Interview: Chris O'Keefe, 2GB




Topics: Surface Fleet Review, Labor degrading defence capability and defence spending


CHRIS O’KEEFE: We asked the Defence Minister, Richard Marles, to join us on the program – he was unsurprisingly unavailable. But his opposite number the Shadow Defence Minister, Andrew Hastie, is on the line now, live for his reaction. Andrew, G'day.

ANDREW HASTIE: Chris, good to be with you and your listeners.

CHRIS O’KEEFE: It's a long way off all this stuff.

ANDREW HASTIE: This is a massive punt-kick into the long grass by the Albanese Government. They've said over the last 18-months that Australia is facing the most dangerous circumstances since the end of the Second World War and you’d reckon if they truly believed that they’d do something in the next couple of years. Instead, they won't see a brand-new frigate until 2031 and we won't see the Hunter Class until 2034. All the money that they're talking about today is largely over the next decade. There's only $1.7 billion over the next four years, which is what this Government's committed, which is a very small amount indeed. So, always watch the money Chris, and this Government isn't serious because Richard Marles was unable to get the money he needed at the Cabinet table.

CHRIS O’KEEFE: Sure, Tom has sent me a text Andrew Hastie: “Chris, if we need to go from 11 warships to 26 warships now, what on earth were the Coalition doing when they were in office? This it didn't just suddenly occur?”

ANDREW HASTIE: Tom raises a really good point, and if Tom recalls under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years, six years in total, they didn’t commission a single ship and they took defence spending to the lowest percentage of GDP since the end of the Second World War. So, what we did over the last decade was build up our industrial base. We invested new money into shipbuilding particularly, we commissioned the Offshore Patrol Vessels, and we got things going. We took the decision to strike AUKUS with the US and the UK and now, the Australian people decided in May of 2022 they wanted a new government; and what's this Government doing? They're not doing much at all because there's no new money for Defence. In fact, the budget is going backwards, Tom, so that's a big, big problem, particularly when they keep telling us we're living in dangerous times.

CHRIS O’KEEFE: Sure, but would’ve liked to have seen a few boats by now?

ANDREW HASTIE: Yes, absolutely. But this is the problem when you do nothing, as the Labor Government did back under Rudd and Gillard – there's a lot of catching up to do. If you if you shrink your industrial base, you can do it pretty quickly, but it's very, very hard to build it back up again. That takes time, investment and steady investment, and what we're seeing from this Government is that they're cutting funding out of Defence.

CHRIS O’KEEFE: If it is such an emergency, why don't we just buy these things off the shelf? We haven't got the energy makeup that we need in Australia, we haven't got the manufacturing infrastructure that we used to have. Is it not, if it is so pressing and such an emergency is we're constantly told, is it not better just to ring up Joe Biden ring up some of the presidents and prime ministers in Europe and say, “hey, can we just buy these off the shelf from you guys?”

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, that would make sense. And that's what the plan is. And my criticism of the plan –

CHRIS O’KEEFE: – But how come you guys didn't do that?

ANDREW HASTIE: The first four boats will be built offshore. The Defence Minister said that today, and he won't go to tender, there's four countries competing for it: South Korea, Japan, Spain and Germany. He’ll go to those four countries, ask for their bids, and he'll make a decision in 2026. These ships have to be built from scratch—this was Greg Sheridan's point today – they've got to be built from scratch, they have to be designed from scratch; all that's going to take time. Our point is the Minister should be focusing on what he can fix by 2026. He's got to move at a greater speed, the speed of the boss is the speed of the team, and this guy is too slow. He's low speed and he's high drag.

CHRIS O’KEEFE: What's happening in within the Defence Force itself? Is it time that we have a look at the brass and say, “hey, is this a bureaucracy or is this the Australian Defence Force?”

ANDREW HASTIE: It's a very, very top-heavy organisation. There's no question about that, Chris. Morale is low. We have a recruitment problem. We're not getting enough people joining each year. We're not even hitting our targets. Not even getting to 75 per cent of our yearly targets we're recruiting, and we're not retaining people; our separation rate is much too high. We need to grow the Defence Force up to 80,000 by 2040 and at the moment, we're at 58,000 or so. So, you can see there's a massive gap there. This requires political leadership. It requires a really aggressive recruitment strategy and providing incentives for people to stay in. We're recruiting on the southeast corner of the country, where people grow up; Sydney, Melbourne, Tassie, places like that. And then we're sending them all the way up north. We've got to work out ways to retain people.

CHRIS O’KEEFE: Is there a second-hand market for ships like this? I don't know anything about it. Is there a second-hand market where you can go to other countries, offer them a premium and say, “hey, I know that you've got half a dozen that are pretty close to finishing production, can we have a couple?”

ANDREW HASTIE: There are all sorts of things you can do, and Chris, I'm sure that is an option. To take your listeners back to the 1980s, we almost bought two aircraft carriers off the United Kingdom—it ended up that the Falklands War broke out and those aircraft carriers both deployed. So, in the past we've we bought ships from other navies. But what we really, really need to focus on is a sovereign defence industry, which is why we welcome the ambition of the plan. There's no question about that. We want to see continuous shipbuilding in this country. I'm one of those people who really didn't like our auto industry closing down, losing Holden and Ford. I want to see steel being cut in Australia. I want to see lower power prices so we can revive advanced manufacturing, which by the way, lifts productivity, lifts real wages over time –

CHRIS O’KEEFE: – But it doesn't deliver any ships in the short term does it?

ANDREW HASTIE: It doesn't deliver ships in the short term, and this is the problem, we're reaping the whirlwind of, of poor decision making 20 years ago.

CHRIS O’KEEFE: Andrew Hastie, I appreciate your time. Thanks for jumping on.

ANDREW HASTIE: No worries, Chris, anytime.


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  • Andrew Hastie
    published this page in Latest News 2024-02-21 08:50:28 +0800