Interview: Luke Grant, 2GB



Topics: National Defence Strategy, Defence spending.


ANDREW HASTIE: Good to be with you, Luke. Thank you.

LUKE GRANT: Not at all. One thing Richard Marles did mention yesterday is that we have to project our Defence capabilities, suggesting that we don't just have to defend Australia but the whole region. Is that fair? I mean, I understand the thinking there, but many listeners would want Australian dollars to be the focus of defending Australia, and then after we do that we can look further afar. What's your approach or feelings about that?

ANDREW HASTIE: Yesterday I said there were three tests for Richard Marles in his speech. Number one was to clearly articulate the threats that Australia is facing. Number two – to clearly articulate a strategy in language that the Australian people can understand. And number three was to demonstrate that the Labor Government is serious about funding our Defence Force so that we can be strong and protect this country in the future. Now, on the first test – the threats – I don't think he did a good job of articulating the challenge that we're facing. It's no secret that China is undergoing the biggest peacetime military buildup since the end of the Second World War. We know that Iran and Russia, and their proxies, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels are creating strategic disorder throughout the globe – that's the problem and I don't think he was clear enough on that. Number two – strategy. He talked about 'impactful projection' but Luke, I'm not sure I could explain what he means by that to the Australian people. It was pretty unclear, I thought, and he didn't explain how the Army, Navy and Air Force would work together along with the capabilities in cyber and space to protect our country. And finally, he talks about a big spending increase but if you look at the next four years, there's only a $5.7 billion increase over four years and that's the time where he has influence. You can’t spend 10 years down the track when you're not in government, because that's three or four electoral cycles away.

LUKE GRANT: It's such a great point. I think we have to re-elect this government – goodness me, if we were to do that you wonder what it would look like – four times for the bulk of this money to be expended. Just on that, I want to get a replay for my listeners, and for your benefit, a little of what Richard Marles said yesterday about the expenditure. Here, have a listen.


LUKE GRANT: So, what do you make of that?

ANDREW HASTIE: There's a couple of things there, Luke. The first one is that of course our commitment to Defence spending is bipartisan. The reason why it's up ticking to 2.4 per cent, and probably beyond that, is because of AUKUS, which we established and which we continue to support. Labor is committing to 2.4 because they know they have to fund AUKUS. I can say that yesterday, Peter Dutton, through me, committed to spending more than Labor – if we're elected – on Defence because we take it very seriously and we want to see investment in Defence. On the figure that he mentioned over the next four years, $5.7 billion, many of your listeners are experiencing the pain of inflation – their family budgets are under pressure, they're paying more for their groceries, their fuel, their power bills, school fees, private health cover – you name it  - but so is Defence. He wouldn't answer yesterday the question whether that $5.7 billion figure is a reflection of inflation and fluctuating foreign exchange. I think he's at pains to demonstrate that Labor is serious about Defence, but I think in fact he's a weak Defence Minister and we need to invest more because there's an urgency about our strategic situation.

LUKE GRANT: They keep talking about this wasted near decade, Andrew, when the Coalition was in power. Now, if I remember correctly, back to even the Tony Abbott election campaign, the incoming government always had to pay, to some extent, catch up, didn't they? Because under Rudd-Gillard-Rudd, Defence spending went backwards.

ANDREW HASTIE: Under Rudd-Gillard-Rudd, Defence spending went to the lowest level since 1938. I remember it because I was in uniform, I was experiencing the budget cuts. Someone asked me this morning, 'what were you doing back in 2014?' – I was in uniform. So, I didn't get a say in Parliament. But that's why I ran for Parliament and that's why I'm passionate about Defence and I want to see a strong Defence Force. Talking about the past doesn't help us, we've got to talk about the future, and we've got to deal with the present reality. I think the present reality – if we take Richard Marles at his word that we're facing our most dangerous strategic circumstances – we can't wait another 10 years, we've got to act now. So, the question for him is, what can he fix by 2026? And he didn't answer that question yesterday.

LUKE GRANT: We can't ever get a naval vessel to the Red Sea to protect cargo at a time where there are our enemies firing upon ships and the like. We've got the first AUKUS subs to be built here, rolling off the line, according to him, in the early 2040s. Now we might get some from the US or elsewhere in the meantime, but that, I think, comes down a lot to US political will and seeing the way politics is conducted there currently, you couldn't have a lot of confidence in that. So, what do we do in the short term? If it's very dangerous now, shouldn't we be obtaining drones and getting on with building ships and acquiring aircraft - stuff that's probably on the shelf – is that reasonable?

ANDREW HASTIE: It is, Luke, and you mentioned naval forces – I'm really concerned about that because our Anzac frigates are getting old. We can't put all of them in the water, we don't have enough crews, and we're not going to see a replacement frigate until 2031 at the earliest. We're not going to see Virginia class submarines until the early 2030s and we won't see a Hunter class frigate until 2034. So, there's a significant risk. We'll have more to say on this closer to the election, but I think the fundamental challenge that we're facing is a recruiting and retention crisis, because if you don't have people, it doesn't matter what equipment you have – you don't have the most important thing, which is real, living Australians who are passionate about defending our country. Recruitment levels are too low, we're not retaining enough people in uniform and so I think we really need to talk about how we get more people into Defence, how we inspire the next generation of Australians and how we work on some of the capabilities you talked about – drones, cyber – things that we can get quickly and make us a very difficult adversary to take on.

LUKE GRANT: That workforce, he talked about – Richard Marles did – a new Defence workforce plan. I mean, there are plans and there are motherhood statements and there is pollie speak, if you don't mind me saying, but it never appears to be anything concrete. Are we on our own in being down in Defence numbers? I don't know what it is, maybe it's the culture that we currently live in, or the time or something, but how do you convince young Australians to do the very honourable thing that you've done for much of your life?

ANDREW HASTIE: Defence is a great option for young Australians – there's purpose, there's meaning in serving your country and protecting that of which you love. That's number one. But number two – the educational opportunities, the opportunity to lead and command Australian soldiers, to be part of a team that believes the same things as you, and the opportunity to young Australians to get into housing. There's plenty of incentives for those who serve to help them get into their first house. It's good for family life, but we can make it better and this is something that we're going to be working on in the Coalition. If we're going to recruit from our major capital cities, then we've got to have a Defence presence in and around those capital cities. I think there's a lot of work we can do with reserves and cadets as well.

LUKE GRANT: All right. Well, there's more to come but I guess you have confirmed that in a conversation with the Coalition leader, Peter Dutton, yesterday, the agreement amongst the Coalition is that you will spend more on Defence than the now government does, is that right?

ANDREW HASTIE: That is right. Peter Dutton was emphatic to me yesterday. He said under a Dutton led government, there will be more Defence spending than under a weak, directionless Albanese Government – his words.

LUKE GRANT: Thanks for your time and as I always say to you, Andrew, and I mean it, thank you for your service, buddy.

ANDREW HASTIE: Thank you, Luke, a pleasure.

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  • Andrew Hastie
    published this page in Latest News 2024-04-18 17:49:10 +0800