Interview: Greg Jennett




GREG JENNETT: Andrew Hastie, welcome. Why don't we wind it back, first of all. You perhaps weren't privy to the classified discussions hat the Morrison government had back in the day, but you can confer with Peter Dutton these days. How far removed do you think what was announced today is from what was conceived in September of 2021?

SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, THE HON. ANDREW HASTIE MP: Well, it's good to be with you Greg, and with your viewers. I think the situation has evolved over the last 18-months and we haven't been privy to the internal logic of the Submarine Task Force but certainly, Peter Dutton back as Minister for Defence was pushing to acquire Virginia class submarines to fill that capability gap. So, we're very glad that that has happened, but not surprised.

GREG JENNETT: Was is clear to you at any point in your discussions around this when the UK model, you know, the developed new design which is still to come but when that entered he frame?

ANDREW HASTIE: I can't because it was so tightly held. And I've got to say, there haven't been any leaks about this up until late last week -

GREG JENNETT: - Which I don't think came from Australia either.

ANDREW HASTIE: No, I don't think so. No, it was well briefed by the US I think.

GREG JENNETT: Okay, why don't we move to how this gets delivered. Budget is going to be part of it but not all of it, that's for certain. Is it sufficient, the numbers that they've outlined today?

ANDREW HASTIE: We do have questions as the Opposition on the timing of this program, the sequencing of this program, particularly questions around whether or not we'll be operating three classes of submarines simultaneously, and we also have questions about how this will be financed because it is immensely expensive. Now, we support this wholeheartedly from a bipartisan basis, but they are legitimate questions, and we want to make sure the government stays on track.

GREG JENNETT: Alright, break that down. We'll come to the finance in a moment but since you raised it, the overlap between Collins, Virginia, and then SSN AUKUS, or AUKUS SSN as it's called, what problems does that present?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, of course, if we maintain the Collins class, we've got to do Life of Type Extension. Now, we want a commitment on that either way, because there'll be an opportunity cost for the labour workforce if we have to commit two years to each of the Collins class submarines over a 12 year period. We're actually needing to grow our submarine workforce, we're needing to grow our industry workforce and so we've got to make sure that we're not dividing our labour across three platforms and I think that we need clarity around that.

GREG JENNETT: Is Adelaide Osborne yard even capable of doing some of those things simultaneously?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, I have confidence in the workers of Adelaide. We certainly need to grow our industrial base, that's the whole point about AUKUS. We're not just growing our industrial base, but also the UK and the US. But that is a massive task for us, particularly after the pandemic, we've actually shrunk as a workforce and there's huge demand for labour across the country.

GREG JENNETT: Alright, so on finance, we can talk in today's dollars, the advertised range is 268 to 368, or we can convert it to Richard Marles' preferred language. He says it's more accurate percentage of GDP. And we talk about percentage of GDP - point-one-five, do you have any inkling that that is or isn't enough?

ANDREW HASTIE: I was surprised by that figure, I've got to say, because this is such an expensive project that we're undertaking. Rishi Sunak, the UK Prime Minister in San Diego today committed the UK Government to 2.5 percent of GDP. So look, we're going to continue to ask the hard questions about how are we going to achieve these financial milestones in delivering this project and we're also concerned about the offsets that are being put against other defence programs. Now, we'll know more next month, but I'm concerned that capabilities are going to be cut. We want to know which service is going to experience those cuts, what platforms and programs will be cut and indeed what Australian industry businesses will be affected by that.

GREG JENNETT: What would be wrong with that though. It's called prioritisation and that's what governments have to do in light of new events if some tanks or other protected vehicles have to fall by the wayside. You can't have everything.

ANDREW HASTIE: I agree with you, Greg. Scarcity is an issue all governments have to work with - there's unlimited wants and only limited resources to fulfill those wants. So defence will have to make hard decisions and the government will have to make hard decisions across all programs that are delivered by the federal government.

GREG JENNETT: That might be something we discuss further when the Strategic Review comes out next month. Closer to your own home, HMAS Stirling is of course nearby to there. Do you know what maintenance is likely to be performed there? There's going to be some infrastructure being built up there fairly soon aut at least in the visiting and rotational phase of this, what is required?

ANDREW HASTIE: I understand that we're going to have to invest in Stirling and Henderson - wharf upgrades, we're going to have to establish, I suppose the contours of a nuclear industry to make sure that these submarines can come alongside, can be maintained and serviced. There’s implications for our health system, particularly when it comes to making sure that everything's in place, to protect against the worst situation. But I understand maintenance will be done below the water, which means submarines will be maintained for up to 12 weeks at a time, but certainly not being lifted out of the water as you would in a dry dock say in the US.

GREG JENNETT: So relatively superficial or light maintenance that's done on these visits?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think it's important maintenance that's conducted in Guam and Pearl Harbor and elsewhere, and this rotation that will host it at Stirling and Henderson will provide more capacity for the United States and the UK.

GREG JENNETT: Now, strategically, some people when they stage events like today talk about the announcement effect. We had a President and two Prime Ministers standing there in San Diego, do you expect a deterrent message being sent to Beijing, that it may or may not heed? Or the opposite to come from the bells and whistles treatment of this announcement today, that is that it might be inflammatory in some way to China?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think it was well done. I don't think it was inflammatory but the clear message is that our strategic circumstances have changed a we're changing with it, which is why AUKUS was struck 18 months ago. And the reality is that, you know, China is increasingly impatient and belligerent in the region and that's something that we have to respond to. Rishi Sunak, I think, said it himself - the growing assertiveness of China in the region has driven AUKUS.

GREG JENNETT: It's the entire rationale behind it, isn't it? And, finally, Andrew Hastie as you look around the Parliament, we're talking in the context of this being a bipartisan and very long running endeavor, does the current Parliament have within it the Prime Minister who will first welcome Australia's Virginia class SSN?

ANDREW HASTIE: I'm not sure because - well, maybe, perhaps - I'm just doing the math in my head. But certainly, this is a multi generational task, it's going to span multiple Parliament's, multiple governments and that's why it's so important that we take a bipartisan approach to this because there is a fair bit of risk. There is a lot of complexity and we can't make these submarines political footballs. They are important and we need to work together to deliver them.

GREG JENNETT: Yes, goodness knows what future leadership is thrown up in this Parliament but almost certainly it's not going to be Prime Minister Albanese you imagine out into the 2030s and 2040s. You never know - he'll be working towards that in that!

ANDREW HASTIE: It'd be someone without grey hair today who might have grey hair when they first break the bottle.

GREG JENNETT: I reckon that's a safe prediction. Andrew Hastie, Shadow Defence Minister, thanks so much for joining us.

ANDREW HASTIE: Thank you, Greg.