Interview: Sharri Markson




SHARRI MARKSON: Andrew, great to see you. Now, you wrote to Defence Minister Richard Marles in November last year to ask him to set up an AUKUS statutory committee established through the Defence Act and bounded by secrecy provisions and this would have a mandate to ensure policy settings for AUKUS are in a way harmonised across government to make sure that they're apolitical and bipartisan. What is the idea here? And have you had a response from Richard Marles?

SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, THE HON. ANDREW HASTIE MP: Good evening, Sharri, it's great to be on your show. I did write to Richard back in November of last year and I think AUKUS is such an important project that we have to elevate it in a sense above politics. I said yesterday, we are going to be an opposition, we are going to ask hard questions about timing, and sequencing and the budget, but we want this to succeed. Peter Dutton himself today said that we are committed to AUKUS come hell or high water. We've made that generational commitment and I think the best way to steward this as a Parliament is to have an institution like the Intelligence Committee, where we can have some of the really important discussions and debates about AUKUS behind closed doors, away from the eyes of our adversaries. And that's why I've suggested to him that we establish such a committee and of course, we'd support that if he did.

SHARRI MARKSON: Now, these submarines are estimated to cost $368 billion and it wouldn't be surprising if it ultimately costs even more than that, the question is, Andrew, how do we pay for this?

ANDREW HASTIE: That's a really good question, Sharri, it is going to take sacrifice. This is really, really important. The cost of inaction is much higher but still, this is a very expensive project. As you said, costs could balloon up to $370 billion over the course of the project. So, we will have to make some tough decisions, we will have to find money in the Budget - that's the task of the government come May. But of course, as the Opposition we will be asking the hard questions, and we're also open to reform as necessary. I think with AUKUS we've got to do whatever it takes to make it happen and it's a huge outlay of expenditure over the next 30 years.

SHARRI MARKSON: Look, there have been discussions floating around today about cuts to the NDIS to pay for this, there's also been discussion about completely scrapping the stage three tax cuts. Do you think either of these suggestions have merit?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, I think the NDIS was raised in the context of any program across government that potentially should be looked at. And I think that's right, I think, there's unlimited wants but there's only limited resources. No one's advocating for specific cuts anywhere. I think what Peter Dutton is saying is that we need to have a discussion around all government programs and find efficiencies where we can because there is always waste. And so, we want to reform the bad and preserve the good. NDIS is a good program and it helps thousands of Australians across the country. But we do have to be realistic, we can't just spend and spend and spend, we do have to have a budget, we have to keep the budget and that's why we'll be holding this government to account going forward.

SHARRI MARKSON: Is the timeline for these submarines requiring them too late? I mean, you know, we're talking 10 years time before we even get the first two.

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, Sharri, you ask a really important question. It is 10 years between now and the delivery of the first Virginia class submarine. But importantly, by 2027, we're going to have a forward rotation of four US submarines and one UK submarine through HMAS Stirling in Perth. That that is very, very significant and that is to hedge against the risk of conflict over the next decade or so. There's also the DSR next month and the government will be announcing its plan to protect Australia over the next five to 10 years as well. So we'll be watching closely for that but I think it's really good news that we are going to have an increased US, UK presence in the west coast, billions of dollars of investment into Stirling.

SHARRI MARKSON: Yeah. And that rotation, as Biden said, begins this week, even. Now Andrew, I interviewed Scott Morrison a week ago and he said that realistically, Australia will never be able to defend ourselves against China. He said the only nation on earth that actually could is the United States. If you were Defence Minister, you're Shadow Defence Minister now, if you were Defence Minister, would you like to see Australia be able to defend ourselves? And how high would we need to increase our defence spending in order to make that happen?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, I think Sharri, the most important thing is that we have always been a country that has worked with our mates in alliances. So, whether it's with the UK or the US, whether it's with France, whether it's with any of the countries in our region, we always work as part of a team because we are a middle power of 26 million people, we can't do things on our own. And that's why collective security is so important to us. Now, by investing in these submarines, we're actually increasing our hard power and we'll be able to make a greater contribution as part of the team in the region. So, it's really important that our neighbours understand that we're helping them by acquiring this technology as well. Certainly, we want to be able to defend ourselves, but it comes back to being a good team player and looking after your mates.

SHARRI MARKSON: So, it's right that we should always need to rely on our allies, the United States and Britain?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think we should always forge relationships. I mean, I'm a Parliamentarian, I do politics, I'm always building alliances and coalition's and so too do nations. That's how you secure yourself. That's just a fundamental part of the job. And no nation can stand alone, particularly with a country as big as China, God forbid we ever got into some sort of conflict, we certainly would be dependent upon our regional partners to defend ourselves.

SHARRI MARKSON: All right, Andrew Hastie, thank you very much for your time this evening.