Interview: Greg Jennett, ABC Afternoon Briefing




Topics: Labor’s changes to ADF recruitment, national service.


GREG JENNETT: Shadow Defence Minister, Andrew Hastie, joins us in the studio now. Welcome back to the program, Andrew. I think we had a bit of you on our network earlier today from your doorstop with Peter Dutton.

ANDREW HASTIE: Good to be with you, Greg.

GREG JENNETT: Now, eligibility - what do you say it should be limited to? Is it only Five Eyes nations? Is it Five Eyes plus Pacific nations? Who should be involved to enlist?

ANDREW HASTIE: This is what the government needs to clarify because the announcement today has been very ham-fisted. There was a drop to the Herald Sun, then there was a flurry of radio interviews this morning. We're all very confused. From July 1 apparently it's New Zealanders, then from January 1 it's Five Eyes nations and the rest of the world. This is what the government has to clarify.

GREG JENNETT: Haven't they done that?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, have they?

GREG JENNETT: I thought there was an attempt by Richard Marles and subsequently - you may not have heard it because of your other obligations – but subsequently by Matt Keogh to put on the never never all other nations beyond Five Eyes, Pacific nations.

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, Matt Keogh this morning said all other countries. Richard Marles at a doorstop refused to rule out Chinese permanent residents. Then in question time, he talked about New Zealand and then when we pushed him, he came back to the question of January 1 and other countries, and he said Five Eyes there. So we want clarity. I don't think they've cleaned this up. And for something as important and something as huge as this – in their own words, they said this is the Albanese Government crossing the Rubicon on defence recruiting – for something so important and central to our life as Australians, they need to have clarity about their policy, and they should have a debate and discussion. They shouldn't treat this as poorly as they have today.

GREG JENNETT: Alright. I note the execution difficulties, communications problems, whatever it was today, but you've been – to use the cliché – forward leaning on this. I think you had ideas on very similar proposals last year and these were publicly reported. Just remind us what your position was then and if you have one now.

ANDREW HASTIE: Sure. I keep an open mind but I'm always looking to close on something. And at the moment, we have a recruiting crisis, we have a retention crisis in the ADF under the Albanese Government. They've effectively thrown their hands up and said, well, we can't appeal to young Australians anymore, we're not even going to try, so we're going to open the doors through migration to service in the defence force –

GREG JENNETT: – And so in principle?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, in principle, we already do lateral transfers with Five Eyes. I was on a Collins-class submarine in 2021, the captain of the boat was a Canadian submariner who transferred across. I've worked with people from all the Five Eyes countries in the ADF. The question is, is that a good way to recruit people? There's a lot of questions that need answering before we support this. So tomorrow, through Estimates, we'll be asking the hard questions – what security vetting processes will be in place? Will there be a return of service obligation on people who receive citizenship after 90 days of service in uniform? Because what's to stop them from getting citizenship, and then leaving quickly if they come up with an injury or some other reason for leaving the ADF?

GREG JENNETT: Right. So they could be, in your mind, bonded to remain?

ANDREW HASTIE: They should be bonded. Citizenship is a really important thing. ADFA cadets, across the way here, for every year of study that they do, they pay back with a year of service plus one to the Commonwealth, to the taxpayer who funds them. So I think there has to be some reciprocity here between those who serve. But again, the Albanese Government – this is a ham-fisted approach, it's half baked, they need to clarify it, and we're going to ask the hard questions tomorrow in Senate Estimates.

GREG JENNETT: I'm sure you will and then depending what the result of the next election is, you may be grappling with very similar recommendations coming from the Defence Department if in office. Would you, on security vetting grounds, exclude Russian, Chinese, perhaps even Iranian applicants as permanent residents?

ANDREW HASTIE: Mike Burgess, the Director General of ASIO, for the last few years has said that espionage and foreign interference is at unprecedented levels exceeding that of the Cold War. We've got to take that seriously and so rather than excluding countries, I think we should make clear who we'd be willing to work with. We already do that with the Five Eyes with lateral transfers. At a bare minimum, I think we should be cautious about opening up service to other people from other countries and that's why this confusion is quite appalling from the government today.

GREG JENNETT: But are you balking at excluding particular nationals – I'll use Chinese and Russian as the best examples – because there is an inability, or a lack of visibility, on their backgrounds through the security vetting process I would suggest?

ANDREW HASTIE: You need a minimum of 10 years previous life experience that you can prove with documentation at a minimum. This is a problem that the government is going to have to solve. Again, we just want more detail, we're not getting it. They're at cross purposes with each other. Matt Keogh is saying one thing – the day he is auditioning for the Immigration Minister role, he's at cross purposes with his deputy prime minister and the senior minister.

GREG JENNETT: Alright, a couple of quick ones well away from debate here in Canberra. Rishi Sunak's idea of a review in the UK for some form of national service restricted, I think in his model, to 18-year-olds, is it still your position that a national plebiscite would be needed before Australia would adopt anything like that?

ANDREW HASTIE: Yes. A plebiscite, absolutely because we'd want every Australian to have the opportunity to express their view through the ballot box on this. If we're going have young Australians in uniform serving our country, we want the country behind it –

GREG JENNETT: – Do you propose to put that?

ANDREW HASTIE: I'm not proposing to put that but in answer to the question, do you support national service? I say it's question for the Australian people.

GREG JENNETT: Alright, noted. Andrew Hastie, there's much more we could discuss. Time has beaten us on a pretty hectic day, I think, for you and many people in this building. We'll thank you and wrap it up there.


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