational level, it demonstrates that we have problems with sustaining our force and it also raises the question for all of us, why this reduction over two years? Why is this happening? There are a lot of unknowns here and I suspect it's potentially due to the influence of one of our neighbours to the north.

ANDREW BOLT: Let's not forget the Prime Minister isn't even going next week to the meeting of NATO, which is the West’s biggest defence organisation, despite being invited – it's all quite extraordinary. Can I ask you one thing, you mentioned there's problems in retention, I mean there's labour shortages all over by the way, I'm sure that we should be training the forces a bit more as well. Is one problem the fact that we put such a low price these days on patriotism, we talk down nationalism, we trash our history, do you think the glamour of serving is going?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think there are definitely cultural problems at work here. If young Australians are told that Australia is basically a bad hangover from the colonial era, that we have bad history, that we have problems as a country, that our institutions are themselves problematic and not worth defending, well of course we're going to have people who are ambivalent about Australia and who aren't prepared to defend it. So I do think education is a critical part of this and I think one of the challenges is restoring our sense of history, our sense of pride in Australia as an experiment. It's a very unique experiment. We have people from all over the world who live peaceably, democratically together and that's something that needs to be preserved but it only comes with stewardship, it only comes with a good education system, and informed citizenry, and people who are prepared to defend it. And so I think you put your finger on it – there are big cultural issues here and it's not easily fixed by recruitment or incentives. We need political leadership, and we actually need to look hard at the education system as well.

ANDREW BOLT: I really do think it's full-court press for any future Coalition government to try to get this off the ground and try to get to the military in good shape. Andrew Hastie thank you so much indeed for your time.

ANDREW HASTIE: My pleasure, Andrew, thank you.



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