TUESDAY 16 JANUARY 2024
GARY ADSHEAD: Andrew Hastie is the Opposition Defence spokesperson, and he joins me. Your reaction to that, Mr Hastie?
ANDREW HASTIE: G'day from Silver Sands, Gary, good to be with you. Look, I think he's passing the buck. This government is all feathers and no meat on questions of national security. Last year, when the Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles, handed down the Defence Strategic Review, it became very clear that they're all about the optics but not about the substance. There was no new money, there were cuts to capability, and the ADF is suffering as a result. Morale is low and they are increasingly losing people to other sectors of the economy because there's no real motivation or incentive for them to stick around. So, if we don't have enough people in the Navy, if we don't have enough people in the Army or Air Force, then capabilities are very hard to get out to sea or in the air, or wherever it might be. In this case, the Government is now seeking advice about putting two more frigates on the hardstand down at Henderson. It's just unacceptable, it leaves our country weak. This all comes back to leadership and the Prime Minister just then was passing the buck. He's got the responsibility, he is the leader of our nation, he's had 18-months and we're going backwards under his watch.
GARY ADSHEAD: Just from your point of view, though, we've seen with other industries this shortfall in the kind of trades people that are needed – I was talking about housing industry, and of course, teachers and so on, that we've got issues around that, so they got on these big recruitment drives. Are we doing enough of that, as far as you're concerned in terms of bringing people to Australia that can do these jobs? Or is it too hard because it's Defence because of the Australian citizenship sort of rules, etc?
ANDREW HASTIE: That's a good question, I'll come to that. I think first of all, though, the Government needs to look at its recruiting message and it should be about service to country, it should be about the opportunities for young Australians. I'm a beneficiary, Gary, I went through the Australian Defence Force Academy, I went through Duntroon – it's a really great opportunity to learn, to grow, to lead. The greatest honour I've had is leading Australian troops. So, for young Australians, there are so many opportunities in Defence and they're not emphasising that, particularly as our country is facing what the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister have both said is the most dangerous set of circumstances since the end of the Second World War. The challenge is, of course, labour shortages and we're feeling that across the economy here in WA – it's difficult trying to get a tradie, it's difficult for schools to get teachers, it's difficult getting nurses - everyone's feeling the crunch. But if we really do care about defending and protecting our country, we need to send a message to people that we value their service and if that's reflected in remuneration, if it's reflected in housing opportunities, these are the sorts of things that government should be looking at.
We also need to have a conversation about how we capitalise on migration as well. Migration is posing big challenges for this country. There's an infrastructure deficit, there's a housing shortage, hospitals are feeling the pressure, the roads are feeling the pressure – mums and dads out there would be seeing it firsthand. But if people are coming to this country, particularly from the UK, the US, Canada, New Zealand – close friends, part of the Five Eyes community – we should be looking at ways to accelerate their service into the Australian Defence Force.
GARY ADSHEAD: You talked about messages that the federal government should be giving. What sort of a message does it send to countries like China to know that we might be putting a couple more warships on the hardstands because we don't have the people to keep them up and going?
ANDREW HASTIE: I think it sends a message that we are weak, and we don't take defence seriously. There's strong horses and weak horses – we're sending the message that we're a weak horse. It's really important that we're able to defend our borders and if our Navy is shrinking, that makes it even more difficult for us to uphold the integrity of our borders. It also means that we can't assist our allies across the world – we're totally absent in the Red Sea. We should be there, we should be keeping the shipping lanes open in the Red Sea, but we're not. We've got a couple of people in Bahrain, and a couple more who are going to arrive soon, but they've had a month and they haven't even been sent over yet.
GARY ADSHEAD: Just on that though, have you had any further explanation as to why that decision was made not to go and join allies in relation to the Houthi rebels in operating in the Red Sea and of course, the threat to maritime traffic? Have you had any further insight into why, because there's been speculation it's because the ships that we would send are not able to fend off drone attacks, for example, or is it more about personnel perhaps now?
ANDREW HASTIE: I think it's probably a combination of both. Last year, when they handed down the Defence Strategic Review, the Albanese Government basically described the situation that we were facing and tried to locate all our interests right here in our region. Well, the reality is we live in a global world and a lot of our goods that we import come through the Red Sea. Now Australians are going to feel the cost of goods going up if ships have to go around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, rather than through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. It means that it'll take longer for stuff to get to us, and we'll all feel the impacts of that. So yes, we do need to focus on defence of our region, of the Indo Pacific, but we also need to be alive to the reality that we're a trading nation and we receive a lot of goods over the ocean, so we need to do our bit as well. The reason why I suspect the government just isn't serious about national security, they're probably worried about what it looks like politically for them. They're worried about seats in in places which are definitely fired up over the whole Israel-Gaza issue, there's a lack of personnel, and I don't think they're investing in the Navy. I think the sustainment budgets are suffering as a result of AUKUS - they tipped a bunch of money into AUKUS, but they've stripped it out from other areas of Defence, and that means we're not ready for a crisis and that's a big, big problem.
GARY ADSHEAD: Well, it's no use having ships up on hardstands when a crisis comes because you can't just push them into the water and off they go can you?
ANDREW HASTIE: You can't, and we can't expect to be ready if we're not willing to invest the money in building the ships, maintaining the ships, and recruiting the young Australians who are going to man those ships.
GARY ADSHEAD: Andrew Hastie, thanks very much for joining us, appreciate your time.
ANDREW HASTIE: Good to be with you, Gary. Thank you.
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