Interview: David Lipson, ABC Radio





DAVID LIPSON: Andrew Hastie, thanks for joining us. How big a departure is this decision from Australia's previous policy toward the US?

ANDREW HASTIE: My pleasure, David. Since 1990, the Royal Australian Navy has been deployed 57 times to the Middle East, or the Horn of Africa, conducting stability operations, counterterrorism, or counter-piracy, and this is a break from that past. We have strong muscle memory working in the region with other allied nations, and this was a modest request from the United States – this wasn't something that was beyond us – and so the government should reverse the decision. It is in our national interest to keep the sea lanes open in the Red Sea. We can't expect others to come to our aid if we're not willing to assist with fairly straightforward tasks like this one.

DAVID LIPSON: So, to be clear, you think the Government should reverse its decision to not send a ship a naval asset to the Red Sea and actually send one?

ANDREW HASTIE: That's exactly what the Coalition is saying. We'd be in good company – the US is providing a number of ships, the UK has sent a destroyer, the French are sending a frigate, there are other nations involved as well. This is a modest contribution, and we should consider sending one of our ships to do our bit in the Middle East.

DAVID LIPSON: In 2020, the Coalition government, of which you were a part, announced that the ADF would reduce naval presence in the Middle East to enable more resources to be deployed in our region. That is a very similar argument to that which the Defence Minister is currently making that the pressures in this region now are pressing enough for us to decline in this case sending a ship and only sending personnel.

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, that was 2020 and when the facts change, so does my mind and I think –

DAVID LIPSON: – but the strategic situation hasn't get any better has it?

ANDREW HASTIE: No, it hasn't but October 7 was a very dark day – we saw Hamas attack Israel, we've seen Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, conduct attacks on commercial shipping through the Red Sea. Australia is an island nation – 99 per cent of our imports and exports, by volume, are carried across the oceans, two-thirds of our trade comes through the Red Sea, we are the fifth-largest user of shipping in the world – it is in our interest to open the Red Sea and keep it open. The question for the Government is why can't we deploy these ships? Is it personnel? Is it capability? Are our vessels even capable of defending themselves against the missile and drone technology that's being used against commercial shipping? These are important questions, and the Government should answer them. That's what we're calling on them to do.

DAVID LIPSON: Without the answers to those questions, though, is it responsible for you to urge the Government to send a ship regardless?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think it is an important point that we do send a ship. I think it's part of our duty as a global citizen. As I said, we are an island nation. We can't put the blinkers on, we can't put our heads under the doona, as the Deputy Prime Minister has done, and pretend that we can just focus on the near Pacific or the Indo Pacific. In fact, our prosperity and our security is intimately tied to the Middle East, particularly the Suez Canal. If ships can't move through the Suez Canal, they have to go around the tip of southern Africa, through the Cape of Good Hope. That adds about 10 days of transit for cargo vessels, which means more fuel is used, costs go up and those costs are passed on to Australian consumers who are already battling inflation and cost of living pressures.

DAVID LIPSON: The former Chief of the Army, Peter Leahy, points out that we're just finishing a two decades long, largely unsatisfactory, adventure in the Middle East. Considering China's more assertive stance, many would call it aggression in this region, do you fear that we could get bogged down in the Middle East when our ships are needed here?

ANDREW HASTIE: This is a modest request, David, and I think we need to be able to do both, which is why we want to see more investment in Defence. The Defence Strategic Review, which the Government handed down in April, has revealed there will be no new money into the Defence budget and in fact, our capability is being cut. That's a problem because we are facing Chinese expansion in the region, we are facing greater challenges near to our homes here in Australia but also as I said, our prosperity is tied to the sea lanes throughout the world, and we need to keep those open as well. The point I'm making here, David, is that we need to invest more in our Navy because we are a maritime nation.

DAVID LIPSON: That's Andrew Hastie, the Shadow Defence Minister.

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