Interview: Sharri Markson, Sky News




Topics: Labor’s changes to ADF recruitment, morale in the ADF.


SHARRI MARKSON: Shadow Defence Minister, Andrew Hastie, joins me now. Andrew, thank you for your time. This is a big story today. You're shadow defence, what are your concerns about Labor's policy?

ANDREW HASTIE: Sharri, this is a half-baked, ham-fisted policy. It was all over the place today. You had three separate ministers giving different information. There was no clarity around it, and it wasn't until this afternoon where they started to give us some clarity but even so, there are huge questions about how this will operate. New Zealanders can become citizens through the ADF from July 1, and then January 1, permanent residents from any country can join our ADF and then within 90 days be given citizenship. This is the biggest change to defence recruiting since Federation and the Australian people deserve to know how this will be done, what security processes will be followed, what return of service obligations will be imposed on people. We need to know because these are the people we are entrusting to defend us – the most difficult and sacred task we can ask of people who serve in our uniform.

SHARRI MARKSON: Well, what are your specific concerns about having foreigners and they might be from Five Eyes countries, like-minded nations. What are your concerns about foreigners joining the ADF?

ANDREW HASTIE: There are a number of reasons why we are concerned. The first is Director General of ASIO, Mike Burgess, has said numerous times over the last few years that espionage and foreign interference is at unprecedented levels in this country exceeding that of the Cold War. And we are about to attract a lot more espionage and foreign interference because of what we're embarking on with AUKUS. So we need to know that the people joining our defence force are people who believe in Australia, who uphold our values and who are working in our best interests. This will impose a big cost in terms of security, making sure that people who join the ADF are legitimate, and requires us to verify their backgrounds. This is why we need more than just a drop to the media this morning. We actually need a debate, we need a discussion and they need to explain how they're going to roll this out. They've done none of that – they've done absolutely none of that. It really is shameful the way they are treating this as just another run of the mill policy. Poorly executed.

SHARRI MARKSON: There have been reports that you personally suggested perhaps having some of our allies join the ADF. Is this correct and do you think you will reject Labor's policy?

ANDREW HASTIE: Sure, yes. Look, you know, I've got an open mind about these things, and we have a recruiting and retention crisis. Sharri, we're 5,000 people short in the ADF and we're going backwards because we're not hitting our recruiting targets every year and we're losing people every year. So I'm open minded about how we boost our ADF numbers, we already do lateral transfers. In 2021, Sharri, I was aboard a Collins-class submarine – the captain of the boat was a Canadian officer who transferred from Canada. We already do lateral transfers with Five Eyes nations, and I'm open minded about Five Eyes countries as well joining the ADF as long as they meet all the stringent security requirements. But the government has gone far beyond that and they're suggesting that we'll take anyone from anywhere in this world and I think that has a huge –

SHARRI MARKSON: – So just to be clear, you would support it if it was limited to Five Eyes countries?

ANDREW HASTIE: Potentially. This is what we're going to explore tomorrow in Estimates – this is what we're going to explore. We're going to ask questions of the government and find out exactly how they're going to roll this policy out. We're doing our due diligence, Sharri, you never rushed into these things. Like I said, I've got an open mind, but the way they've operated today, the way they've announced this does not fill me with confidence.

SHARRI MARKSON: Look, there's been a lot of criticism of defence leadership. You know, one very well-known example is the suggestion that medals should be returned even though the soldiers had nothing to do with any allegations of war crimes. Do you think that these sorts of issues have had an impact on recruiting levels?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think the ADF has had a huge morale problem for some years now. Political correctness, a sense of procedural fairness not being upheld – there's a range of reasons why morale is low. But under this Labor government – under the Albanese Government – we've seen Army slashed in terms of funding and capability. Our diggers aren't stupid – they know when the government doesn't believe in the mission and they're seeing that with the cuts to capabilities. So there's a number of reasons why morale is low and our task is to get it back up and get our men and women believing in the mission.

SHARRI MARKSON: Andrew, there's also the fact the Prime Minister failed to stand up for our defence personnel where they have been injured, or nearly injured, in a couple of recent incidents with the Chinese. On both occasions, the Prime Minister said he'd raised it at the highest levels, in the one instance he saw the Chinese President Xi personally but didn't raise it, the next, there were no ministerial conversations at all. Again, do you think this - where the Prime Minister can't defend, even verbally, people who are literally putting their lives on the line for our country - would this also act as a disincentive to joining the ADF?

ANDREW HASTIE: Absolutely. I think our national leadership has to be as tough as the men and women who take the risks on our behalf. We saw our divers experience a sonar attack from a Chinese destroyer last year, we saw that Navy Seahawk have flares fired at it by a Chinese fighter. On both occasions, the Prime Minister did not pick up the phone and go into bat for those ADF personnel. That sends a signal to every single person in uniform that our Prime Minister isn't making that a priority and I think that has to have an impact on morale.

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

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