Interview: Erin Molan, Sky News





ERIN MOLAN: Joining me now is Shadow Defence Minister Andrew Hastie, thank you so much for your time, as always. Firstly, no one wants dialogue between China and the West, particularly the US, shutdown so Biden should engage, absolutely. But what chance do you seriously give him of getting any real honest answers out of his Chinese counterpart?

SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, THE HON. ANDREW HASTIE MP: I think you're absolutely right, Erin. It's so important that we keep the dialogue up with China, we need to be talking, we need to keep those lines of communication clear because the risk of strategic miscalculation has gone up. When the US is firing Sidewinder missiles at Chinese surveillance balloons over the US continent, you know that things have changed. But whether or not President Biden will get satisfaction from President Xi is another thing altogether but he's right to ask the question because this was an incursion of US airspace and US sovereign territory and President Biden did exactly the right thing by downing several of those balloons.

ERIN MOLAN: What would happen if a similar thing were to occur in Australian airspace? Would we or should we shoot it down in a similar fashion?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, nothing like that has occurred in Australia, as far as I'm aware, and I've had a briefing on it but that would be a decision for the government of the day. I think, Australian sovereignty, our territorial integrity, whether it be land based, naval or in the air, is absolutely critical and should be protected. So that would be a decision for the government of the day but I think the US has demonstrated a precedent here and that is that we've got to take these things seriously and we can't have clandestine surveillance operations conducted over our skies.

ERIN MOLAN: That leads me directly to my next question, which is what do you make of Scott Morrison speech in Tokyo? He's accused the West of appeasing China, as I just said, and he's calling on the Government to sanction the superpower over human rights abuses. Do you agree?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think first of all, Scott Morrison's record as Prime Minister on China is a strong one. It was under his government that we made some serious changes to our Foreign Investment Review Board rules. We obviously didn't allow Huawei to become part of our 5G network, he was Treasurer, of course, when some key decisions were made about our critical infrastructure. So in a sense, our China pivot happened under Morrison and Turnbull. The speech itself I think, is strong, and I think he's right to call out China on the treatment of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang province. I've spoken on this in the Parliament over the past few years, as have members of the Labor Party and together we worked on the Magnitsky legislation which allows for sanctions against individuals who have committed human rights abuses. We know back in August that the United Nations reported quite clearly that there are human rights abuses in Xinjiang province, particularly against the Uyghur minority and other Muslim minorities. It's unacceptable. Our Shadow Foreign Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham wrote to the Government on this question, he's yet to receive a reply, and if the Government were to move towards sanctions, we would support them.

ERIN MOLAN: You were part of the Sky News documentary that ran this week, "Are We Ready For War?" The answer is quite presumably no. Now coincided with the big Defence review being handed to the Government, do you have any confidence that the implementation of it will increase our capabilities to the extent needed in the time needed?

ANDREW HASTIE: First thing, Erin, our posture is one of bipartisanship. We take this question about our national security very, very seriously. And so twice in the Parliament over the last week, I spoke to this question and I said that the Coalition would work cooperatively with the Albanese Government to deliver safety and security for Australians through a stronger Defence Force. That's the first thing. So we'll wait and see what happens with the AUKUS announcement and DSR and we're reserving our judgment. We'll provide robust Opposition as always, but we're not going to jump to conclusions just yet. But one thing that I am concerned about is the apparent division within the Government itself. Treasurer, Jim Chalmers wrote a long 6000 word essay over the summer where he articulated three crises over the last 15 years - the Financial Crisis, he mentioned the pandemic and of course, he's mentioned the energy and inflation crisis, but not once did he mention the national security crisis that's looming over the horizon, the one that both Penny Wong, the Foreign Minister, and Richard Marles, the Defence Minister, have both paid close attention to and have mentioned regularly over the last year or so. So we need this investment in Defence but I'm not sure if the Treasurer actually appreciates the problem, nor is he committed to actually seeing the right sort of funding given to Defence to make sure it can meet its capability requirements.

ERIN MOLAN: Does that mean you don't have confidence in the Government's ability to handle this issue?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, as I said, we're going to work bipartisanly with the Government. There's a lot of rhetoric out there, Richard Marles, I think, overcooked it massively this week. It was ridiculous what he said, he said the Coalition was the worst national security government in history, which is just absolutely ridiculous considering that from 2013 to 2021, we increased Defence spending by 55 percent in real terms from a low under Labor in 2013 of 1.56 percent of GDP, which was the lowest since 1938. So we want to rise above the rhetoric that they're using, we want to work constructively with them. As I said, we're reserving our judgment and what always comes first, our guiding star, is the national interest of our country and with national security, we can't mess around, we can't play politics and so we'll work with them to deliver the best outcome.

ERIN MOLAN: Yeah, hopefully they're listening to you. Thank you very much Shadow Defence Minister, Andrew Hastie.

ANDREW HASTIE: Great to see you. Thanks, Erin.