Interview: Andrew Clennell | Afternoon Agenda

ANDREW CLENNELL: Shadow Defence Minister, Andrew Hastie, thanks for joining us. So, in July, Anthony Albanese stood up in Germany and proclaimed this big $1 billion export deal in terms of this German company, Rheinmetall, building these tanks in Brisbane. Now we hear talks on the contract are suspended because the government's gone with the South Korean company to build our own infantry vehicles in Richard Marles' electorate. I asked the Deputy Prime Minister about this on Sunday, what do you make of it all?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, I think it's badly mishandled by the Albanese government. I think it's a test of leadership for Anthony Albanese. This is going to create 700 jobs in Queensland, it's a $1 billion contract, it's as he said, the largest defence export deal in Australian history. Now it's going to slip through his fingers. So, I think it's been badly handled by the government and it's a test of his leadership now to get it back on track and to seal the deal.

ANDREW CLENNELL: It seems bizarre to have it suspended when, you know the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are involved in this big announcement. What do you put it down to?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, we can speculate there might be something to do with LAND 400 Phase Three - the awarding of the Infantry Fighting Vehicle contract to Hanwha rather than Rheinmetall - but I'm going to say it all looks very ham fisted. South Korea is an important ally, Germany is an important ally, and we shouldn't be off-siding people like this. There's enough work out there to keep all our allies happy and busy and building our defence capacity.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Is our relationship with Germany at risk here? I mean, the government's made plenty of hay over Scott Morrison and the French relationship. Do you see something like that evolving out of this?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, I've just come from the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung security conference here in Canberra where I spoke and the relationship is very strong. But nonetheless, this is a test of leadership and we're needlessly creating trouble in the relationship with this deal in the way it's been handled. And so, Anthony Albanese, as our Prime Minister, needs to land this and make it happen.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Now we had the Defence Strategic Review (DSR) lead to another review into the Hunter frigates, what do you make of these reports last week, we might get six frigates instead of nine for the same cost - $45 billion?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, the government owns this problem and it's theirs to solve. As we saw with the DSR, there was no new money, there was cannibalisation of capability and there were reviews. This review will report in September and then we'll wait for the government to respond to that review, and we're going to comment when that happens. But needless to say, again, great uncertainty for defence industry. You talk to any of the defence industry people here now and how they're feeling with the government - there's a lot of uncertainty, they're having to let people go. People are making final investment decisions and they're looking offshore for work -

ANDREW CLENNELL: - Too many reviews in your book?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think the Deputy Prime Minister is distracted. He needs to be a full time Defence Minister and focus on the job at hand.

ANDREW CLENNELL: And what did you make of the G20 communique that we saw last week and how Anthony Albanese called it the toughest yet on Russia?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think he's forgotten Bali, frankly. Look, I'm a realist. I understand that it's very hard to get different nations with competing interests at the table and to agree on a communique. It loosely condemned what Russia has done to Ukraine, it upheld the principle of territorial and political sovereignty, but it didn't mention Russia itself. And as you know, across both sides of the aisle here in Australia, we see the invasion of Ukraine as both immoral and illegal by Russia and we've condemned in the strongest possible terms.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Do you have a reaction of the Kim Jong Un and Putin talks?

ANDREW HASTIE: Not yet but suffice to say anytime these authoritarian leaders get together, it's bad for the free world as we saw last year in February when President Xi and Vladimir Putin struck a No-Limits partnership. It'll be interesting to see what comes out of this meeting.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Do you have a view on Anthony Albanese's trip to China?

ANDREW HASTIE: We welcome dialogue in the Coalition. We're glad that China has reversed its decision not to meet with Australian ministers and officials. But again, this is a test of leadership for Anthony Albanese. What can he deliver that's in our national interest? He should be seeking the release of Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun, two Australians long held unjustly by the Chinese government, and he should be working on behalf of Australian exporters to lift some of the sanctions that have been put upon our primary producers.

ANDREW CLENNELL: What do you make of this issue around Qatar Airways that's dominated Question Time the past couple of weeks and how the government's handled it?

ANDREW HASTIE: It's concerning, I've got to say. It's not in our national interest and it's not in the Australian people's interests. There are serious questions for Catherine King, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. Did she speak to Alan Joyce? She can't recall. She can remember meeting other stakeholders. But what is the quid pro quo here? What is the relationship with Qantas and Anthony Albanese's government that led to them shutting off Qatar and 28 additional flights, foregoing $780 million of economic activity and foregoing a price reduction in flights for Australians. I can tell you, Andrew, I remember the last time I spoke to Alan Joyce. It was down the cafe here back in October and I was complaining about my flights out of the US. You don't forget a conversation with Alan Joyce and the Minister is yet to answer that question. Did you have a conversation with him prior to this decision?

ANDREW CLENNELL: She says that Qantas has been more on to her on the Labour Hire Laws, is that possible?

ANDREW HASTIE: Potentially.

ANDREW CLENNELL: But is it possible the Minister made the decision on her own and there's no conspiracy?

ANDREW HASTIE: There's a whole range of possibilities but what we're not seeing is transparency. She should be able to justify this decision and so far, we're not getting the transparency that we, and the Australian people, expect of our Ministers.

ANDREW CLENNELL: A lot of views against the Voice in your home state, WA. What do you think of Peter Dutton's promise of a second referendum on constitutional recognition and how that would be received there?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, I think what Peter was restating was our long held commitment to constitutional recognition. The Prime Minister had a huge opportunity here to bring the nation together around constitutional recognition but there was no constitutional convention, there was no desire for a bipartisan constitutional amendment. Instead, he's made a mockery of this process. So what Peter was advocating was that very thing, constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians, and sadly, that's going to slip through our fingers because as it looks, the vote No is gaining strength and this is slipping through the Prime Minister's fingers.

ANDREW CLENNELL: But he says he will hold a second referendum if elected, so maybe it won't slip through Australians' fingers.

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, no, there's one question in five weeks that needs to be answered - do you support Anthony Albanese's divisive Voice or not? And I urge Australians to vote No, because this is the Prime Minister colluding with the big end of town, big tech, big finance, big sport, and big business, working together to change our Constitution and the change will be divisive and affect generations of Australians.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Do you personally support a second referendum?

ANDREW HASTIE: I support constitutional recognition.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Okay, fair enough. Just finally, it seems you're getting a bit more of a run in Question Time with questions these days. Is Peter Dutton, keen to promote you?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, I'm sitting at the Shadow Cabinet table in the Defence portfolio, which is a huge honour. The number one role of government is to protect its citizens and so I'm very glad to serve in that very important portfolio.

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

ANDREW HASTIE: Thanks, Andrew.