Interview: Andrew Clennell, Sky News



ANDREW CLENNELL: Joining me now in the Perth studio now is the Shadow Defence Minister, Andrew Hastie. Thanks so much for your time.

ANDREW HASTIE: Good to be with you.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Now, I might ask you first for a comment on this visit of the Indonesian President. This relationship 20 to 30 years ago was pretty tense, it seems to be going from strength to strength now.

ANDREW HASTIE: That's right and the Coalition welcomes this visit. It's great to see the Albanese government building on the foundations that we laid over the last five years or so with the Free Trade Agreement and the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership that we established with Indonesia. So, building the ties at the political, diplomatic, military level, but also business and people to people ties are really important.

ANDREW CLENNELL: And if you believe the spin out of government, AUKUS is not as big a source of tension with the Indonesian regime as it was initially, do you believe that? Is that a relief for you if that's the case?

ANDREW HASTIE: That's right, and the Coalition government did a lot of work in the region to come alongside our partners and explain what AUKUS meant - that it was about our security, but also their security and their contribution to the regional security. I think the Indonesians have heard that message and it's good to see that this visit is going ahead in the way that it is.

ANDREW CLENNELL: For a long time, you've been saying in party room forums and the like that there needs to be a bipartisan Parliamentary committee overseeing AUKUS in the same way we've had that Intelligence and Security Committee you're on. But you haven't had much luck there, have you?

ANDREW HASTIE: Not yet, but I'm confident that Richard Marles has heard the message. I think it's really important that given the long term, multi-generational tasks that AUKUS is, that we have the Parliament working together, passing all the necessary legislation to enliven the regulatory framework, legislative framework for AUKUS. We need to be sovereign ready which means by 2030, we need to be able to own, operate, maintain, regulate and dispose of a nuclear reactor. And to do that we've got to work across the aisle and that's why a committee is the best way to do it, modelled on the Intelligence Committee, which has yielded great results for our country?

ANDREW CLENNELL: Has Richard Marles spoken to you about this thing?

ANDREW HASTIE: I've written to Richard, I've spoken to him. And we've just seen Julian Hill, in the Joint Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, hand down a report recommending the establishment of a defence committee with statutory power. Now Julian is of the left in the Labor Party, so to have him on the same sheet of music as me sends a pretty strong signal to the Minister for Defence and also the Prime Minister that this is a good move.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Dutton was pretty critical about the amount of military aid that the Australian Government recently announced for Ukraine, are you hoping for a further announcement at NATO?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think what they delivered was too little, too late. It was a bit of a headline, and a lot of the equipment was scraped out of the Defence boneyard - the old M113s. I have Vietnam veterans an hour down the freeway who served in those same vehicles, albeit not the updated ones, of course, the upgraded ones that we're sending, but certainly the same vehicles 60 years ago. I think the Bushmaster is a great vehicle - it's battle proven and they've asked for it. There's a real opportunity for us, as a country, to really uplift our defence industry and we can do that by supporting Ukraine. And the net benefit for us as well is that we get our industry going, we create more jobs, and we build our own stocks and inventory. So, this is an opportunity and it also -

ANDREW CLENNELL: - Do you expect something at NATO?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, let's see. I don't know. I hope so. We've made our views pretty clear.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Can you see the position of the government in relation to not providing Hawkei vehicles that there are concerns or not really?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, there are concerns around the Hawkei and I've been briefed on those. But our view is that we should be investing in defence industry and producing world class munitions, not going to the boneyard and sending our old inventory over to Ukraine. We should be producing new stuff. And it sends an important signal to the US and the UK that we are serious about AUKUS, that we are investing in defence industry and they're not placing a wild bet on us to deliver submarines in the timelines that we've committed to.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Right. I wanted to ask you, while I've got you, about the Ben Roberts-Smith defamation case, because I haven't had a chance until now. Are you relieved at the result there?


ANDREW HASTIE: I am relieved, yes. So are the men who've carried that with them for many years now. They told the truth at great cost themselves. Many of them are decorated, they served in combat alongside Ben Roberts-Smith. No one wins out of this. But Justice Besanko has ruled and they feel very validated that they were telling the truth, despite what many people were saying otherwise.


ANDREW CLENNELL: And what's your view of Ben Roberts-Smith?


