Interview: Jo Trilling



JO TRILLING: Andrew Hastie is the Shadow Minister for Defence. Good afternoon, Andrew.

ANDREW HASTIE: G'day Jo, how are you?

JO TRILLING: Well, thanks. Firstly, what is your response to this review?

ANDREW HASTIE: We'll look at what Richard just described in that audio file that you played. Sounds a lot like the Coalition's defence policy. Labor have banked our recommendations from the defence strategic update of 2020, which is that the warning horizon for conflict has reduced from 10 years. They've been to AUKUS, which we initiated in response to the Defence Strategic Update. We also had started building a sovereign missile capability. And of course, their points about sovereign shipbuilding, among other things are all part of the former coalition's plan.

JO TRILLING: So you're happy with it?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, let me finish. They're talking about a repositioning, but yet not, not a single new dollar has been announced today. And there's no mention of a strategy, which the Deputy Prime Minister mentioned will be released next year. So no strategy today, no new dollars. In fact, what we're seeing is cuts and cannibalisation of capability within the Australian Army, we're going to lose quite a lot of infantry fighting vehicles. And in fact, at the moment, we've got two mechanised battle groups of three rather one in Townsville, one in Brisbane and one in Adelaide, and we're going to go from three down to one, and that's going to have serious consequences for the Army's fighting capabilities.

JO TRILLING: Is there anything in this document that's going to enhance Australia's capacity to help deter China from military operation in Taiwan or anywhere else?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think that's what AUKUS is all about that the big news of 2023, the big news of 2021 was the announcement of AUKUS, obviously initiated by the former government. And this year, we welcomed on a bipartisan basis, Anthony Albanese standing next to Joe Biden, and Rishi Sunak in San Diego to announce that we were moving ahead with August. So AUKUS really delivers a game changing capability for the Australian Defence Force. But, you know, we're not seeing any new funding today. And so we're left asking, well, what's this all about? It's a great repositioning, but there's no actual resourcing, nor a strategy that goes with this repositioning.

JO TRILLING: I'm talking to Shadow Minister for this defence Andrew Hastie on the text line 0437922720. This person says, not a single new dollar great. It's too much of the budget. Good to hear this. What do you say to that, Andrew?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, given the defence is about 6 to 8% of the overall Commonwealth budget. It's not very much at all, compared to programs like the NDIS and other things that the government funds, social services, for example. So really, if and this is the great paradox or contradiction at the heart of today, from the from the Albanese government. On one hand, they're saying we are in the most challenging strategic circumstances since the Second World War. And we agree with that assessment. And then on the other hand, they don't actually do anything to resource the defence force going forward, in fact they're making cuts and cannibalising existing money repurposing it at the expense of Army capability. So that's how I'd respond to that. It really comes down to whether you take the situation seriously or not. And we do.

JO TRILLING: Pat Conroy says that the Coalition cut $12 billion from defence since 2016, and added $42 billion of additional spending commitments without making any further allocation. Without a single project being commissioned. Doesn't he have a point?

ANDREW HASTIE: I'd make two points about Pat Conroy. The first one is I don't think he's fully adjusted to the reality that he's now a government minister. So if he wants to keep playing opposition, I think he's got to realise that he's actually now the Minister. The second point I would make is, Jo, that over a decade, we took the defence budget from 2013 to last year, from about $26 billion dollars to $48 billion, which is an increase in real terms of 55%. And people can fact check that, they can go to Marcus Hellyer's ASPI cost of defence summary last year after the budget, they can check that it's on page 28. So, we actually invested a lot of money into the defence force and increasing defence spending up to 2% of GDP. So we're proud of that record. So I'm not sure what Pat's going on about.

JO TRILLING: The review calls on the Commonwealth and State governments to make the Henderson drydock happen. It said that it currently faces significant challenges. Is the previous government to blame for those challenges?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, again, this is a Government that's handed down in October budget. We've got a budget in two weeks time, and they've just handed down their response to the defence strategic review. They are in the driver's seat, we committed last year $4.3 billion towards the Henderson drydock. We're glad to see it's been kept in the review today. But the Government has to get on with the task of funding this thing and building this thing. And to the point about Western Australia. This is where we need to see more leadership from the McGowan Government, which has actually been quite absent for advocating for our state's interests when it comes to defence. Now, I'm an Australian, first and foremost and I believe we need to defend Australia and the country's needs come first. But there is a significant opportunity here for Western Australia and we're not hearing enough from the McGowan Government about how we're going to realise it as a state.

JO TRILLING: It's eighteen past four on ABC Radio Perth. I'm speaking to Andrew Hastie Shadow Minister for Defence about the Defence Strategic Review, which was released today. As a former SAS officer, what do you make of the Army's planned land infantry vehicles reduction from 450 to 129 vehicles?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think it's going to come at a significant cost to our land power and the Army's capability. Infantry always has to work in a combined arms context. And for listeners who aren't familiar with the military, what that means is they need to work hand in hand with armour, and tanks and artillery. That's how you get results on the battlefield. That's how you win on the battlefield. And with these cuts to the Infantry Fighting Vehicle program, what we're going to see is ,we're going to see our three battalions or battle groups, which are mechanized, which means they move on the battlefield. In armoured vehicles, we're going to see those three battle groups be reduced to one, which means we have no redundancy. And so all the all the learned lessons and all the institutional knowledge of the last 20 years potentially will be lost. And that's a that's a big risk for us because in the end, close combat, to have the advantage you need armour as well as infantry.

JO TRILLING: Just finally Andrew on Drive a little earlier we were talking about the discovery of the SS. Montevideo Maru shipwreck. 80 years after was torpedo down with just under 1000 Australian troops and civilians on board. I understand your great uncle was aboard that vessel. How did you feel about the discovery over the weekend?

ANDREW HASTIE: It was actually mixed feelings on my on my family side, my great uncle, Neil Ross Callaghan. He was a private with the eighth supply column, which was part of the force in Rabaul sent there to defend the garrison. He died on that ship with his brother in law. So his wife Nell lost both her husband and her brother James, in her 20s. I can't imagine the grief that she must have felt. But my grandfather who was very close to my great uncle, he remembers having a dream just before he heard news of him dying where his brother Neil came to him in his dream and took his hand and said "Reg I'm not coming home". He woke up in a cold sweat. And they also met survivors from Rabaul afterwards who suggested that Neil had been used as bayonet practice by Japanese soldiers. So I did some work over the last few years and I tracked down the ship's manifest or nominal role, which was translated from Japanese back into English. And Neil's name was on it, same with James, his brother in law. And so I think that gave my family great relief to know that he wasn't bayoneted, that he went down with his brother in law, he went down with a 1000s other Australians, including Kim Beazley's uncle and many other Aussies and many other families were affected as well. So we really want to thank the people who went out of their way to find the Montevideo. It's a really important part of our history and it means a lot to families around the country.

JO TRILLING: Andrew, good to talk to you.

ANDREW HASTIE: Thanks so much, Jo.