Interview: Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast




MICHAEL ROWLAND: Andrew Hastie, very good morning to you. I want to talk about AUKUS and China in just a moment. But I want to get your views first on the breaking news overnight, the Russian fighter jet forcing down a US drone over the Black Sea. At the very least, that is not helpful, right?

SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, THE HON. ANDREW HASTIE MP: Good morning, Michael, it's great to be with you. Yes, this is typical behaviour from Russia. Over the last decade, we've seen a lot of bad behaviour from Russia, we've seen attempted assassinations in the United Kingdom, we've seen invasions of neighbouring countries. Last year, we saw the invasion of Ukraine which was illegal and unprovoked. Thousands have since died. So a Russian fighter flying into a US drone, it's sadly priced in. This is part of the strategic disorder that we can expect to see more of over the coming decade and to tie to yesterday's announcements, that's why we have invested in submarines to keep Australia safe going forward.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: China is accusing Australia, the US and Britain of walking, in their words, a path of error and danger with this sub deal. Are you worried it will just further inflame already high regional tensions?

ANDREW HASTIE: No, I think the government's been very tempered in its approach to this. I thought there was no grandstanding yesterday at the announcement in San Diego. So this latest statement from the People's Republic of China is also sadly typical. They can hardly lecture us with our modest increase in military power when they are themselves undergoing the biggest peacetime military expansion since the Second World War. So it's a bit ironic that they're lecturing us.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, a bit concern about how we're going to crew all these submarines and also have enough nuclear scientists to operate them, are you concerned about workforce challenges in the years and decades ahead on the subs front?

ANDREW HASTIE: I am. Workforce shortages are a big challenge for us as a country. It's a very competitive labour market at the moment and so we need to be working across society. This is a truly a nation building task and so we need to be working with the education sector, identifying young Australians who are gifted in technology and potentially nuclear science, we need to be recruiting more submariners because of course, the Virginia class boats are bigger than the Collins class boats. And we need to be doing this now. I think the message to young Australians is, particularly, this is an exciting opportunity. If you want to work on the latest cutting edge technology, then AUKUS is an opportunity for you. If you want a lifetime working in industry, then AUKUS is for you and if you want to travel the world, because let's be clear about this, we're going to be sending young Australians to Barrow-in-Furness in the UK, Rhode Island and Connecticut in the US, to learn from both UK and the US. There are a lot of opportunities here and so I'm actually excited about the economic dividend that will also come with AUKUS.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Your leader Peter Dutton reckons that the government will have to, in his words, cannibalise some parts of the Defence Department budget to come up with the $3 billion needed over the forward estimates as part of the initial funding of the subs program. I mean, you're a former soldier, Andrew Hastie, you know more than most. There has been fat historically in the Defence Department, surely, savings can be made?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think there's waste in every government department and what we want clarity on is what cuts are going to be made. There's a lot of uncertainty in defence industry, there's existing programs which have a lot of Australian content, we'll know next month with the Defence Strategic Review. But what we're calling on the government to do is to be transparent about where the cuts will be, what programs will be affected, what services will be affected, because at the moment, there is no clarity. We know there's $3 billion worth of offsets but the uncertainty is a big problem for industry at the moment.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, but potentially there is room within the Defence Department budget to find the $3 billion over the next four years?

ANDREW HASTIE: Absolutely there will be, we just want to make sure it's not at a cost to capability and that we're not cannibalising important capabilities, particularly in Army. We all thought we could do without an Army in the 80s and the 90s and then when East Timor came on in 1999, we realised that we'd actually diminished a lot of our land power and our capability. So we want to make sure that there's a balanced Force, even as we invest heavily in strike capabilities like submarines, like drones, and like air platforms, such as the Joint Strike Fighter.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay and just finally, of course, the waste has to be disposed of many decades hence. I know there's a bipartisan approach federally to that. Do you think there should be a mature, sensible approach to this among local communities around Australia?

ANDREW HASTIE: Yes, I do, Michael. I think by the early 2030s, Australia has to be sovereign ready which means we need to be able to own operate, regulate and maintain a nuclear reactor onboard one of these submarines. We also, as good stewards, need to be able to dispose of any waste. Now that waste will be disposed of 30 years hence so it's a long time yet, but the government has made clear it will be done on Defence sites and it will obviously be done with a very, very safe plan and also in consultation with local communities. So I want to make clear that the government has the support of the Opposition in this endeavour. We think it's an important part of AUKUS and we want to make sure that it's done well. So we'll be holding them to account, but we do support it on a bipartisan basis.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Shadow Defence Minister, Andrew Hastie, appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us.

ANDREW HASTIE: Thank you, Michael. My pleasure.