ANDREW HASTIE: As I've said under oath in the court, I pity Ben Roberts-Smith. No one wanted to see this happen but in the end, no one's bigger than the SAS, no one's bigger than the Australian Defence Force and no one's bigger than the country. We're all accountable, we all live under the rule of law and what's happened is [inaudible] for the right reasons.


ANDREW CLENNELL: In the last couple of days we've seen reports out of the UK, of similar war crimes accusations in Afghanistan. Families bringing a case involving allegations 80 Afghans may have been the victims of summary killings by three British SAS units and one of the soldiers personally killed 35 Afghans as part of a policy to terminate fighting age males. What do you make of that?


ANDREW HASTIE: I read that story in the Sunday Times. They've got a similar investigative process underway similar, to the Brereton Inquiry. Look, it's not surprising. We sent special forces away for a long time, they did as well, as did the US and they're going through their own process of accountability.


ANDREW CLENNELL: How tough is it to obey the rules of war in an environment like that, when you know in any moment you can lose your life?


ANDREW HASTIE: Yeah, that's a good point. But at the end of the day, we also have standards, it doesn't mean we jettison our standards completely. But I want to make the distinction and, Andrew, this is really important - there's combat, which is uncertain, it's full of friction, what they call the fog of war and there's moments after combat where everything's lull, there's prisoners, and the immediate threat has been dealt with. We're talking about incidences that happened post combat, not during combat, that's not fog of war stuff, it's when people weren't making life and death decisions, or they were in some cases, but there wasn't an immediate threat to themselves.


ANDREW CLENNELL: Richard Marles has indicated there's a report from the CDF on his desk concerning what action, if any, should be taken against Commanding Officers. What's your view on that?


ANDREW HASTIE: As I've said publicly a couple of weeks ago, a lot of these guys I know myself, personally, some of them I count as friends. They need procedural fairness and so for me to comment would potentially compromise that process. But certainly, command accountability goes up the chain. It's not just the Corporals and Sergeants, and the Captains and the Majors, there has to be an accounting all the way up to Parliament, in fact, which is another reason why I've argued for the establishment of a joint Parliamentary committee into Defence so that next time we go to war, and we've been over there for five or six years, we can have a classified space for parliamentarians to ask the hard questions. That didn't happen, there was no debate, everyone was behind our diggers but there should be a forum where hard questions can be asked and there isn't one at the moment.


ANDREW CLENNELL: What do you make of Jacqui Lambie taking it to the International Criminal Court?


ANDREW HASTIE: I thought the whole point of undertaking our own process through the Brereton Inquiry and through the OSI was to protect us from international proceedings. It was a demonstration that we can take care of our own business, we are a sovereign country, we're not handing our diggers over to an international court. And so I'm confident that the process, although it's meandered at times and it's taken a while, in the end it will arrive at the right place.


ANDREW CLENNELL: Let me ask you about something else now. What do you think the Reserve Bank should do today?


ANDREW HASTIE: Peter Dutton was in Mandurah last week, we did a cost of living forum, there is no doubt that people are doing it very, very tough.


ANDREW CLENNELL: That's your electorate?


ANDREW HASTIE: Yes, it's a working electorate. Inflation is hurting a lot of people. We had a mother there who couldn't find a house last year, she lived in a car with four kids until she can find a house. She and others told their stories about how inflation is hurting them. The RBA is independent for a reason and what I'd like to see instead is the Albanese government apply sound fiscal policy and come up with a plan for productivity because as the economic outlook from the RBA in May said, productivity is the way out of this. So it shouldn't just be up to the RBA to be upping the interest rate—it should be also the government, who's committed to additional spending of $185 billion over the forwards which is going to have an inflationary impact. It's an expansionary budget and that has consequences for the working families out there.


ANDREW CLENNELL: And just finally, and briefly, Ken Wyatt says that your party has lost touch with the mainstream, Michaelia Cash and Linda Reynolds never asked him on the flights about the Voice. What's your reaction on it?


ANDREW HASTIE: I think that's a bit unfair to Michaelia and Linda. I flew with Ken from the west for about six and a half years. Ken is a nice guy but I can tell you that not once did he ever approach me about an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament or government. So it's a bit of a Road to Damascus conversion for him because he wasn't advocating for it when he was in the party.


ANDREW CLENNELL: Andrew Hastie, thanks so much for your time this afternoon.


ANDREW HASTIE: Thanks, Andrew.