Interview: Peta Credlin | Sky News


PETA CREDLIN: This announcement that they are creating a brigade specialising in Long Range Strike and missile defence, based out of Townsville. This is obviously the army getting more focused on missions to our north. We're all talking about China here, or skirmishes, at least in our region. Take us through what this means and why it's so important.

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, good evening, Peta. It's great to be on the show with you and your viewers. Let's go back to April because I think the key to understanding today's announcement is actually in the Defence Strategic Review, which if you recall, Richard Marles, the Deputy Prime Minister handed down on the eve of ANZAC Day, which I call the magician's trick and a sleight of hand, he knew there wouldn't be much media over the following day. So, he did it because what we learned from the Defence Strategic Review after promising so much, very little was delivered by the Albanese government. There's no new money, there was cost shifting within the existing budget. And of course, there was cannibalisation of capability. And the cannibalisation of capability happened with the army. So, the army missed out. Essentially, what happened was 450 infantry fighting vehicles were cut to 129. Because the army has been fleeced, they've had to restructure. So today's restructuring and re posturing is about accounting for an under investment in army. And what this does is it shrinks the army, it disperses our combat power, and it weakens our Australian Defence Force. And that's the fundamental truth of this.

PETA CREDLIN: So rather than this being a positive announcement then, I think it's been spun by the government, you're saying this is army just trying to manage the cards it's been dealt.

ANDREW HASTIE: The army has been dealt a very tough hand and the army is doing its very best to manage a bad situation. We're actually going back down to one armoured fighting brigade, which means you've got one shot in the locker in a high intensity conflict, which will be based in Townsville. Darwin will have a lighter footprint. And of course, Adelaide will be a long range fires brigade. Now, there're other issues here to consider Peta as well. And that is how this affects our recruitment and retention targets long term. And I think for a lot of families who have made a home in Adelaide, this may well be a trigger for many of them to think 'you know what, we don't want to move up to Darwin, we don't want to move up to Townsville, because we've got our local networks here. Our kids are in schools, our partners or spouses are employed here. Maybe it's time for us to consider another career path'. And so I'm worried about what it does for retention and also recruitment given that we recruit the vast majority of ADF personnel from the southeast corner of this country.

PETA CREDLIN: I remember with the Howard Government, when they moved that brigade to Adelaide, it seems crazy that's all being undone. And here I was falling for the spin from Richard Marles today. Let me ask you about this bipartisan trip to Taiwan at the moment, we've got Josh Wilson from Labor, a number of others, of course, Liberal front bencher Paul Fletcher. Beijing's come out against, they have used a talking head as they do through proxies to say that it'll embarrass the Albanese government this visit, because it could disrupt its configuration of China policy. They say that there's unresolved issues between China and Australia, they talk about the wine dispute. Of course, we've got our Prime Minister about to go and kowtow in Beijing. I don't have any issue with the Prime Minister going to Beijing. But we clearly have genuine China concerns. And now there's pushback about Taiwan. What's your response to those comments?

ANDREW HASTIE: First of all, Peta, a couple of points I'd like to make, number one, we should always be in dialogue with countries in our region, particularly China. So the Coalition welcomes the opportunity for the Prime Minister to visit China and to maintain that relationship with President Xi. What we are concerned about, though, is this latest signal from the Global Times, the online media paper, which basically said, you know, be careful, you're doing the wrong thing here by sending a parliamentary delegation to Taiwan. And I've got to say it's a mixed parliamentary delegation, you've got people from Labor, you've got people from from our side of the house. And let's not forget that Anthony Albanese led one back in 2018. A senior diplomat said to me, a month or two ago in Canberra, he said, the thing you've got to understand with the People's Republic of China is that their leadership are tough. They are hardcore. They do not respect weakness, they respect strength. And so we've just got to maintain consistency here. We've got to continue maintaining a strong relationship with Taiwan. It's our fourth largest export market. It's our fifth most important trading partner. We have a lot of people-to-people links with Taiwan. And it's an island nation of around 25 million people. What happens to Taiwan really matters to Australia because we're also, surprise, surprise, an island nation of 25 million people. So I think we keep doing the visits, we maintain good relationships as best as we can with the PRC. And we ignore some of this heavy handed rhetoric that we see coming out of platforms like the Global Times.

PETA CREDLIN: Yeah, I think I'm concerned that the government might have dropped the ball with East Timor, the upgrading of relationship there between China and East Timor, very close near neighbour. All of that's a concern. But before you go, I want to ask you about a brouhaha on your old committee the powerful Intelligence and Security Committee of the Parliament. Peter Khalil, who is now the Chair, he had to formally ask his colleague Home Affairs Minister Claire O'Neil, to clarify if she endorses the relisting of Boko Haram Islamic State and Islamic State, West Africa. Now we know that Labor is rumoured to want to rip apart and change dramatically the Home Affairs portfolio. But why on earth did Khalil have to tell the Minister how to do her job?

ANDREW HASTIE: It's a great question. And we'd like to see an answer to it as well, Peta. I think fundamentally, what's going on here is a bit of a power struggle between Mark Dreyfus and the Home Affairs Minister. And obviously, Labor weren't happy with the Home Affairs construct that we developed as the Coalition, which I think was a good construct and served our country well, but it's a no brainer to list some of those unsavoury terrorist organisations, as you mentioned, Islamic State and some of its affiliates in Africa. So yes, I think the Home Affairs Minister does need to explain why she didn't endorse it and why the Intelligence Committee had to ask her about it through a formal letter from the Chair.

PETA CREDLIN: Andrew, just really quickly, before we go, I've seen you've been out there hard on the No campaign trail in the West. How is the referendum going in Western Australia?

ANDREW HASTIE: You're right, Peta, I've been out and about, a lot of door knocking, letterboxing. I’ve got to say, I'm amazed at how many volunteers have reached out, people who've never had anything to do with the Liberal Party before. And this issue has energised them. And so we've got people coming through to our office, asking to letterbox. They've never been a member of the Liberal Party in their lives. And so I'm really encouraged that people care about the Constitution. They don't want Australia to be divided. And they're very suspicious about what Anthony Albanese is trying to achieve here. So I think WA is headed for a strong No. And I think WA Labor itself effectively ran a scare campaign for the No side with their cultural and heritage laws. I mean, it's just been an absolute disaster over here for WA Labor.

PETA CREDLIN: Well keep it up right to the finishing line as I know you will. Andrew Hastie, thank you.