Interview: Chris Kenny, Sky News



CHRIS KENNY: Shadow Defence Minister, Andrew Hastie, joins us live from London. Thanks for joining us, Andrew, appreciate your time. Firstly, when you look at what's going on in Gaza and the ground incursion by Israel to root out Hamas, what do you expect to unfold in coming days and is there any way to minimise civilian casualties?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, this is really tough. We know what happened on October 7, that is a barbaric terrorist organisation, Hamas, attacked innocent Israelis and slaughtered men, women and children. Israel has to respond and the task for Israel is to destroy Hamas completely. That's very difficult because, of course, Hamas has so enmeshed itself amongst the Palestinian people in Gaza, which makes it a very tricky operation, indeed. But Israel's responses is just, and I'm sure they're doing everything they can to minimise civilian casualties. The mission is, of course, is to recover those hostages and destroy Hamas. It's good news overnight that Israeli Special Forces were able to recover a hostage, that would have been a very difficult operation to conduct, let's hope they can find more Israeli hostages alive.

CHRIS KENNY: So, we're talking about a door-by-door, building-by-building, tunnel-by-tunnel operation, which will be very dangerous and deadly for the Israeli Defence Forces as well, but surely the problem here is that Hamas won't allow civilians to evacuate south. If all the civilians could evacuate south, then they would be out of harm's way.

ANDREW HASTIE: Hamas is guilty of a war crime, and that is using civilians, innocent Palestinian civilians, as a shield. That makes it very, very difficult. And it’s young Israeli men and women in their late teens, early 20s, who have to find their way through an infinitely complex battlefield and use discriminate fires to kill Hamas and destroy the movement and that's going to be very, very difficult. We can expect casualties on both sides but that should not obscure the fact that it was Hamas who started this. Hamas used paragliders, motorbikes, vehicles to get into southern Israel and murder people in the most horrible way possible. They want to destroy Israel and so Israel has no choice but to destroy Hamas and that's why we find ourselves in this situation now.

CHRIS KENNY: Tell us about the diplomatic response, your thoughts on it, what we've heard from countries around the world, from the United Nations, from so many leaders where all the pressure, all the diplomatic pressure, is put on Israel to be constrained in its response to invoke a ceasefire. Surely the call we should be hearing from, in unison, from every country and leader in the world, is for Hamas to immediately release every one of the hostages it's taken. Surely that is the first stepping stone in this process.

ANDREW HASTIE: I think you're dead right there, Chris. This would very quickly be resolved, at least partly, if Hamas would release the hostages. They've taken innocent Israelis - little children who were taken from their parents and are being held by Hamas. I don't see any other way for the Israelis but to go after them with force. So international community, through its diplomatic pressure, should be applying that pressure to Hamas to release those hostages. You're absolutely right.

CHRIS KENNY: The letter from the six former Australian Prime Minister's was strong and it was fair and it was compassionate. What is your take on former Prime Minister Paul Keating not joining in that letter?

ANDREW HASTIE: He can explain himself to the Australian people, but I thought it was a very odd omission from him. It was great to see Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott, two old rivals, pulling together in the national interest and for justice by condemning Hamas and expressing support for the Israeli people. I thought that was an excellent example and it really does highlight Paul Keating's omission from that letter.

CHRIS KENNY: But isn't it the case also that the language in that letter was stronger and clearer? And it coming from two former Labor Prime Ministers in Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd, Kevin Rudd currently Australia's ambassador in the US, yet their language was stronger and clearer than anything we've heard from the serving Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

ANDREW HASTIE: You're absolutely right, Chris. The fact that former Prime Ministers from both sides of the aisle were able to overshadow Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong and Richard Marles is quite an achievement, I've got to say. And it just shows that Labor's instincts on this issue are all over the place. Anthony Albanese has been distracted, his instincts are weak on national security, Penny Wong's tied herself up in knots, Richard Marles has been pretty solid, but generally speaking, he's not exactly got great instincts on this either. And you've seen what's happened with the Labor Cabinet over the last few weeks, never mind what's happening domestically, not just in Australia, but across the West with the moral equivalence and the nuance and the context. You remember what the UN Secretary General said? That it did not happen in a vacuum - just disgraceful,

CHRIS KENNY: Just disgusting. Look, I would differ from your assessment to one degree, I would say that Penny Wong and Anthony Albanese have been strong on foreign policy so far in the way they've stood up to China and in the way they've been strong on the US Alliance through AUKUS, but yes, this has exposed a weakness. There's been a mealy mouthed response from an Anthony Albanese. Isn't there a clear template here for him? Shouldn't he be directed just to read that letter from the former Prime Minister's and understand that that is the right positioning for this country?

ANDREW HASTIE: It's a pretty strong blueprint to follow for him and he just has to follow the bouncing ball. There's a lot of collective wisdom from those Prime Ministers and I think you should take that and run with it. It's a gift for a guy who is looking for an answer.

CHRIS KENNY: And why hasn't he spoken with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister?

ANDREW HASTIE: That is a great question, Chris. Congressman Mike Johnson, who was elected Speaker last week, he was meant to appear here at the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship (ARC) in London. One of the first things he did was called Benjamin Netanyahu as the newly elected us speaker. Very, very odd that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has not had that phone call yet.

CHRIS KENNY: Do you think this is reticence on his part or on Benjamin Netanyahu's part?

ANDREW HASTIE: I just think it demonstrates that this Labor Government has dropped the ball on Israel. Israel is a very important friend and ally to free people, a democracy in the Middle East, a villa in the jungle, as Ehud Barak said, and Anthony Albanese should have good communications with the Prime Minister, it's as simple as that.

CHRIS KENNY: Just in the context of the conference that you're at, the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship, where you're talking about some of these issues, I wonder if you could finally just reflect on a point I made at the top of this program that the way we deal with this issue at the moment, and the way it's leading to antisemitism around the world, and some obscene responses from some leaders, isn't this more than a test of Israel and a test of Palestinian peoples, this is very much a test of our civilisation?

ANDREW HASTIE: We are in a civilisational moment and that's why the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship has gathered here in Greenwich. We are affirming the good things about Western civilisation - truth, justice, ordered liberty under law. And right now, in the West, we've seen terrible moral equivalency arguments made about Hamas and Israel and so what we're gathering here to do is to reaffirm truth. We find ourselves in a situation in the West where we can't even agree on a definition of what constitutes a man and a woman and if we're that confused, how on earth can we do grand strategy and take on some of the strategic challenges of the day, including a rising China, Russia, and what's happening in the Middle East? So, we need to get back to basics, that's what ARC is all about, it's about getting back to basics, and I've got to tell you, I've been surprised at how many people have turned up here. Really, really encouraging. It's a bit like the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race - there's boats all over the place but once we're out past the heads with a webbed sail, this thing will really take off and get moving over the coming years.

CHRIS KENNY: Great stuff, we'll catch up with some other guests there. Thanks for joining us, Andrew, appreciate it.