THURSDAY 27 APRIL 2023
CHRIS KENNY: I caught up with Shadow Defence Minister Andrew Hastie in Perth and I started on immigration.
ANDREW HASTIE: I think absolutely we should look at our immigration system and make sure it's fit for purpose in this decade. Australia has changed a lot in the last 20 years so we welcome the review, let's see what the government comes back with, but immigration must always be done securely, with integrity and it must have an economic dividend for our country. I think with AUKUS and a lot of the other big projects that are going on at the moment, we're going to need more people and we need to be able to recruit people and so we've got to make sure our migration system is fit for purpose, which might actually include an AUKUS visa to attract people to this country.
CHRIS KENNY: Speaking of Defence issues, the Defence Minister was in Darwin today announcing almost $4 billion being spent on the upgrade of Defence bases across northern Australia. This is presumably something that you would support?
ANDREW HASTIE: Definitely. I've said before, it's rock that's cut from the same quarry. There's a lot of symmetry with what we were doing in the former Coalition government through the Defence Strategic Update of 2020 along with the Force Structure Plan which included, funnily enough, upgrading our ports and our bases to the north, hardening them for the challenges ahead. So, of course, we welcome this but the important thing to note, Chris, is that there is no new money in this review. That's really important - there is no new money, it's cost shifting, and there's cannibalising of capability which includes running down Army land combat power, which is not a good thing at all.
CHRIS KENNY: Yeah, let's go to some of those criticisms in a moment. But first up the continuity here, there's a big focus on missiles, not only you're getting missiles in place, but developing the capability to manufacture missile technology here. That's important. Also of course, to continue to focus on AUKUS, and also the recognition of China, not specifically named but the obvious recognition of China, as a threat to stability in our region. This is very much a continuation of what you were doing in government.
ANDREW HASTIE: That's right, there's a lot of continuity. Back in 2020, we were talking about the need for long range strike missiles that were sovereign made, upping our inventories of weapons and missile stocks and of course, the big elephant in the room is indeed China. But even the Defence Strategic Review from a Labor Government acknowledges that it is China which is rapidly expanding its military, its presence in the region and it is part of the great power competition that's happening in our region. Surprise, surprise, the US and the People's Republic of China are competing in the Indo Pacific region and that has consequences for this country. And of course, in the Defence Strategic Review, it makes out very clearly that the government is choosing to deepen its relationship with the United States through AUKUS, but more broadly as well. Of course, the Opposition supports this, given that we have a long-standing partnership with the United States.
CHRIS KENNY: One thing I keep coming back to when we talk about the amount of manufacturing that needs to occur in this country, sophisticated development of missile technology, building nuclear submarines and the rest of it, is our energy situation. We are now in a really precarious position when it comes to supplying affordable and reliable energy. We can't do any of these defence manufacturing jobs without energy. Is this a national security risk what we've done to our national electricity grid?
ANDREW HASTIE: I think, Chris, absolutely, it is. Our comparative advantage is in energy. We've got an abundance of coal and gas and uranium, we export that of course, but whilst at the same time, we're closing coal fired power stations, and there's more and more reluctance from Labor and the Greens. In fact, there's outright opposition to more gas in the system from the Greens, including the Teals as well in Western Australia - the Member for Curtin, Kate Chaney has opposed new gas projects - and so this is a big problem when we're trying to revive an industrial base, which includes not just making missiles, but also submarines in the long-term future. I think the salient lesson out of Ukraine is you don't want to become energy dependent on authoritarian powers. We saw a lot of Europe become very dependent on Russian gas. And so, whilst we're shutting down coal and gas, we're increasing our uptake of solar and wind. Where does most of the world's solar and wind come from? Surprise, surprise, it comes from China and that's a problem for us long term.
CHRIS KENNY: Yeah, while they manufacture new weapons and vessels with our coal and iron ore. It is extraordinary. Just get back to this issue of bipartisanship, I suppose continuity in defence policy. I just want to play what you said on my program here on Sky News last November.
Andrew Hastie, are those days gone? You want continuity, of course, but you're starting to criticise the government for not putting their money where their mouth is. Are you looking to get away from bipartisanship on defence and make this a real issue of political debate?
ANDREW HASTIE: Not at all. I think we need to work together constructively in the national interest. For us, the country comes before our party because we are facing some of the most challenging strategic circumstances since the end of the Second World War. But we're also the Opposition and in the Westminster tradition, that means we have to be robust in our questioning of government policy. And so, whilst we worked very closely with the government to deliver AUKUS and we were very supportive of that last month, but this Defence Strategic Review, it's got good language and it identifies a lot of the challenges, but there's no new money. As I said on Monday, it was a bit of a magician's trick to release it on Monday, the day before Anzac Day, without any new funding at all and we're going to call them out on that. I'm going to do my best to direct the Minister for Defence to make the right changes, and in a hurry, because we haven't a moment to lose.
CHRIS KENNY: There are probably two issues here, though, obviously, money is short, we've got a debt crisis and big budget deficits around the country so you've got to get the money from somewhere, but also the technology and expertise to develop what we need quickly enough. Are they both problems for us at the moment when we look at what we want to do with missiles and submarines and the like, we just have to accelerate our capability as much as the spending.
ANDREW HASTIE: That's right, we can't continue to work within the 2.2 per cent of GDP for the Defence budget. It's only six per cent of overall Commonwealth spending. Government is about making the hard decisions and we need to up our overall defence spend. I mean, that's a simple fact, if we want to be competitive and we want to actually deter an adversary into the future. But one of the big problems that we have is the lack of human capital in this country. We're about to undertake the biggest nation building project in the last 50 years or so and it's not just an industrial project, it's also a technology project as much as it is a political project because we need to maintain a very close relationship with the US Congress. A lot of the things that we're getting over the next decade, whether they be Virginia class submarines or a lot of the technology to support that, is all pending congressional approval. So, there's a lot of work to do and we need to be recruiting the best minds from around the world to come to Australia and help us work on this project so that it's delivered in a timely fashion.
CHRIS KENNY: Spot on, we've got to get cracking. Thanks so much, Andrew, always good to talk to you.
ANDREW HASTIE: A pleasure, Chris. Thank you.
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