Interview: Jo Trilling, ABC Perth Drive


Wednesday 17 April 2024

Topics: National Defence Strategy, Defence spending, Iran attack on Israel, Terror incident at West Sydney church.


JO TRILLING: Andrew Hastie is the Shadow Minister for Defence. Welcome to Drive, Andrew.

ANDREW HASTIE: Thank you for having me. Good to be with you.

JO TRILLING: You've previously called the Government weak, and you've been calling for a larger Defence spend, are you satisfied with what the Minister has outlined today?

ANDREW HASTIE: Jo, there were three tests for Richard Marles today. Number one was to articulate clearly to the Australian people the threats that we face as a country. Number two – to clearly articulate a strategy that the Australian people can understand, and which gives the additional Defence spending social licence. And number three, the test was for Richard Marles to secure more funding for Defence.  On the first one – I don’t think he did a good job of articulating the threats. Your listeners would have just heard the cut from his speech, and I think it was very vague. Number two, the strategy, again, was vague and opaque. He talked about ‘impactful projection’, and again, he didn't explain what that meant. And then finally, yes, there has been an additional commitment to Defence expenditure, but that's largely because of AUKUS – something that we support. What is in fact happening is there is an $80 billion cut to Defence – there was $7.8 billion worth of cuts in the DSR last year – April 24, the Defence Strategic Review – and then today Richard Marles announced a further $72.8 billion worth of cuts. If the Coalition wins government, under a Dutton led government, you will see more Defence expenditure because we do think we are facing some significant threats and we do need to invest in our national security.

JO TRILLING: How much more would you commit if you were in government? I mean, 2.4 per cent of GDP within 10 years – you'd go higher than that?

ANDREW HASTIE: Yes, that’s what I committed to today…

JO TRILLING: Have you got a figure?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, Jo, the media was more well briefed than the Opposition and so we're still catching up to where the media is. We didn’t get a briefing from the Government. So, we'll go through our processes prior to the Budget and prior to the election, but it's important for the Australian people to know that our instinct is that there must be more investment. We need to grow our Defence Force, we have a recruitment and retention crisis that this government needs to fix, and so we're committing to additional Defence expenditure.

JO TRILLING: He wasn't entirely vague, I mean, he named China a number of times, if we go back to your comments around threats. He also made it clear that protecting our trade routes is a key objective. Do you agree there?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, he did mention China, but he didn't really articulate the challenge that China poses. He talked about strategic coercion and how, essentially, we've offshored all of our oil refining, and we're completely dependent on three countries – Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia – for the importation of both refined and crude oil. So, if you wanted to coerce Australia and bring it to a halt very, very quickly, you’d just cut off our sea lanes – our economy is largely a diesel economy – and you'd stop seeing Coles and Woolworths delivering groceries, and you'd see pharmaceuticals cease. These are some of the challenges that we face going forward. I think he could have been clearer about the risk posed by authoritarian powers – China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, their proxies in the Middle East, Hamas, Hezbollah, and of course, the Houthi rebels who are firing rockets at ships passing through the Red Sea. So, I think it's important that we're very clear to the Australian people about why we're investing. Social licence is actually really, really important because in the end, it's taxpayers’ dollars and it needs to be acquitted.

JO TRILLING: He did outline an overhaul of Defence's Integrated Investment Program – that'll see up to $76 billion spent on undersea warfare. Also, other large investments in space and cyber. Is that where the budget should be?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, it should be that and also elsewhere. We're still yet to see this Albanese Government committed to the $4.3 billion large vessel dry berth, which the former Coalition Government committed to building at Henderson, which be critical for our naval vessels, naval vessels of our allies – particularly with AUKUS seeing frequent visits from the US UK surface and submarine fleets – and of course, commercial shipping. We haven't seen any funding committed to that. So, it's not an either/ or equation, it’s a both/and equation  for a lot of these projects. It's important though, Jo, for your listeners, economics applies, of course, to Defence – there’s scarcity, there’s never enough resources to go around and we have to make trade-offs, we have to make tough decisions. I think what this speech today revealed is that Labor is big on the politics but short on the strategy, and Richard Marles has not been able to secure more funding in a meaningful sense.

