Interview: Andy Park



ANDY PARK: Shadow Minister for Defence Andrew Hastie, welcome to you. Firstly, what's your response? Your initial broad response to this review?

ANDREW HASTIE: Good to be with you, Andy. Well, first of all, I will say that we agree with their assessment of the strategic circumstances that Australia faces. It is the most challenging time since the Second World War. And like the foreign minister said last week at the National Press Club, it does require a response of unprecedented coordination and ambition in Australian statecraft, which includes defence. And so we are very underwhelmed today. And we feel that down, because we haven't seen the sort of action that our circumstances require. We don't see any new money allocated to defence, we see a deferral of a strategy until 2024. And we see cuts and cannibalising of capability, particularly within army as they cost shift within the defence budget.

ANDY PARK: I'll come back to a couple of those points, but Retired Major General Mick Ryan told me earlier, the paper should have been more specific about the threat Australia is facing, it doesn't name China specifically, do you agree with him? Or would it be antagonistic to name China?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, it's a really tough question. Certainly, there's a classified document. And then we've also got to be mindful of what we say, I think it's no secret that China is undergoing the most rapid military modernisation and investment since the Second World War themselves. We've seen the disputed features that they've militarised. We've seen reckless behaviour in the air over the South China Sea, which has affected our rescue crews. We've seen a number of different things. So I don't think it's secret, that China is part of that strategic challenge. And it's driving a lot of the great power competition in the Indo Pacific region. So I think we can assume that safely. And that's why we're disappointed to see any new dollars, any sort of sacrifice, as we go forward from this government.

ANDY PARK: Pat Conroy says the coalition has cut $12 billion since 2016, and added $42 billion of additional spending commitments without making any further allocation without a single project being commissioned. Does he have a point there?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think Pat Conroy is yet to fully adjust to being in government because it really only matters what he does now. So he's been in government for a year. But if we want to go back over the record, it's worth reminding people that Labor took defence to 1.56% of GDP under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years. And from 2013 to last year, when we left government, we increased defence spending in real terms by 55%. So, you know, we stand by our record, we were the ones who updated this country about the challenges ahead through the Defence Strategic Update in 2020. And we also took the initiative to strike AUKUS with the US and the UK. We're very glad to see Anthony Albanese standing next to President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Sunak in San Diego and continue on that good work. But today, the government has fallen short of an important test and that was to prepare us for the decade ahead.

ANDY PARK: The review calls on the Commonwealth and State governments to make the Henderson dry dock happen, it said that it currently faces significant challenges. Is the previous government to blame for those challenges, though?

ANDREW HASTIE: No, I don't think so at all. I remember standing at Henderson with the government last year to announce the $4.3 billion investment in Henderson. As you know, we only have one dry dock, which was built during the Second World War, it's actually used to do repairs on US ships that had sustained battle damage in the Pacific. It's a really important capability. And we need redundancy because one on the East Coast is just not enough. We need to particularly in Perth with the amount of allied ships that are going going to be coming into port here at Stirling and Fremantle in the coming year. So this is something that we also support, and we want to see happen sooner rather than later.

ANDY PARK:: Andrew Hastie, I noticed a lot of your criticisms of the Defence review centred around the role of your home state of Western Australia or there abouts. Are you kind of playing parochial politics with Mark McGowan over your state's role? We have a national defence budget and a national defence force not just for WAs?

ANDREW HASTIE: No, that's absolutely right. And in the end, all that matters is the defence of Australia. That's why we federated in 1901. In fact, it was national security concerns that drove us to Federation. So in the end, I'm an Australian, that's the only flag that I ever wore on my shoulder as as an Army officer and I'll always defend our national interests. What I was indicating was that Mark McGowan as the Premier is completely flat footed on defence issues. And we have a role to play in Western Australia with Forward Rotation West, which is the five submarines from the US and the UK, which will start rotating through WA in 2027. There's a lot of work that needs to be done. We need to uplift Stirling Fleet Base West from a conventional base to a nuclear base in the next four years. We need to build a supply chain. We need to build all the businesses that need to support that, we need an uplift in our education so that we're prepared for this. And Mark McGowan can't bring himself to talk about it because, I suspect he is more interested in trade with China and he doesn't want to upset the applecart there.

ANDY PARK: If you just join me Shadow Defence Minister Andrew Hastie is my guest. We're talking about today's Defence Strategic Review. Of course, the report was critical to the use of the defence force to handle domestic disasters like bushfires, floods and COVID. Is this how the ADF should be used?

ANDREW HASTIE: No, in short, the primary mission of the ADF will always be to win our wars and defend Australia. And so they need to focus on their warfighting skills that's their fundamental core business and any distractions are unwelcome. Suffice to say though, they have served our country very, very well through disaster relief, whether it be fire flood or pandemic over the last three years. But we are in agreement with the government, that that is not their role, and serving in that role comes at a cost to our operational capability. There will be times when the civil authorities call upon the defence force and I think back to the Lindt Café siege back in 2015. I think that was a time where our elite counter-terror units in the army should have been deployed to resolve that situation. That's been amended. In fact, it was the Coalition government that streamlined legislation to make sure that doesn't happen again. But certainly, their job in the defence force will always be the defence of our country.

ANDY PARK: It looks as though defence spending will grow further, although $8 billion dollars in previously planned spending will be delayed or abandoned over the next four years. Where should the money for defence be coming from? I mean, how do we make the pie bigger?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, that's a great question, Andy. This is a task for the government. They've said today that defence spending will increase over the midterm and over the decade. And so they'll have to make tough decisions because they need to fund these projects. AUKUS will not happen without significant investment. But at the moment, the defence budget is only about 6 to 8% of overall Commonwealth spending. So it's not that much. And as we go into Anzac Day tomorrow, when we're we reflect on sacrifice, it does take sacrifice on behalf of the Australian people to maintain defence at a certain level, particularly if we all accept that we are in dangerous strategic circumstances. So these are decisions that need to be made. And as I said at the start of the conversation, Andy, not a single new dollar has been announced today and we have a problem with that.

ANDY PARK: And just lastly, you mentioned Anzac Day tomorrow. What do you make of the timing of this report dropping it right before Anzac Day?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think it's a magician's trick, Andy, I think there's bad news in this and there's not a lot of substance and so they've dropped it between the weekend and Anzac Day tomorrow. And we're calling them on that. I think it's tricky politics because we do need to have a serious conversation about this. And they'll be hearing more from us in coming days.

ANDY PARK: Shadow Defense Minister Andrew Hastie, appreciate your time this afternoon.