FRIDAY 19 JANUARY 2024
TOM CONNELL: Shadow Minister for Defence, Andrew Hastie, thank you for your time. We've heard from Labor today and they've pointed out that no one from the Government has hesitated pointing out these were terror attacks, the official designation is going through the normal channels. Is this as significant as some members of the Opposition are saying?
ANDREW HASTIE: Good morning to you, Tom. I think it is. October 7 was a clear-cut terrorist incident and Hamas is a listed terrorist organisation. The Parliament passed a joint motion condemning this as a terrorist act. There are Australians who are affected. I met with one of them just before Christmas in my electorate last year, a young woman who lost her mother, her brother, and her niece in very brutal circumstances. She had to leave her job to travel home, with her husband, to lay to rest her loved ones. That has had an impact on her financially and so until this is declared, by the Government, a terrorist incident she can't access the victims fund for those who are affected by terrorism. So, it is significant, and I think it shows that the Government is slow, there's a lack of precision, there's a lack of clarity in the Prime Minister's leadership.
TOM CONNELL: Is there an example of previous attacks, how long it takes for the official designation to happen?
ANDREW HASTIE: If you go on the website of the Government there's a list of every single terrorist incident that has been declared by previous governments and it's a huge laundry list. The last one I think was in the Maldives in 2020 – far less significant in terms of the amount of people killed than what happened on October 7. I would have thought the bureaucracy should have been all over this and they're not. The Government hasn't been leading and so I'm not surprised the bureaucracy is dragging its feet. It just goes back to the absence of leadership at the heart of the Albanese Government.
TOM CONNELL: Taking a broad look at this conflict, once it happened, the challenge always for Israel was going to be reacting, defending itself, as it said it always had the right to do, but trying to avoid escalation. That last part, can we now say that's failed?
ANDREW HASTIE: I think Israel had no choice but to respond to Hamas and in fact, until Hamas is destroyed both politically and militarily, we will not see peace in Gaza – it's as simple as that. All Hamas has to do is hand back the hostages, surrender and give up power and this problem would go away. But unfortunately for Israel, they have an existential threat. Hamas is committed, in its own words in its charter, to the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. Israel is at an impasse here, it's got to continue to finish the job, essentially, and that's the problem. It was always going to be a strategic challenge given that you have countries like South Africa, and others, accusing Israel of genocide, which is just absolutely ludicrous, and actually diminishes the meaning of genocide as a legal term and as a moral term as well.
TOM CONNELL: One of the concerns, or what could be next, though, would be all out war between Israel and Hezbollah notwithstanding some of the attacks that have gone each way. There's actually support in polling within Israel for citizens there to say, open this front of war to stave off the attack, if you like. Should the Israeli government be resisting that push? Would that be a bad development for the region?
ANDREW HASTIE: Look, I'm not there in Israel, I don't have the operational detail, I don't have the intelligence briefings. I can't commentate on this. All I can say is that Israel has a right to its self-defence. There are innocents on both sides, there is deep, complex history behind this, but one thing is very clear – October 7, was a terrorist attack by Hamas on innocent Israelis. Women, children, and men were murdered, slaughtered, raped, and Israel had to respond. That's clear. It's a terrorist incident and the Government should declare it as such so that Australians affected can access the victims of terror fund. That's what we're calling on the Government to do today – to get on with the job, to lead, to give clarity around this issue.
TOM CONNELL: Okay, you've made it clear there you believe Israel has the full right to defend itself but I'm asking you about what this potential next step could mean because this is the fear that would be the next front opened up – should Israel be trying to, where possible, avoid that with Hezbollah?
ANDREW HASTIE: I think victory for Israel is the creation of a better political reality, which means a greater sense of security, both actually but also inside Israel itself and I think whilst it has Hezbollah and Hamas at its doorstep, there's going to be a security challenge. They need to be able to defend themselves. How they do that, of course, is up to Israel and as everyone will say, it must be done within the laws of war. I think Israel has been at pains to minimise civilian casualties, I think that's been very clear.
TOM CONNELL: We saw you criticise Australia for not sending a warship to the Red Sea when that request came from the US last month. Do we now read into that maybe it's a personnel issue? The latest story was we might need up to three of our Anzac frigates, for example, taken temporarily out of service. Is it just a personnel issue and if so, that seems to be a more long running one, not just up to Labor, but something that's been an issue that's just grown bigger and bigger over the years?
ANDREW HASTIE: I think it's probably a combination of both. We know that the Albanese Government is under investing in Defence. We know from April last year, when they handed down the Defence Strategic Review, there was no new money. There's a diminished capability and morale is low – people are separating from the Defence Force at a much higher rate so we have a retention issue and we also have a recruitment issue. Next generations of Australians aren't being drawn to military service as they have in previous generations. So, the Government has a challenge on its hands, but in the end, if the Prime Minister was really committed to keeping the sea lanes open in the Red Sea and being a friend who delivers on its word, then he would have sent a ship to the Red Sea. We've done so for the last 30 years, I think more than 55 ships have gone to the Middle East in support of counter-piracy and counter-terrorism operations, Tom.
TOM CONNELL: I just want to ask you, finally, about the Taipan helicopters. The Government was explaining this week that obviously they were taken out of service earlier in the year in September, they sought a global buyer, couldn't find one, by the time Ukraine requested them it was December, and it was too late. Is that a fair enough explanation?
ANDREW HASTIE: Richard Marles, the Deputy Prime Minister, needs to stand up and explain to the Australian people why he has chosen not to give the Taipan helicopter to the Ukrainian people. Ukrainians are in for the fight of their lives, they are being bullied by Vladimir Putin, thousands have died. It is a challenge for the free world, we need to step up, we need to support them. They've asked for helicopters. There are problems with the Taipans but we're operating within a peacetime risk framework – Ukrainians are fighting for their survival. Peacetime risk is different to wartime risk. They should be the ones who decide how they use those helicopters and if they can make a material difference on the battlefield, if that can help them get the edge on the Russians, then we should support their request.
TOM CONNELL: Andrew Hastie, appreciate your time today. Thank you.
ANDREW HASTIE: Thanks, Tom.
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