Interview: Greg Jennett, ABC Afternoon Briefing


Wednesday 17 April 2024

Topics: National Defence Strategy, Defence spending.


GREG JENNETT: Shadow Defence Minister, Andrew Hastie, is here to do that in the studio with us. Andrew, welcome back. You set Richard Marles a test earlier today publicly – explain the threats, outline a strategy to defeat them, and resource it. Now, I'm going to suggest to you that at least one of those – resourcing – he's passed with flying colours, hasn't he?

ANDREW HASTIE: Good to be with you, Greg. Number one, he did not articulate the threats to our country clearly. Number two, he didn't articulate a strategy clearly – he stuck to 'impactful projection', and we're none the wiser about what that actually means. On resourcing, there's some tricky budgeting there. What actually happened was $80 billion worth of cuts over the next decade to Defence capability – $7.8 billion of cuts last year when he handed down the Defence Strategic Review, he announced today $72.8 billion worth of cuts. So, what we have is not a balanced force, not a focussed force under Labor, but rather a weaker force going forward.

GREG JENNETT: Okay, but the aspiration to get to 2.4 per cent of GDP – actually is not an aspiration, they say that's kind of baked into budget planning for the next 10 years – that undeniably represents a quantum leap in Defence funding, doesn't it?

ANDREW HASTIE: What I can say to you, Greg, today is that under a Peter Dutton led government, we will exceed that expenditure. We will invest in Defence. There will be more spent under a Peter Dutton led government than under an Albanese Government. That's how seriously we take our national security, particularly, as the Government has said multiple times, we are living in the most dangerous strategic circumstances since the end of the Second World War.

GREG JENNETT: Okay, so we were entitled to assume that your policy position was a hangover, as a Coalition, from the Morrison Government – that was 2.1 per cent of GDP. Now you say you'll adopt and exceed. By how much? What's your reckoning? What will be needed?

ANDREW HASTIE: This is something that we're going to go through over the coming weeks and months through the Budget process and prior to the election. But that's an important commitment and signal to the Australian people that we take Defence policy more seriously than this Labor Government. If you think about it, last year, AUKUS was announced, we found out the Government was going to select the Virginia-class as our future nuclear submarine. And of course, that's going to take up a large part of the Defence Budget, which is why we've seen that increase out to 2.4. But there's more to be done. We can't just put all our eggs in one basket. There's Pillar I of AUKUS – the submarines – there's Pillar II, with all the advanced technology that we need to develop. We also need to invest in the Army and the Air Force as well as space and cyber.

GREG JENNETT: It's not just about picking impressive numbers and beating them, you actually have to know what you want to achieve with the money. So, what are the objectives if you're going over and above what Richard Marles has announced today? Is it to deliver everything that's in the investment plan faster? Or is it to add more kit to the list?

ANDREW HASTIE: It's to reinstate cuts that this Albanese Government has made, for example, the large vessel dry berth, out in WA at Henderson – $4.3 billion that's been cut – that needs to be reinstated. We need to invest more in our Cadet program, as an example – 1 billion cut from this Albanese Government. There's a whole range of areas where we can do more investment and so that's our commitment. We're going to work out what to do, but as I've said, if you don't have a strategy, you end up spending too much or too little. We want to have a strategy that's clearly articulated, supported by the Australian people, and then we will resource it. Our instinct is that it's going to require more than 2.4 going forward.

GREG JENNETT: Any ballpark on that?

ANDREW HASTIE: This is work that we're going to do. It's a signal to the Australian people, though.

GREG JENNETT: Well, we'll watch you build out the details on that. Can I take you to reprioritisations – that is culling, delaying other projects that are on the books. There's $22 billion worth the next four years, even more – much more over the decade...

ANDREW HASTIE: $72.8 billion...

GREG JENNETT: Does any of that cause you concern?

ANDREW HASTIE: As you're aware, the media has had more of a briefing from the Government than the Opposition. I'm going to work through each line item and understand the cuts to the integrated investment program and we'll have more to say in due course.

GREG JENNETT: All right. Now where Australia puts its effort, says Richard Marles, is about making important choices. The call for focus means we simply have to make the difficult decisions to keep the vast bulk of our effort in our region, he says, And he asserts that that's exactly what the US would expect of us. This is a very clear statement, isn't it, Andrew Hastie, that if Australia were asked to do again, things like activities in the Red Sea, or perhaps even farther afield, the answer clearly has to be no. Would you accept that?

ANDREW HASTIE: This is a problem that we need to solve and that's why we need to be more ambitious than the Albanese Government in Defence. Richard Marles – there was a paradox at the heart of his speech. On one hand, he says we are a maritime island trading nation with sea lanes throughout the world on which our imports come and our exports go. But then he anchored our Defence strategy right in the heart of the Indo-Pacific. Whereas the Red Sea does have an impact on Australia. The Houthi rebels firing missiles at international shipping does have an impact on our prosperity and our security. So it's all good and well to say we live down here and we're going to focus on a region - we're a global player and we need to have a force that can meet other commitments that might arise that are unforeseen.

GREG JENNETT: It's not limitless, though, is it? I mean, if Australia were asked to patrol the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal - also of vital concern to deliveries to this country – you wouldn't actively contemplate that, would you?

ANDREW HASTIE: No, of course, and you know, two principles of economics – scarcity and trade offs. We never have enough resources, and we have to make trade offs, but we can't just write a strategy that deals with one threat and ignores others. We don't get to choose what threats come at us. The enemy, as we like to say, always gets a vote and you've got to be prepared for a number of contingencies. That's why I think some of what he said today is wishful thinking.

GREG JENNETT: So, in your outlook on strategy, the days of global operations are not as far in the past as current defence thinking guided by top brass and others in this country would have us believe?

ANDREW HASTIE: No. We need to grow our Defence Force and under the former Coalition Government, we committed to growing the Defence Force by 18, 500 out to 2040. There is a recruiting and a retention crisis in the ADF right now. We can't get enough people in and we can't get enough people to stay, and the Albanese Government needs to do better at selling Defence as a meaningful and purposeful vocation to young Australians because they're the ones who are going to have to secure our future.

GREG JENNETT: All right. Well, Andrew Hastie, you've given us some bones to work on in alternative Defence policy. I promise we'll come back to that as you flesh it out in the year ahead. Thanks again for being with us.

ANDREW HASTIE: Thanks, Greg.

Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • Andrew Hastie
    published this page in Latest News 2024-04-18 15:21:06 +0800