Interview: Nadia Mitsopoulos




NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Good morning, Andrew, thank you for your time.

ANDREW HASTIE: Good morning, Nadia, good to be with you.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: So, we hear that the Deputy Prime Minister has said that he has offered a briefing to China. What should Australia be saying to China about this?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, I think we’ve just going to be transparent. I think we're just providing as much information out there and I think the Deputy Prime Minister said that he and the team had done around 60 phone calls over the last week or so to different regional leaders and ministers. I think the objective is to be as transparent as possible. This ultimately is about securing our interests, being a good neighbour and securing prosperity and security in the Indo Pacific region. China has nothing to fear and in fact, every time China lectures us about AUKUS, they should really look at their own backyard. They're undergoing the biggest peacetime military build-up since the Second World War which includes nuclear submarines with nuclear weapons. We're just acquiring eight nuclear submarines over the next 20 plus years, no nuclear weapons. And, again, we've been very collegial with our neighbours in the pursuit of this new technology.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: China reacted yesterday to some of the details that we were aware of yesterday and said that they would create a great wall of steel, I assume using iron ore from WA. Do we interpret that as a threat? How do you interpret that comment?

ANDREW HASTIE: It's hard to interpret all the utterances of the different mouthpieces which speak on behalf of the People's Republic of China. There's a lot of misinformation, disinformation out there so look, we just stay the course. AUKUS is a very, very significant foreign policy and military policy achievement for the former Coalition government and for this present government and we're going to work together on a bipartisan basis to make sure that this project survives the many Parliaments, many governments and many generations of Australians which it will impact and engage.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: So strategically, is this a good deal, Andrew Hastie?

ANDREW HASTIE: It is a good deal because it responds ultimately to the changing strategic environment in our region which, of course, has been brought on by a more assertive and belligerent China. That's the bottom line. You know, people have sort of hesitated to say it, well I'm happy to say it, and I have said it a few times over the last few years. That's not because we're reckless with our words but we have to be clear eyed about the challenges before us. We're a trading nation, we're an island nation, our sea lanes are critical, they bear our prosperity to and from our ports and we need to be able to secure them and nuclear submarines gives us that capability to negotiate our way through the tough times ahead, and also punch our way out of them if necessary.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Andrew Hastie is my guest this morning, Shadow Defence Minister, he is also a former captain in the SAS and I will go to your calls, 1300 222 720. I spoke before to Dr Marcus Hellyer and he expressed a bit of concern that maybe we've been putting all our eggs in one basket and that if we're putting so much into the naval capabilities, ultimately we are going to take away from Army and Air Force and the concern is that maybe the Defence Force cannot meet all of its defence acquisitions that it's going to need to do over the next 20 years.

ANDREW HASTIE: Yeah, that's right. Marcus makes a very good point. So, there will be $9 billion over the forward estimates and some of that will be offset by $6 billion from the cancelled Attack class submarine program, which was with the French government, so $6 billion from that cancellation. But it will also be offset by $3 billion from other defence programs and we as the Opposition want transparency about where those cuts will be. What service will be affected? Will it be Army or Air Force? What programs or platforms will be cut? And how will it affect local Australian defence industry businesses? And that's really, really important. We want to know when, because they need clarity. A lot of defence industry have been waiting some time for certainty around their future and the government needs to be transparent about this.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: And what's got to give Andrew Hastie, because I noticed too, I'm pretty sure heard Peter Dutton mentioned the NDIS and that needs to be sustainable. He’s already sort of throwing some suggestions there as to what to cut, I just, you know, what gives?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, this is a great point. The fundamental law of economics is scarcity. There are unlimited wants and you can't service all of them. So, you have to make choices. You have to sometimes make tough choices. And we have ballooning programs throughout government, we also have this strategic imperative to deliver nuclear submarines and we need to work out a way forward and that's for the government to chart the course because of course, they’re going to be handing a Budget down in two months and we want to see how they're going to do it. And right now, I think there are questions marks around how we're going to pay for these submarines. The UK this morning through Rishi Sunak, committed to 2.5 per cent of GDP. I think we're heading up to 2.2 percent -


ANDREW HASTIE: - Well, let's see, but on the face of it, we're not sure and we want more clarity and transparency around how they're going to pay for these things.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: And finally, Andrew Hastie, is the government overplaying the economic development of the country that this deal will provide?

ANDREW HASTIE: I don't think so. I'm actually really excited for young Australians, particularly in Western Australia. If you think about it long term, mid term and short term, the long term we're going to have Australians building submarines in Adelaide, the mid term, we're going to have Virginia class submarines delivered to this country and in the short term, there's going to be a massive investment into HMAS Stirling at Rockingham. That's going to involve new facilities, huge expenditure, we're going to need people who are specialists in industry, advanced technology, nuclear science. So, if you love living in WA, if you love living in the outer southern Metro where I live, this is a really exciting opportunity. You don't just have to be a FIFO worker, you can actually work on building a new nuclear submarine capability with the Royal Australian Navy.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Really good to talk to you, I appreciate your time, Andrew Hastie. Thank you.

ANDREW HASTIE: My pleasure, Nadia. Thank you.