INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS KENNY, SKY NEWS
WEDNESDAY 7 FEBRUARY 2024
CHRIS KENNY: Good to talk to you, Andrew. I want to stick to matters in your portfolio, we'll come to the tax issues later with Angus Taylor, but Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, is in the Middle East at the moment, again trying to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas. What hope do you get of any sort of lasting settlement there at the moment or do you believe the Israelis still have unfinished business?
ANDREW HASTIE: Good afternoon, Chris. It's good to see the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, back in Israel – it's his fifth visit since the October 7, atrocities committed by Hamas against the Israeli people. The United States is a responsible player for peace and stability in the Middle East and so we welcome that. Of course, there is unfinished business still with Hamas and whilst Hamas remains as a political and military force, I can't foresee peace in Gaza or Israel anytime soon, particularly while Hamas still holds Israeli hostages. They need to be released, Hamas needs to surrender and then I think we can talk about a realistic settlement for peace.
CHRIS KENNY: Now there has been a broadening of the conflict, of course, the Houthi rebels are sending drone attacks on shipping in the Red Sea. America has hit back after some of its troops were killed in Jordan and they've hit targets in Syria, Iraq and in Yemen. Do you support what America has done here in hitting back at these Iranian proxies?
ANDREW HASTIE: I think America and its allies have no choice and I'm disappointed that the Albanese Government has taken a weak position and not sent a Royal Australian Naval vessel to be part of that coalition. The Houthi rebels are firing ballistic and cruise missiles and drones at international shipping. Twelve per cent of global trade passes through the Red Sea, through the Gate of Tears, which is the strait between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Since November, we've seen 29 ships targeted – 13 have sustained direct hits and that has a cost to the global economy. Just today, I looked at the prices of moving a 40-foot shipping container from Northern Europe to the Far East – they've gone up 147-per cent in the last month. Of course, the Houthi rebels were backed by Iran, a lot of the equipment and missiles that they're using, the drones particularly, are Iranian. The US and its allies have no choice but to strike against these rebels to keep these ships moving because the costs are significant. The financial complexity, the operational complexity of rerouting their ships from the Red Sea down around the Cape of Good Hope is going to cost Australian mums, dads and small businesses a lot of money if we don't sort this out.
CHRIS KENNY: It does seem extraordinary that Australia rejected a request from the US to be part of the naval response there. There was speculation at the time that perhaps we didn't have the capability. I noticed that Vice Admiral Mark Hammond has rejected that – he says the Navy could send a vessel there, that it was obviously a political decision. Do you think the Americans might come back with a second request here?
ANDREW HASTIE: They could well. I think it shows that under this government, we're a fair-weather friend. Over the last 30 years, we've sent 57 Royal Australian Naval vessels to the Middle East, or waters around the Middle East, to fight against piracy and terror and so this is a government that has made a conscious decision. I admire the Chief of Navy and his courage in speaking up for the Navy. He said that they could have done it, so this was a political decision. The Albanese Government has still not explained why they've taken the weak decision and not supported the US, the French, the British, Italians, and other nations who are doing the hard work to keep those shipping, trade routes open.
CHRIS KENNY: Now, there are a lot of concerns about our Defence capability. One hole has been plugged today because we've got our Taipan helicopters out of action and the government has managed to lease some UK Black Hawks coming here soon. Here's Defence Minister, Richard Marles, today.
CHRIS KENNY: Yeah, well Black Hawks are proven and used by many services around the world but there are other capabilities. In particular, there have been highlights of our lack of drone defensive capability. This would be, of course, pertinent to any shipping we sent to the Middle East, but it must be crucial for all of our armed forces, wherever they're deployed in the here and now, given the sorts of drone attacks we're starting to see around the world. How urgent is this problem and how quickly could the government fix it?
ANDREW HASTIE: Well, Chris, two points. Very quickly on the Black Hawks – we welcome the accelerated acceptance of Black Hawk into service and the UK training helicopters that will come with them. That was a decision that Peter Dutton took as the Minister for Defence and we're glad that the Labor government is moving on that because we do need those helicopters in service. The second point is drones are becoming a critical part of any military capability for the Australian Defence Force. We've seen in Ukraine, and we've seen in Israel how drones are, we're seeing what the Houthi rebels are doing with drones. If you think about the Shahed 136, which is a drone, that is been used by Houthi rebels to target ships. It has a range of two-and-a-half kilometres, it uses a piston engine, it's what we call a loitering munition – it can take off with a 50-kilo warhead, fly to a target and then commence its attack and it's very hard to defend against – it costs about $200,000. So, you can imagine what the Australian defence industry could do if we turned our mind to it and started building some of these drones ourselves. There are businesses in Australia who have exported drones to our Ukrainian friends to support their war effort, but this is something that we need to get on top of and that's why we'll be seeking the government move on this quickly.
CHRIS KENNY: Yeah, post-haste. Thanks for joining us, Andrew. Appreciate it.
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