Interview: The Invasion of Ukraine



ANDREW CLENNELL: Joining me now from Perth is Assistant Defence Minister Andrew Hastie. Mr. Hastie, thanks for joining us. I guess Scott Morrison warned us this was on the way, and the American government warned us this was on the way. Our worst fears realised here, isn't it?

ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP: Good afternoon, Andrew. Yes, Vladimir Putin is blowing the filthy clouds of war across Europe, innocent people will die at his foul hands, and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms today. The Prime Minister, back in 2020, when he gave his Defence Strategic Update speech at the Australian Defence Force Academy warned about the rise of authoritarian powers and we're seeing that come to bear today – and it's a very dark day indeed.

ANDREW CLENNELL: And the PM said this morning, he didn't believe sanctions would work. But they still needed to be put in place – and by the way, that obviously appears to be true given the invasion which includes bomb blasts in Kiev – but they still needed to be put in place because threatening a nation’s sovereignty, required some action, he said.

ANDREW HASTIE: That's right. The sanctions are just the start, and I'm sure the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister will have more to say, but we're just getting warmed up, and of course, we also have cyber capabilities. We're already assisting the Ukrainian government with our best from the Australian Signals Directorate. I had a briefing yesterday from the Australian Signals Directorate, Director-General Rachel Noble, and of course, we also have offensive cyber capabilities as well. So there's more we can do, but most importantly, we condemn this corrupt and evil invasion of Ukraine and we affirm Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

ANDREW CLENNELL: And the Prime Minister is signalling more sanctions from the West. He didn't really want to go into detail. But we don't look like we will have any sort of military presence at this stage. You've seen the US troops, I guess, gather in countries next to Ukraine in recent days to ensure that the Vladimir Putin doesn't even go any further?

ANDREW HASTIE: That's right, the Prime Minister has ruled out sending troops. We have a job to do here in the Indo-Pacific region, and as you saw on the 17th of February, we had Chinese gunboat diplomacy right on our back doorstep in the Arafura Sea, lasing one of our P-8 Poseidons. We've got plenty to do in the region, but it's really important that we provide whatever support we can and sanctions, graduated sanctions, are just one of the things that we can do to demonstrate our resolve standing with other democracies around the world and supporting Ukraine.

ANDREW CLENNELL: I guess, you spoke about cybersecurity earlier, it appears, and this is the new warfare as we know it or it can assist warfare. It seems that there were cyber attacks on the Ukraine government, prior to them moving in. Tell us about how that operates, and are there fears of retaliatory attacks, because of sanctions in Australia?

ANDREW HASTIE: Andrew, we've always thought about war in terms of air, sea, and land. We're now thinking about it in terms of space, but also, cyber. You don't have to bomb a city to bring it to its knees if you can hack its critical services and infrastructure, which is what we saw the Russians doing. So, one of the things that's really important for Australia going forward is not just our territorial sovereignty, but our digital sovereignty. Digital sovereignty includes the collective cybersecurity of Australians, whether it be individually, businesses, governments, charities, you name it, we all have a job to do – and we should anticipate some form of retaliation – that's why the government's calling on all Australians to do the basics of cybersecurity: make sure you've patched all your devices; make sure you've invested in the latest security updates; make sure you're using complex passphrases; multi-factor authentication. It's simple stuff, but it will keep Australia safe, and make us a much harder target.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Now you’ve been an SASR officer, where do you see the war going from here? What's Vladimir Putin’s next move? And why is he so driven in terms of war against Ukraine?

ANDREW HASTIE: Who understands the heart of Vladimir Putin? But what I can say is that war is terrible, it's contagious, it's escalatory, and if he thinks that he can just contain this, he's got it all wrong. And, so, my fear is that this could get bigger and that's why I mentioned the loss of innocent life at the start of our interview. War is a terrible thing and that's why we condemn this in the strongest possible terms. And it’s a lesson to us that as a democracy, we need to be prepared to defend ourselves. We need to invest in our capabilities, which is what we're doing as a government – $270 billion over the next decade into strike capabilities to defend us and our neighbours in the region.

ANDREW CLENNELL: And Donald Trump was just on Fox News earlier. He's obviously going to make some points against Joe Biden, I guess. But he suggested that the manner in which the US pulled out of Afghanistan, suggested weakness to Vladimir Putin, and encouraged him to act when he saw that weakness. What's your reaction to that?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, I haven't seen Mr. Trump's statements and I don't want to get involved in the domestic politics of the United States. But what I can tell you from my own service in Afghanistan, and from my experience around the world, is that weakness is provocative, which comes back to my central point: Australia needs to be strong in the future, particularly with the rise of authoritarian powers like China and Russia. We know there's a nexus between them. We saw Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping in Beijing on February 4, we saw the 5,000 word memorandum, and we need to get about the task of securing our country because as the Prime Minister said, in July of 2020, the world post-pandemic is going to be poorer, more dangerous, and more disorderly. And we need to be ready for whatever challenges that we might face.

ANDREW CLENNELL: And just finally, on that, Mr. Hastie, I guess every Australian’s fear is that President Xi and China will see this, see weakness in the West and see opportunity where it comes to Taiwan. What do you make of that prospect? I guess, obviously, we're hoping that doesn't occur?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, Mr. Abbott, former Prime Minister, during the week wrote an op-ed where he talked about the way the Australian government has been practicing shrewd, democratic multilateralism, which has given rise to AUKUS – between the US, the UK and Australia for us to acquire nuclear submarines – The Quad, and a range of other bilateral and multilateral arrangements that we share with our neighbours in the region. These are all good things and we need to lean into these relationships, because we can't do things on our own and we need to support those in need, which is why we've come out today, condemning Russia, sanctioning Russian individuals and organisations and standing with Ukraine, as Vladimir Putin tramples all over their sovereignty and territorial integrity.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Mr. Hastie, thanks so much for your time.