Interview: Gary Adshead 6PR



GARY ADSHEAD: Andrew Hastie, Opposition Defence Spokesperson joins us on the line, thanks for your time Andrew.

ANDREW HASTIE: My pleasure, Gary.

GARY ADSHEAD: Your response to that? Because obviously, there was speculation about where the army would fit into this strategy going forward. What do you think?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, I think today's announcement is pretty underwhelming. To be honest. We’ve heard from the government over the last year that we are facing the most dangerous strategic circumstances since the Second World War. We had Penny Wong, the Foreign Minister last week, get up on the stage at the National Press Club last week and say that our region faces circumstances that are in some ways unprecedented, and that these circumstances require a response of unprecedented coordination and ambition in our statecraft. They were her words that I just said. And so today, you'd expect a new strategy, you'd expect more funding. And you'd also expect an increase in capability, not a drop in capability. And what we're seeing is that the government is pushing out a national strategy document until next year 2024. If we are in a dangerous period, and we've just lost another year, we're not seeing any new money. We're seeing money that's been shifted around defence, the expense of other programs like the Infantry Fighting Vehicle program, which has been cut from 450 vehicles to 129. And what does that actually mean for army? Well, we're actually going to see a decline in capability. At the moment, we have three mechanised battle groups across the country, we've got 3 RTR in Townsville. We've got 6 RAR in Brisbane, and we've got 7 RAR in Adelaide, potentially, we're going to see at the Townsville mechanised brigade and the Brisbane mechanised sorry, Battle Group and the Brisbane mechanised battle group cut, which will see an overall decline in army capability. So we're processing this, this has just been announced. But they're my top of mind thoughts as we go forward.

GARY ADSHEAD: You talked about funding, obviously, this involves when we're talking about new guided weapons systems, etc. They're saying an extra $1.5 billion over the next four years. Is that why you saying it's not enough?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, that's money that's being shifted in defence. So we're in the most, you know, radically challenging strategic circumstances and there's no actual new money. They're just cannibalizing other programs within defence. That's the reality.

GARY ADSHEAD: Have we got it, have we got the money, Andrew, I mean, someone at some point has to work it out, given what we've just committed to AUKUS, as well, on the submarine construction, there's got to get to a point where we go, do we have it?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, it's a good question. And, you know, being in government is all about making tough decisions, and dealing with those trade offs. And at the moment, the defence budget's only 6% of the overall Commonwealth budget - 6%. We're facing the most challenging strategic circumstances. And all we can do is deal with the cost shifting. It just doesn't make sense. There's a paradox at the heart of all this. Okay, look, there's, there's more to come. I would I also want to say, you know, if we're going to have a proper debate about this, dropping this on, at lunchtime, the day before Anzac Day, it's just not good enough. And I think that tells you everything you need to know that is, they want to bury this and not talk about it, because we're going to roll straight into Anzac Day tomorrow, which is a day of silence, not noise, and it's a time of reflection. So it's tricky politics as well, I must say.

GARY ADSHEAD: And, obviously. So in terms of the review itself, in the review, and what you've been able to see and what you've been briefed on, does it say what sort of expenditure we should be looking at here? Or is that purely left to the government?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, that's left to the government. It says I think somewhere on page eight, that defence spending will be something like 2.2% of GDP and above over the next decade. But again, we'll need some real numbers, because inflation could eat into that purchasing power that 2.2% of GDP. The Defence Minister stood up only half an hour ago and said our spending over the medium term and over the decade will increase. Well, if we are in the most dangerous strategic circumstances since the Second World War, doesn't it stand to reason that we need to take action today. And we need to start putting dollars today against capability.

GARY ADSHEAD: How far off when we talk about new guided missile systems, etc? How far off is that?

ANDREW HASTIE: These are the questions I'll be asking. It's all good and well to release a document and have a press conference. But in the end, speed of delivery is what counts. And I want to see speed of delivery, some focus - mission focus from this government. 

GARY ADSHEAD: Now, can I ask you about something completely separate? And I did promote to the beginning of the program that I wanted to talk to you about this issue? Because there was an extraordinary discovery, made only days ago in the South China Sea, 81 years after it occurred and that was the sinking of the SS Montevideo Maru, a Japanese ship that was carrying over 1,000 people, 850 Australian service people who all went to the bottom of the ocean. Your great uncle was one of them. What was the feeling like for you when you heard that they'd found its resting place?