JO TRILLING: The middle of a cost-of-living crisis, yesterday on the program we have multiple stories that people facing homelessness, in large part due to the rental crisis we're facing here. How much support do you think there really is for more spending on Defence, Andrew?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, the former Coalition Government committed to growing the Defence Force by 18,500 people out to 2040. Right now, we're well below our recruiting targets, we're not even hitting 50 per cent. And so, for young Australians out there who would like a job that gives them meaning and purpose, the Defence Force is a great option. For those who are struggling with housing, Defence is a great option. For those who want to benefit from education, Defence is a great option. And so I think the increased expenditure is not just on bits of equipment and capabilities, it’s also in our people, because at the heart of our Defence Force are Australians who care about their country and want to defend it. We’ve got to invest in our people. We've got to make it a more family friendly place to work and by that, I mean we shouldn't be recruiting people say from WA and then sending them to the north of Queensland for 20 years, as you know some people end up doing. The Coalition wants to see more Defence investment into our capital cities and have a closer link between the population that Defence serves and those who serve in the Defence Force.

JO TRILLING: I’m speaking to Shadow Defence Minister, Andrew Hastie. On personnel, Mr Marles did outline that shortfall of about 4,400 Defence personnel. He has one solution – he suggested the migration program would be used to recruit certain non-Australian citizens with specialized skills. What do you make of that?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, that was a thought bubble. We expected a strategy today, but he sort of floated that without any real commitment. So that's something that we'll consider certainly but in the end, I want Australians serving our country in uniform. I got to tell you, Joe, I benefited immensely. I went into the Defence Force as a youngster. I was educated—I came away with a university degree. I was given leadership training. I learned how to be part of a team and then I had the great honour of leading Australian soldiers. In terms of preparing you for life after the military, Defence does a really good job of that. So, I encourage young Australians to consider it. If young Australians are concerned about getting into a home again, defence provides a lot of incentives that help young Australians getting into a home. They’re not the sole reasons that people should join – of course, you've got to want to serve your country, and you've got to want to protect your country – but I want to make it very clear that Defence is a great option for young Australians.

JO TRILLING: I just want to touch on a couple of other matters. If we look overseas, the US and allies are urging Israel to act with restraint since Iran launched that drone attack last weekend. Do you agree with the US’ approach?

ANDREW HASTIE: No one wants to see an escalation of war in the Middle East but Iran's launch of more than 300 missiles against Israel cannot stand. A line has to be drawn in the sand. Deterrence needs to be reestablished. The best way to handle a bully is to push back, otherwise, weakness in the face of bullying is provocative and so…

JO TRILLING: Many are calling for de-escalation. How do you do that?

ANDREW HASTIE: Not being weak, because if Iran gets away with this – and I'm not being prescriptive about a response, by the way – but if Iran gets away with this, next time, they'll do more. There has to be a cost to using lethal force against a neighbouring nation state. Now, Iran is committed to the destruction of the Jewish people in the State of Israel, and if they can get away with this, who knows what they'll do next time.

JO TRILLING: So, you’re saying you don’t agree with the US’ approach? Do you think that it should be a stronger response?

ANDREW HASTIE: I don't think the US is saying do nothing, I think they're saying let's be restrained here. But there has to be a cost to Iran's lethal force over the weekend against Israel.

JO TRILLING: Just finally, over the last few days, Sydney has witnessed two harrowing stabbing attacks – one has been labelled a terrorist attack. Is Australia’s social cohesion at risk?

ANDREW HASTIE: Yes, it is at risk. I think in our short 123 years as a democratic nation, going back to Federation, this is probably the most severe test for our social cohesion. We’re a more diverse population. We have people from different religions – Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and everything in between – and I think it really matters that we stay united as a people. That’s why political leadership is really important. That's why it's so important for the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, to be strong and to clearly articulate what we are for as a country. We are for living peaceably with our neighbours. We are not for religious extremism and violence.

JO TRILLING: Thank you for your time.

ANDREW HASTIE: Thank you, Jo.


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  • Andrew Hastie
    published this page in Latest News 2024-04-18 15:26:33 +0800