Interview: Andrew Clennell




ANDREW CLENNELL: Andrew Hastie, thanks for joining us. Do you support this announcement in its entirety? Or are there any reservations on your part?

SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, THE HON. ANDREW HASTIE MP: The Opposition supports this announcement from a bipartisan perspective. It's historic and of course, we initiated it 18-months ago. So, we're glad that the Albanese Government has taken the action to acquire eight nuclear submarines. That doesn't mean we don't have questions and that doesn't mean we won't act as an opposition and hold this government to account. But this is a historic day for Australia and we are committed to seeing AUKUS delivered over the 30-year span that the program will take.

ANDREW CLENNELL: What are we trying to achieve as a nation here by obtaining nuclear submarines?

ANDREW HASTIE: It's very simple, Andrew, in 2020, Prime Minister then, Scott Morrison, stood up at the Australian Defence Force Academy and presented the Defence Strategic Update which said that our region is deteriorating and the rise of China and authoritarian powers are making things more dangerous and disorderly across the globe, but particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, and Australia had to respond. There was a calculation made that the Collins class submarine and the Attack class submarine that was being provided by the French wasn't going to be fit for purpose and Prime Minister Morrison set out to acquire nuclear submarines from the United States. That's what was done, that's why this is so historic. There's only two countries in the world the US has released this technology - the UK and now Australia so it's very, very significant. But we are responding to the particular circumstances we find ourselves in, in the Indo Pacific region.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Was this similar to the deal the Coalition government would've come to if re-elected, do you think?

ANDREW HASTIE: That's a great question, Andrew, and I can't speculate because I haven't followed the logic of a highly compartmented organisation which is the Submarine Task Force. So, they've come to their conclusions. We do have questions, we have questions around the timing, we have questions about the sequencing, particularly with the potential operation of three submarine classes in the Royal Australian Navy, and then of course, we have questions around how this will be paid for, given it's estimated to cost between $268 and $368 billion. That's a huge amount of money. Now, we support this process, and the cost of inaction will be much higher, but we do need to have a conversation about how we fund this and we do so that doesn't jeopardise other important programs that the Australian people enjoy.

ANDREW CLENNELL: When the Coalition government was looking to do the deal on this, was a nuclear waste dump in Australia always a possibility back then?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think it always had to be a possibility but again, Andrew, I wasn't part of the detailed briefings. But we will support the Labor government as they seek a solution for the disposal of nuclear waste. It's an important part of being a steward of this capability and we have a very stable continent, we've got a vast amount of land - a good amount of it unused - so we'll support the government as they go about disposing of future waste. You know, we're a mature nation, we sell uranium, we're about to become stewards of nuclear technology, we must be able to dispose of it as well.

ANDREW CLENNELL: And Richard Marles was saying before that the first sub will be around 10-years old, it will have 20-years of shelf life left coming from the US. What do you think of us getting second-hand subs first?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, in the end, Andrew, we've got to respond to the strategic circumstances before us. The rise of China and it's somewhat belligerent behaviour in the region has brought on AUKUS. That's just the reality. People don't like to say it down in Canberra and elsewhere, but that is the reality and that's what we're responding to. That's why we're going to be hosting on forward rotations four US and one UK sub in Perth from 2027. So that's the hedge to sort of cover the gap between today and when we get our first Virginia class submarine in 2033. But we've got assurances that that submarine will be fit for purpose, it'll have been through a full maintenance cycle and I'm confident that it will meet our needs.

ANDREW CLENNELL: There's been a bit of talk today about interoperability of the US, UK and Australian fleet and then of course, you've got China with a number of nuclear submarines. A big difference that sticks out here is Australia doesn't have nuclear warheads. Does that matter?

ANDREW HASTIE: No, I think the real game changer with the Virginia class submarines and the SSN AUKUS joint submarine that will be built by Australia and the UK is that they'll have a vertical launch capability, which means you can fire up to 12 missiles, and indeed 16 Tomahawk missiles in one salvo. So when we're talking about, to use the language of the of the Deputy Prime Minister, "impactful projection", to have Australian submarines deployed forward which can then fire up to 16 missiles from the vertical launch capability - that is a game changer. absolutely. So nuclear weapons, that's a side issue, we're not pursuing nuclear weapons, but we are pursuing cutting edge technology that will give us the edge and if we're ever in a situation where to punch our way out.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Could you see these subs being used in China-Taiwan conflict?

ANDREW HASTIE: That's again a hypothetical question for the government of the day but certainly, we are becoming more integrated with the United Kingdom and the United States. But I also want to add as well that our strategy funder the Coalition government, and it's a strategy that's been continued under the Albanese government is to be a good regional neighbour. We want to ensure that the prosperity and security that all nations have enjoyed over the last eight years in the Indo Pacific region continues and that means we're entering into this special relationship between US and UK but we're also going to be working very hard on maintaining our friendships and our partnerships with lots of countries around the region from Papua in the Pacific, to Singapore, to Vietnam, to Indonesia - all these countries are really important to our future in the Indo Pacific region.

ANDREW CLENNELL: No guarantee from the government here for an East Coast subs base. What's your reaction to that notwithstanding you're probably happy with the investment in your home state?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, I'm very happy with the investment in WA. It's great for people in Mandurah where I live, it's great for people in Rockingham and the out of metro area. I think you grew up there, Andrew, or you're familiar with it anyway. It's a great part of the world, as you know. But certainly, the East Coast submarine base is the missing piece of the puzzle. And I think it is important that we identify where that will be because these things have a long lead time and so it's important that we get certainty for, not just Defence, but also the private sector and industry who will be involved in building this base. And that leads me to a question that I have - what happens to the large vessel dry dock in Perth that was committed to by the Morrison government last year - $4.3 billion. Again, no certainty around that. So the Defense Strategic Review, which will be announced next month, we'll be watching very closely indeed.

ANDREW CLENNELL: My in-laws live in your part of the world, I'll just clarify that Andrew Hastie, but Richard Marles seemed to indicate the Collins class might not extend to the end of its life. What's your reaction to that? He didn't say that, he hinted that could be the case.

ANDREW HASTIE: Again, this is why we have questions around the sequencing of this project. What's the role of the Collins class, particularly as we see the Virginia class come on and then the first SSN AUKUS, delivered in 2042? Will the Life of Type Extension continue? What will happen to that workforce if it's not continued? And how will they progress this? These are questions that the government needs to be transparent about and give certainty to South Australian industry.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Andrew Hastie, thanks for your time this afternoon.

ANDREW HASTIE: My pleasure, Andrew, thank you.