Interview: Matthew Doran, ABC Afternoon Briefing




Wednesday 9 November 2022


MATTHEW DORAN: Joining me in the studio is the Shadow Defence Minister, Andrew Hastie. Andrew Hastie, welcome to Afternoon Briefing. You're pretty well connected among the defence community, have you heard of people being approached by China to stump up and do some training for them?

SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP: It's good to be with you, Matt. Yes, a couple of weeks ago, I received some calls from former serving fighter pilots who said that former colleagues of theirs had been approached by Chinese interests to assist with the training of the PLA. So, I'm encouraged to see Richard Marles, the Defence Minister come out this morning, report back on his initial investigation, and he's going to undertake further inquiries and see if there are any gaps that need fixing.

MATTHEW DORAN: This is something that was thrust into the spotlight with the United Kingdom example, do you think it's been bubbling away for some time, and no one's really known about it?

ANDREW HASTIE: It's really hard to know. But certainly, we need to do everything that we can to protect our national secrets. I think our serving members are well aware of their obligations, but we also need to make sure that veterans once they separate from the Defence Force, also understand that there's not just a legal obligation to protect our secrets, and our tactics, and our techniques, and our procedures, but also a moral one. If we want the best for Australia, then we need to really safeguard those secrets because there are strategic adversaries out there looking for an edge and advantage, and we don't want to give it to them.

MATTHEW DORAN: You're well placed to answer this, because you would have had to undertake this sort of commitment yourself. But can you explain what Defence Force personnel are told when they sign up, and when they walk out the door about their responsibilities here?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, it depends what capability you're in. But for example, if you're serving as a fighter pilot, or a submariner, if you're working with the Australian Signals Directorate, or indeed, Special Forces as I did, there are certain compartments that you're briefed into. You have obligations to protect those compartments, and then when you leave the Defence Force, you're briefed out of them. That doesn't mean you can talk about them, or you can use the knowledge gained from them to make a living elsewhere, you've actually got to protect them. And so, there's an education piece, there's a legal piece, but I also want people to focus on the moral piece - if you really do care about Australia's interests, then you should do everything you can to protect them. And that's why I'm glad there's transparency around this issue and I hope that we can work together with the government on this to better safeguard our national secrets going forward.

MATTHEW DORAN: Does morality depend on which countries involved here?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think it does but as a general principle, it's a competitive world out there, it's an increasingly contested geopolitical environment, particularly in the Indo Pacific region, and we don't want to be giving anyone our secrets. We have, of course, information sharing arrangements, Five Eyes being one, AUKUS, of course, is another arrangement where we're going to be sharing very sensitive intellectual property and secrets. We need to protect those. But certainly, we should be very circumspect upon leaving the Defence Force about who we share information with our experience with,

MATTHEW DORAN: Because there have been examples of former ADF personnel going and working in militaries in, say, the Middle East or with some of our allies as well. Is that okay, but China bad?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, I think you do have to make a distinction, particularly when everyone's on the record, you know, there's bipartisan consensus about the challenge that China poses going forward. We can't ignore US Secretary of State Blinken's comments recently about Taiwan and the challenge that, you know, that the PRC potentially will pose to Taiwan sooner rather than later. So yes, China is an issue and it's the same with Russia. There are certain countries which definitely have a red flag next to them when it comes to sharing information.

MATTHEW DORAN: Do you think this sort of cheque book sort of hiring or defence training is becoming more of a problem regardless of who the player is it?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think there's always been mercenaries throughout history, there's always been money and there's always been a marketplace for people with military expertise. And I think going forward in a more contested environment, there's going to be countries looking to get as much leverage as they can and we need to protect against that, which is why we need to affirm our legal foundation at the moment. There's the Crimes Act, which governs protecting national secrets, but we also need to educate our Defence Force personnel, our veterans, and also insist on the moral obligation they have to us as Australians.

MATTHEW DORAN: There has been a big discussion of late around what role Australia could play if there was going to be some sort of conflict in this region. I guess that sharpening everyone's mind to these potential threats more so than if it was during a more quiet or calm period in history.

ANDREW HASTIE: That's right, the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, on the weekend gave an interview with Greg Sheridan at the Australian and he said, you know, the times are very difficult, and his government is going to commit to spending whatever it takes to make sure that the Australian people are kept safe, and we have an adequate defence capability. And as Opposition we’ll always work constructively with the government to make sure that we have the strongest Defence Force possible and our country is protected.

MATTHEW DORAN: Is there anything about the potential for a meeting between Xi Jinping and Anthony Albanese at the upcoming summit that should make people think that maybe there's a thawing of that diplomatic relationship?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, I think it'd be great if the Prime Minister could meet with President Xi. I think that would be a good move, we'd welcome it. Dialogue is critical, I think diplomacy is a really important part of our relationship in the region with countries like the People's Republic of China. So yeah, I'd welcome that. I think that'd be a good development for us.

MATTHEW DORAN: How does someone like Anthony Albanese raise some of those regional tensions with a person like Xi Jinping, when we're talking about conflict, potential conflict in Taiwan - an issue that you've been quite outspoken about?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, I think Australia has demonstrated to the world that as a democracy of 25 million or so people, we can stand up for our principles, our values, our sovereignty. You will recall only 18 months or so ago, the Chinese Embassy here presented a journalist with 14 demands, we haven't given way on any of those demands and I don't expect this government to either. And so, I think we can demonstrate, we have demonstrated in fact, that we can be a sovereign country, we can stick up for our principles, we can stick up for our industries that have been unfairly targeted for economic sanctions or coercion, and we can still meet and do diplomacy with China. So, let's hope that meeting happens.

MATTHEW DORAN: And I know that your party leader met with the Chinese ambassador, I think yesterday?

ANDREW HASTIE: That's right. Peter Dutton, he's got a very strong record on national security and standing up for our sovereignty, and he met with him from a position of strength. And that's a good thing.

MATTHEW DORAN: Andrew Hastie, for your views today, thanks for joining us.

ANDREW HASTIE: Pleasure, Matt. Thank you.