Monday 6 February 2023
CHRIS KENNY: Shadow Defence Minister Andrew Hastie joins me live from Parliament House in Canberra. Thanks for joining us, Andrew. Do you suspect that spy balloons such as this would have flown over the Australian continent?
SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, THE HON. ANDREW HASTIE MP: It's a great question. We don't have any evidence that that has occurred. But certainly, it's something we can't rule out and based on the US experience, it's possible.
CHRIS KENNY: What about this nonsense from China that it's a civilian, a civilian experiment, there's nothing the Chinese Communist government does that's civilian is there?
ANDREW HASTIE: Look, I think it's fanciful to think it's anything but a deliberate act of statecraft by the PRC, either to collect intelligence through the means onboard the balloon, or to test the US reaction to such a move. But I think to just suggest that it's a weather balloon, I think is quite naive and mistaken.
CHRIS KENNY: Now we understand they can control the direction of these devices quite effectively by of course, altering or lowering the altitude and going with the prevailing winds? What do you think? What's your best advice as to what it was looking to do? Would it have been looking to get videos, photographs and the like - visual imagery - or would have been looking to intercept communications?
ANDREW HASTIE: It's a really good question, Chris. I've asked for briefings on this and I'm no wiser than you on those questions. But I think it's important that we come back to fundamentals. And there are a few fundamentals here. Number one, it was a clear breach of US airspace and a violation of their territorial sovereignty. And two, I think the US was entirely justified first, for Secretary Blinken to cancel his visit to Beijing and secondly, to shoot it down. In fact, I'm surprised it didn't happen earlier. I'm not, of course, privy to the intelligence, so there was an operational reason for that, but certainly, it was the right thing to do. And I think, you know, the risk for miscalculation has increased. I think this is all very bad. And if we come back to the big picture and look at the last year in context, we go back to in fact, Beijing on the eve of the Winter Olympics, where Xi and Putin met and struck a no-limits partnership. Since then we've seen the war in Ukraine unfold, we've seen China fire missiles over Taiwan in response to Speaker - or former Speaker – Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, we've seen this balloon - things are hotting up, they're not actually stabilising or normalising. And I think that the fundamentals that drove the Defence Strategic Update, which Prime Minister Scott Morrison released in July of 2020, the reason that AUKUS was struck with the UK and the US, all those fundamentals are still in place. Authoritarian powers are on the move, geopolitical unrest is occurring, great power competition is taking place, military modernisation is happening and we have to respond as a country and secure our interests.
CHRIS KENNY: Yeah, I mean, that's exactly right. We're talking here about a Chinese aircraft of some description being shot down over the US, a secret aircraft that was put there by the Chinese and has been shot down over the US. We've got the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelling his trip to Beijing, which would have been a very important step in trying to address some of these difficult strategic issues. What does this mean for Australia then? Because we're looking at a thawing of relations, and we’ve got the Trade Minister Don Farrell heading to Beijing to talk with his Chinese counterpart. Should that visit go ahead, for instance?
ANDREW HASTIE: We've seen Foreign Minister Wong's comments you've seen, Defence Minister Marles’ comments and the Opposition supports those. As to the Trade Minister's visit, or meeting with his Chinese counterpart, we must keep dialogue open. And this is the thing, the last thing we want is a conflict because it's going to be middle powers like Australia and neighbors like Indonesia and Singapore and other countries through Asia who will suffer. So, our job is to maintain the peace, to keep lines of communication open, even as we have been treated pretty poorly by the PRC over the last four or five years, we have to keep talking and that's why we support ongoing dialogue with the PRC government.
CHRIS KENNY: All right, now I'm not suggesting Australia should lead this, we've been there with COVID-19 investigations, but surely all free nations need more explanations as to what was going on with this balloon? Surely, for instance, we ought to be expecting to hear from all NATO nations that they demand a full and frank explanation from China on this.
ANDREW HASTIE: I think so. I mean, this is very significant. If you go back to the 60’s where a US U-2 aircraft was shot down, the pilot Francis Powers was captured - he wasn't there collecting weather data for the US government. He was conducting high level surveillance. It was a spy plane and it was shot down. So, when you consider the context of this spy balloon, sure there wasn't a pilot on board, but it's no less significant. And I think it's important to remember the risk of miscalculation, and we need to have a discussion, things need to be put on the table and we need to clear the air on this, because I'm not convinced it was a civilian platform conducting innocent weather data collection as suggested.
CHRIS KENNY: Indeed, yeah exactly, as China has suggested. Now, Andrew Hastie before I let you go, one other issue that’s confronting the Liberal Party in Canberra at the moment, that is the Voice with 50 percent, according to Newspoll, of Australians supporting it, with all the state leaders - Labor and Liberal - supporting the idea of a Voice, should Liberal politicians be at least given a free vote on this? If not the party supporting a Voice, they should at least be a free vote?
ANDREW HASTIE: Chris, I'm a member of the Shadow Cabinet, these are discussions that are internal to the Liberal Party at this point in time. Peter Dutton, our Leader, has asked for his 15 questions to be answered, he wants more detail. I think it's an okay and reasonable ask. He's taking a very reasonable position in fact, and we'd like to continue the dialogue with the Government about these questions, because I know we have questions, the Australian people have questions and I think more detail is only going to enhance the debate going forward. But as to how we position ourselves internally, that's something that will be discussed at Shadow Cabinet and in the party room in due course.
CHRIS KENNY: What's your personal view on the principle of a Voice?
ANDREW HASTIE: Look, I'm circumspect and I'm waiting for more detail, which is a fair position to have. And I know a lot of fair-minded Australians on both sides of the debate, as you are Chris.
CHRIS KENNY: Thanks so much, Andrew, appreciate your time.
ANDREW HASTIE: Thank you very much.
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