Interview: Kieran Gilbert, Sky News






KIERAN GILBERT: Let's bring in Shadow Defence Minister, Andrew Hastie, now. Thanks for your time. What's your reaction to this confirmation now, Andrew Hastie, from Richard Marles that we will be sending more personnel – a tripling of our personnel at the headquarters in Bahrain – but not a vessel?

ANDREW HASTIE: Good afternoon, Kieran. Well, this is a bad decision by the Albanese Government. It's a weak decision, and Richard Marles has his head under the doona because we are a trading nation. We are the fifth-largest user of shipping in the world, 99 per cent of our imports and exports, by volume, come across the sea, so we absolutely have an interest in keeping the sea lanes in the Red Sea open, and to not send a vessel is to actually break with the last 30-years. Since 1990, we've had 57 Royal Australian Navy vessels contribute to stability, peacekeeping, counterterrorism, and counter-piracy operations either in the Middle East, or off the Horn of Africa, and so this decision needs to be reversed because we're leaving our allies in the lurch. This may well have cost of living implications for the Australian people as well, because if those cargo vessels have to go around the Cape of Good Hope, rather than through the Suez Canal, that will add up to 10 days more transit time, which adds to the cost of fuel, the cost of operations, which will in turn be passed on to Australian consumers, who are already battling with inflation as it is.

KIERAN GILBERT: Have you seen the request from the United States? My understanding is that it was a broad request either for a vessel, aircraft or personnel. So, isn't the government still responding positively to that request by providing and tripling the number of personnel on the ground there?

ANDREW HASTIE: They have taken the path of least resistance, Kieran, that's what they've done. They're sending six people to Operation Prosperity Guardian, to be staged in Bahrain, when the real work is going to take place in the Red Sea, along with other naval contributions. The UK, for example, is sending a destroyer, the French are sending a frigate. We've always stepped up, over the last 100 years, when we've had to, to be a good global citizen, to uphold the global rules-based order, and the Prime Minister has squibbed this. It's a weak decision and that's why we're calling on him to reverse it because it's in our national interest to contribute. If we want others to help us in a time of need, we need to step up and reciprocate now.

KIERAN GILBERT: So, you're saying the Government should reverse it and send a ship to the Red Sea? What's your view, though, of this argument from the Deputy Prime Minister, where he says that we need to be focused on our region? The Defence Strategic Review said that we need to focus, zero in, on the concerns and as he puts it, do the heavy lifting, in this part of the world.

ANDREW HASTIE: That's an academic argument from Richard Marles. It's not an argument based in reality, it's not an argument based in our strategic reality, and that is we are an island nation. We're the fifth-largest user of shipping in the world. Two-thirds of our imports come through the Suez Canal and Red Sea from the Mediterranean, so we absolutely have an interest in keeping that open and keeping the Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, away from that area and stopping their missile and their drone attacks on commercial shipping. To do otherwise, is to put the head under the doona and just say, 'no, we're going to focus on the near region', which is, frankly, a cop out. I think the Australian people are smart enough to realise that that is a cop out.

KIERAN GILBERT: Didn't Linda Reynolds, though, when the Coalition was last in government, announce that Australia would reduce its naval presence in the Middle East?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, that was a decision taken at the time. But since then, we've had the Hamas attacks on October 7, conducted against innocent Israelis – more than 1,200 people murdered – we've got the Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, attacking commercial shipping. This is a growing strategic disorder in the Middle East, and it's concentrated in the Red Sea. It affects not just our security, but also our prosperity, so I think the government absolutely has an interest in stepping up and contributing to this multinational coalition as part of Operation Prosperity Guardian. We've got to deal with the situation as we find it, not as we wish it to be. We have precedent – over the last 30-years, we've contributed 57 vessels to operations, so we have strong muscle memory, but this government has been weak and that's fundamentally what's going on here. Anthony Albanese's instincts are all at sea, he can't make a right call on Hamas, he can't make a right call on China, and he's squibbed this call in the Red Sea as well.

