Interview: Chris Kenny, Sky News




Topics: Kim Beazley’s comments on defence preparedness, defence spending, national service.

CHRIS KENNY: Joining me now is Shadow Defence Minister, Andrew Hastie. Thanks for joining us, Andrew. Is Kim Beazley right?


ANDREW HASTIE: I think Kim Beazley is right. I think there's a lot to do in defence. We've got to get more people to serve in uniform – we're about 5,000 under strength and we're not hitting our recruiting targets, we're not retaining people for long enough either. There are capabilities that need to come online. Under this Labor government, they're still assuming the 10 year warning time orthodoxy in the Budget. So we're not going to see a lot of new capability for another 10 years or so which means we'll become weaker before we become stronger, ironically. There's a lot to do in defence which is why the next election will be so consequential.


CHRIS KENNY: I want to come back to those defence options but just to talk about the strategic circumstances, it's more than two decades since Kim Beazley was defence minister. Apart from our own defence preparedness going backwards or flatlining, the other aspect of this is the threats in our region have grown, right? He's talking about what the situation was like back then. Certainly, China in particular, has massively expanded its defence capability, both in terms of the numbers of kit it has and the sophistication, right?


ANDREW HASTIE: That's right. We've enjoyed the strategic protection of English-speaking democracies since Federation – the British up until 1942 and then, obviously from America from the Second World War to the present day. And America and its leadership of the free world is under increasing pressure from Russia, from China, from Iran, from North Korea, from their affiliates – Hamas and the Houthi rebels in the Middle East – and so all that pressure means that we're also having to face up to the new strategic reality and defend ourselves and help protect this order that the US has maintained for the last 80 years. I think it is under more pressure now, particularly because we're seeing Russia assert itself in Ukraine, we're seeing China flex its muscles in the region – there's so many data points for that, I don't need to tell your viewers. They've built artificial islands out of the atolls in the South China Sea, militarised them, they're now bristling with missiles and fighter aircraft, we see what they're doing to the Filipinos, we see what they've done to our own ADF a couple of times over the last few years – the latest one, of course, being the Seahawks being buzzed by the Chinese fighter and having flares fired at it. All these things mean that we need to invest more in defence, we need more people serving in uniform and under this government, I don't think they're serious about defence. Kim Beazley wasn't alone in saying this. Paul Dibb agreed with him that we're effectively a peacetime Defence Force – we're not ready for war. Everyone agreed on the strategic outlook too, I didn't hear any dissent from that view. So these are the circumstances we're facing and the question is what's the government doing about it? Well, it's spending $50.3 billion over the next decade but most of that money is in the next decade, not in the present where we need the investment right now.


CHRIS KENNY: You know, you mentioned 5,000 personnel. Sure, that's a worrying number, that's a lot of people, that's a lot of expertise, that's a lot of skilled and highly trained people that we don't have and they're just not making a dent in recruiting those people and retaining them as we speak. But what about when it comes to hardware? There's a lot of focus on the submarines, we all know that getting nuclear submarines is going to take a long while – where are the other gaps? What are the most critical gaps that we need to fill when it comes to our defence platforms?


ANDREW HASTIE: We need to think about how we can bring the new general-purpose frigate sooner to operational service. We've only got five crews for our seven Anzac frigates, we've had to decommission one which was decommissioned about a week ago. We need to think about how we bolster our Air Force, Labor have removed the fourth squadron of Joint Strike Fighters, for example. We need to be investing in low-cost drones so that we can keep up with the developments in warfare and we need defence industry to be doing that, our sovereign industry – not buying stuff overseas, but actually backing our own industry here in Australia so that we can get new capabilities that are world class and will give us an edge in the next conflict. But I think, Chris, the most important thing that we need to be investing in is people. War is fundamentally a human enterprise, if you don't have people, you can't win wars. You can have all the capabilities in the world, but you've got to have people who love their country, who are tough, who are resilient, who are good at warfighting, and if we're not hitting our recruiting targets, if we're not retaining people, and if we're still short of the required number of personnel, we've got a big problem, and we do. We do have a big problem.


CHRIS KENNY: And just briefly, you've talked about how most of Labor's additional defence spending is way outside the forward estimates. You're going to have an election campaign in six to nine months, are you saying that the Coalition will definitely bring defence spending forward? You'll spend more in your first years of government on defence?


ANDREW HASTIE: You've got to look at the numbers Chris. They're committing to $5.7 billion over the next four years. Most of that – more than $3 billion – is in the fourth year. So we're not seeing any immediate investment which then sends a signal to the Australian people that Labor are not serious about defence. So yes, Peter Dutton has already said that we will invest more and sooner than Labor in the Australian Defence Force. I'm confident that will occur but most importantly, we're going to have a plan to get young Australians into uniform and we're going to build a more cohesive, strong and resilient Defence Force.


CHRIS KENNY: Just quickly on that, what do you think of Rishi Sunak's plan to bring back national service in the UK? Should we be looking at that?


ANDREW HASTIE: I think if we're going to have a discussion about national service, there's got to be a debate and then there should be a plebiscite. Every single Australian should get a vote on that question because there's nothing worse than having people serving in uniform who don't want to be there. One of the great strengths of the Australian Defence Force is that they are volunteers, and they are people who have signed on the dotted line to commit their lives to defending our country. That's what we want and so it has to be a national decision with the Australian people's consent.


CHRIS KENNY: Yeah, good point. Thanks for joining us, Andrew. I greatly appreciate it.


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  • Andrew Hastie
    published this page in Latest News 2024-05-29 17:02:41 +0800