INTERVIEW WITH LUKE GRANT, 2GB
WEDNESDAY 20 DECEMBER 2023
LUKE GRANT: Andrew Hastie is your Shadow Minister for Defence and joins me on the line. Merry Christmas, Andrew, thank you very much for your time.
ANDREW HASTIE: Merry Christmas, Luke. Great to be with you.
LUKE GRANT: This is a problem, isn't it? I mean, there was a time where we knew Australia stood for stuff, we were front and centre, we didn't leave people wondering, but it appears to me, over the last six months of this government's existence, people don't know where we stand on anything.
ANDREW HASTIE: That's right, Luke, this is an embarrassment for Australia. This is another example of weak leadership from the Prime Minister and his national security ministers. We should very much so be involved in this because international prosperity and security is at stake. The Middle East is a critical part of the world. We've seen Hamas on October 7, and now the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, create all sorts of strategic disorder. The US has asked for a modest request from us to send a maritime contribution and we can't even meet that. We can't even meet that, Luke, and that is an embarrassment.
LUKE GRANT: Andrew, do we have such a vessel that would be suitable for the mission? There was some information, or at least opinion, yesterday suggesting perhaps we didn't, but do we have the capabilities to go over there and assist those important ships get safe passage?
ANDREW HASTIE: That's for the government to answer. We have Anzac-class frigates, and we have Hobart-class air warfare destroyers. Those ships should be deployable – we've got eight of the Anzac-class, we've got three of the Hobart-class – that's on the government to explain why they're not deployable. We have the people, we have the ships, this is a question of willpower, and the Government is being weak. The Prime Minister is lacking willpower and he's being indecisive on this question. I want to remind your listeners as well, Luke, that since 1990, we've sent ships about 57 times to the Middle East. Since 2001, we've had ships operating in the Middle East, and also off the Horn of Africa, conducting both counter-terrorism and counter-piracy. This is familiar for us; this isn't something that is totally new. What we're actually doing is breaking the precedent by not sending a ship this time. And as you've already articulated, this has economic consequences – 12 per cent of the world's trade passes through the Suez Canal, out of the Mediterranean, through the Red Sea and then on to our region. If this gets shut down, it adds significant days the transit of trade, and ships will have to go right around the Cape of Good Hope, down past Africa in a return to history, it would seem. So, this is really consequential, and this government is not at the table and that's embarrassing for us as a country.
LUKE GRANT: You know, what you just told me then, I've not heard. This is now an exception. We're used to doing this, we've, I assume, done well doing this, it's not like this is new ground – this is our ground. We do provide this, that's the point, isn't it?
ANDREW HASTIE: That's right, Luke. We've always stepped up. For the last 100 years or more, when our partners said, 'we need your help Australia', we stepped up. Specifically in the Middle East, over the last 30 years, we've stepped up, so we have muscle memory. A lot of the flag officers in the Navy have done time commanding vessels in the Middle East or off the Horn of Africa – my own brother did a couple of trips as a naval officer himself. So, this is not unfamiliar and that's why it's so troubling that, as an AUKUS partner, we're not stepping up to the plate when the British are sending a destroyer, the Americans are sending two destroyers, even the French are sending a frigate! Never mind the Italians or the Spanish or the Norwegians. So, where are we? That's for the Prime Minister to answer. If we can't do it because we've underinvested in the Navy, well, that's a problem for the Government and they need to explain why. If our ships can't defend themselves against these Houthi rebels with their drones and missiles, well then the Government has to explain why they haven't invested in the technology to defeat these emerging threats.
LUKE GRANT: You know, everything we're seeing in the Middle East now, you could read a lot into it and fear the worst. What do you make of that? It's a troubling part of the world, that's probably an understatement after what we saw with Hamas and those cowards, and now Iran backing these Houthis. It's a massive problem spot, I don't know if it's more so now than it was 10 years ago. What's your commentary on that?
ANDREW HASTIE: Well, the world can't afford for any more strategic disorder in the Middle East. Hamas attacked Israel and that's caused all sorts of trouble for Israel and the region. We've now got these Houthi rebels doing what they're doing, backed by the Iranian state. It affects international security; it affects international prosperity. We can't afford to just hope that it all works out, you've actually got to be active, you can't be passive. And this is a passive, weak Prime Minister who's not willing to make the tough decision and send Australians to contribute to a larger task force. This is not something we would be doing on our own, we would be doing our bit as a global citizen, and that's really important. We get peace through strength and deterrence, and that's what this would achieve – it would keep the sea lanes open in the Red Sea.
LUKE GRANT: They appear to be focused on the Pacific and of course they were quite effective, I think, campaigning about reform of government and its role in the Pacific, and they've got their eye off the big, global issues, whereas there was a point where Australia stood tall during these times. That's a deliberate decision by government, though, isn't it? This is not something that happened at a minute to midnight, they've actually planned I think, from decisions, to be more obvious in the Pacific and less influential around the world. That's what it feels like.
ANDREW HASTIE: Well, that's what the Defence Strategic Review was all about when they launched it back in April. The truth of that document though, is that they're cutting capability, they're cutting money out of the Defence budget, Army's particularly being hit hard with the budgetary cuts and we're seeing an under investment in Defence. I mean, you talk to defence industry, Luke, as I have done for the last year, they're all waiting for money to flow through so they can get on with the work of building a sovereign industry and keeping Australia safe. They're not seeing that money, they're not seeing that signal from the Government.
LUKE GRANT: I've got to go. I'll say it again, thank you for your service, Andrew, and I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas. Thank you so much for your time.
ANDREW HASTIE: You too, Luke. Merry Christmas to you and your listeners.
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