ANDREW HASTIE: It was a feeling of release and closure, Gary. I remember as a small boy, talking about my great uncle Neill a lot with my mother and my, my grandmother. And my uncle. There was this, there was this pain in the family, because it was much loved by my grandfather. And he died leaving his wife Nell, who also lost her brother on the same ship. Added to that trauma was anecdotal rumors after the war that he was used as bayonet practice by the Japanese as a prisoner of war before the Montevideo departed the Rabaul. So getting to the bottom of that, making sure that his name was actually on the nominal roll of the ship, which it was, and we confirm that with a Japanese Pax manifest that was translated back into English confirming that Neill and as his brother in law, James Walker was on the ship, and then convincing my family that that was the case, because a lot of them had been shaped by the belief that he that he was killed by bayonet. So to finally get closure and to know where he effectively is with his mates at the bottom of the South China Sea, in a sense, brings comfort and closure to families.

GARY ADSHEAD: Can I ask you what you know about the sort of the voyage of this ship? What was happening there? Where were they being taken to?

ANDREW HASTIE: I believe they were being taken from Rabaul to Japan. And I anticipate or I expect that they would have been used as labour, slave labour for the Japanese war effort. And as it turns out, USS Sturgeon, which was a US submarine doing its job targeting Japanese flag ships, hit it with a torpedo, its final, its final war shot, which was most likely, in fact, Gary, loaded at Fremantle. So there's, there's lots of eerie resonances here, given that I live not far from Fremantle now. So for the family on the weekend, waking up to this news, it was it was comforting, but also, you start to realise the cost of war - its huge, and it echoes throughout the generations.

GARY ADSHEAD: And you look at the number of people that were killed in relation to that strike. It's staggering. You know, I think a lot of people might be thinking that the Sydney was the biggest maritime disaster that we'd suffered, but this clearly eclipses it.

ANDREW HASTIE: That's right, and, you know, 1,000 people trapped, its not like they could swim out, and the Japanese, one of the witnesses said that they were singing Auld Lang Syne, some of the prisoners as they went down. And this is a bond I share with Kim Beazley. You know, his uncle went down on the ship. And so it's kind of special in that sense, because, you know, we've got a shared family history there. But and that's why I wanted to thank Silentworld Foundation, Fugro, the ADF and everyone involved in locating it, that takes time and money. And John Mullen, the director, I've got a quote here from him. He says, I'm proud to be the citizen of a country that never forgets or stops looking for those lost in the course of duty, no matter how many years may pass. I think that's a real credit to him, and everyone involved that they stuck to the mission, and they found their grave site.

GARY ADSHEAD: What sort of significance does it have given that we're just on the eve of ANZAC Day?

ANDREW HASTIE: Anzac Day is always special every year. But it just, it was a bit like a sledgehammer, you know, you get hit with this and – I actually didn’t know that James Walker, Nell who was married to my great uncle, her brother, he went down on the ship as well. I didn't know that until the weekend when I started digging a bit more deeply. And this is why the Australian War Memorial is such a great resource I got on there and I was looking at the service records, and then also the archives at the National Archives, and it's all there. So the story deepened, and then realizing that the Sturgeon was probably most likely reloaded at Fremantle, because I think that was its last port stop. It's all very fascinating, but also pretty, pretty, pretty tough when you think about the sacrifice that many families have made throughout the last 100 years, 100,000 families have lost service men and women. And that's what we're going to be remembering tomorrow.

GARY ADSHEAD: And I think the fact that, you know, this discovery has perhaps opened a chapter of something that a lot of people wouldn't have known about, and the timing of it, including, you know, the fact that it's on the eve of ANZAC Day is quite extraordinary, because there's a lot of people say, Oh, I hadn't I hadn't heard about that one. And now the significance of it, given the amount of people that lost their lives is extraordinary.

ANDREW HASTIE: That's right. And history deepens and becomes richer with time. And I think there's a lot of stories out there, which are yet to be explored. And that's why it's so important that we have the Australian War Memorial. That's why we have historians and people committed to preserving our past because it does remind us of the sacrifice that previous generations have made for us. And that, again, reminds us of the tasks that we have stewarding the good things that we enjoy now and passing them on to our kids and grandkids in the future.

GARY ADSHEAD: Andrew, thanks for joining us on both of those talking matters of course one of them very significant indeed and have a reflective Anzac day tomorrow, I'm sure you will.

ANDREW HASTIE: I know you will, too Gary. You've got a son in the ADF and it's a special time for a lot of families. Thank you very much.

GARY ADSHEAD: Thanks for joining us. Andrew Hastie, the Opposition Defence Spokesperson.