KIERAN GILBERT: I want to play you a little of my discussion with Richard Marles where I asked him about the fact that we've got this decision just after Australia backs the call for a ceasefire at the UN, going against the US position there as well. Have a quick look at what he had to say.


KIERAN GILBERT: Andrew Hastie, he says the US, and those in Washington, won't be concerned. I guess you disagree with that assessment?

ANDREW HASTIE: I disagree with that assessment. The United Kingdom at least had the decency to abstain from the vote, whereas we backed the vote calling for a ceasefire, that didn't even condemn Hamas. The Papua New Guineans, they voted against it, there are a number of countries that either abstained or voted against it – Australia should have been among those countries. So, I disagree fundamentally with Richard Marles' assessment of that, I think it diminishes us. What we really need is moral clarity and when a motion doesn't have the moral clarity to condemn Hamas, I question why we'd support it.

KIERAN GILBERT: Are you worried about the capability question? The Deputy Prime Minister says this call has not been made due to any lack of naval capability, it's been made on a strategic assessment of where our assets should be. Are you worried, though, that underpinning that, there could be a question as to whether the Navy is up to it?

ANDREW HASTIE: I am concerned about our Anzac-class and our Hobart-class vessels. I'm worried about our personnel and the separation rate from the ADF at the moment, which is too high – it needs to come down below 10 per cent, around the seven and eight per cent mark – it's been up at around 11 per cent. I am worried that there is a capability question. I'm also concerned about the ability of the Royal Australian Navy to defend itself against the emerging technologies that we're seeing in the Red Sea. The Houthi rebels are using drones and missiles and the question for the Government to answer is can our Navy actually defend themselves against such a threat? And if they can't, then what are they doing to rectify that gap in our capability? This is where the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister should be leading, they should be picking up the phone to defence industry and asking for options on the table. But since the Defence Strategic Review was released in April, we've seen dithering, we've seen money being stripped out of the Defence budget, and we've seen cuts to capability, and that's at the heart of this Government's national security policy. It's weak, and it's not good enough.

KIERAN GILBERT: I want to ask you about this as well, this comment from Richard Marles on the Global Times, that the Chinese Communist Party run daily. They complimented the Australian position when it comes to the Red Sea and on the ceasefire. This was Richard Marles’ reaction.


KIERAN GILBERT: There you go. Richard Marles says he's not concerned about what China and the Global Times is saying. Are they just, in simple terms, trying to mess with our heads at the moment, Andrew Hastie?

ANDREW HASTIE: Once again, I think the Deputy Prime Minister has his head under the doona. The Global Times is a mouthpiece used by the Chinese Communist Party, and they're effectively endorsing our position on the call for a ceasefire, and also for our decision not to deploy a vessel to the Red Sea. This is classic divide and conquer tactics, they are trying to put a wedge between us and the United States, and other partners, who we depend on for our security. It is concerning and I should also note in that article, in the Global Times, they also run cover for the Houthi rebels, basically saying they're not doing any damage to commercial shipping. Any sort of endorsement from that paper is not one that you want, and I think that's a problem for the Government.

KIERAN GILBERT: Just one before you go – residents in parts of Parkerville, this is in east Perth, we’ve got some live pictures now, and I'm told that the bushfire is burning dangerously close to homes in Perth's east. It looks like some difficult conditions over there today, Andrew Hastie.

ANDREW HASTIE: Yes, Kieran. It's very warm, there's been a strong easterly wind, you might be able to pick it up, and those two things combined together can make it very, very difficult to fight fires. Our thoughts and prayers are with the firefighters, the volunteers, and those affected, and we hope that we can get on top of this very, very quickly.

KIERAN GILBERT: Yes, it's looking precarious there for a few of those properties. Andrew Hastie, thanks. We wish you and your family all the very best for Christmas and the New Year. We'll see you next year.

ANDREW HASTIE: Thanks, Kieran. Good to be with you. Merry Christmas.

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