Interview: Kieran Gilbert, DSR



KIERAN GILBERT: Andrew Hastie, thanks for your time. You’ve said today that the government in its response to this defence strategic review is cannibalising other capability. What are you most concerned about?

ANDREW HASTIE: Good to be with you, Kieran, essentially today from the government, they've talked a lot about us as a country facing the most challenging strategic circumstances since the Second World War. And the opposition agrees. In fact, it was us who said this three years ago in the Defence Strategic Update. And so today, we're expecting significant investment in the ADF to make sure that we are fit for the decade ahead. And instead, we don't have a strategy until next year, we've seen no new dollars spent. And in fact, what we are actually seeing is cuts and cannibalisation of army capability in particular. Right now Kieran in the Australian Army, we have three mechanized battle groups, we've got 3 RAR in Townsville, we've got 6 RAR in Brisbane, and we've got 7 RAR in Adelaide. We're going to drop two of those mechanised battle groups and go to one because of the cuts in the Infantry Fighting Vehicle program from 450 vehicles to 129. So we're seeing exactly what Peter Dutton and I warned about last month.

KIERAN GILBERT: When you talk about that reduction in those vehicles, the infantry fighting vehicles, what do you say to the argument made by the former Defence Minister Steven Smith, former CDF Angus Houston in their review that those capabilities aren’t what we need, essentially trading them off for more missiles. Aren’t more missiles more relevant to protecting this continent?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well they are investing in HIMARS trucks, which are essentially rockets that can fire from the back of a truck. And if we were to deploy those forward say into the region into any of the island chain in the South Pacific or the archipelago, they would need to be defended by infantry, the best way to defend those would be to use infantry fighting vehicles with a section of tenant infantry in the back, and a 30 millimetre cannon on top, that capability has been reduced from three battle groups to one. And so when they talk about missiles, we also need to talk about how we would deploy them and how we would protect them in a conflict. So the other thing is, well, Kieran, at the heart of all this, its strategic doublespeak to talk up the the big challenge that we're facing as a country, and then to not add a single new dollar to defence spending. And so we agree in the investment in long range strike missiles, but we also need to maintain other capabilities as well, particularly after the lessons of the last 20 years. And that is infantry, are best in a combined arm, arms environment when they're protected by armour, and we're going to see armour degraded over the next decade with a lack of investment.

KIERAN GILBERT: Do you believe that the Army will be diminished by the review?

ANDREW HASTIE: I do think the army will be diminished by the review, indeed. And that's a great tragedy, because we need a strong army going forward. I know how hard our army works, I know how important it is to have an army that's world class. And a world class army is one that can fight in a combined arms environment and without infantry fighting vehicles we go back to a light infantry army, which is where we went after Vietnam during the 1980s. And when it came time for Timor and Iraq and Afghanistan, we had a lot of hard lessons to learn and by cutting this program potentially we lose a lot of that institutional knowledge which has been built up over the last 10 to 15 years overseas.

KIERAN GILBERT: In terms of recasting the mission for the ADF, DO you agree with this, particularly the second and third points that the government made, “to deter through denial, any adversary that seeks to project power against Australia or our interests through the northern approaches, and thirdly to protect Australia’s economic connection to our region and the world”. They are the second and third components, the others more about, more broadly playing our role in the international community. Do you think that those two definitions of our ADF mission are the right way to look at it?

ANDREW HASTIE: Yes, indeed, and that's why we've supported the government through AUKUS. In fact, it was the coalition, former coalition government who initiated AUKUS and so we've supported it from a bipartisan perspective. We really do need those submarines to protect our sea lanes, our lines of trade and communication, it's absolutely critical. And so we need a strike capability. The submarines give us that, the missiles give us that. We think about our strike capability as a mean, right cross. We need a mean right cross, but we also need a left jab as it were, and that's the land power component and without infantry fighting vehicles, deploying into a contested area within the archipelago, or the South Pacific in future years, will be challenging for our army without that additional armour.

KIERAN GILBERT: We’ve only got a bout a minute left, but I do want to ask you about the recommendation, agreed in principle by the government that the ADF be the last call, only in exceptional circumstances in the event of natural disasters and so on. Is that the right approach for the ADF to only be called upon for things like natural emergencies, when there are no other services or support available?

ANDREW HASTIE: Yes, Kieran, very quickly. I think it's right that we focus the ADF on its core task and that is to win our wars. We honour the work they've done over the last few years helping the Australian people through flood, fire and the pandemic but their core mission is to defend Australia and win our wars and so they must maintain that focus. There's also the counter terror focus, where our leaked counter terror units, SAS or second commando regiment in Sydney can be called upon if a terrorist situation overwhelms our state jurisdictions and police force as we saw with the Lindt Cafe siege. So they have a role to play assisting civil authorities, but their main focus should always be war fighting and defending this country.

KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me live form Perth. Shadow Defence, Andrew Hastie. Thanks.