Interview with Andrew Clennell: Transcript





ANDREW CLENNELL: Joining me from Perth now is Shadow Defence Minister Andrew Hastie. Thanks for your patience Mr Hastie. I wanted to ask about your reflections first on Anthony Albanese’s trip overseas. And what we've seen in the NATO Summit, some pretty familiar language from this government compared to the last government on China I have to say?

THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Good morning Andrew. Yes, what we've seen from Mr. Albanese is continuity, not change. And we've seen it from NATO firstly the condemnation of the war in Ukraine by Russia but also, they've voiced their opposition to China's increasingly expansionist and militaristic behaviour in the region by condemning the cyber attacks, the nuclear arms race that they're underway with, and also some of the more belligerent behaviour through the South China Sea. We also welcome the G7’s investment pipeline, $600 billion, as an alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative that China has been rolling out throughout the world. So I think it's very positive and from a bipartisan perspective, we welcome Mr. Albanese’s entry on to the world stage.

ANDREW CLENNELL: There was a lot of criticism, I guess, by Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton about what Anthony Albanese would be like on China, did they overcook it?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, when you've got the Chinese newspapers online condemning Mr. Albanese for being no different from his predecessor, Mr. Morrison, he's obviously continuing on with our policy, which was to always stand up for Australian sovereignty, and to defend the things that we care about - to not give way to the 14 demands that the Chinese ambassador made 18 months ago. So we're seeing continuity, that's a good thing, because what we have is very special. We want to see the global rules based order upheld in the Indo-Pacific and to see NATO engaging in the Indo-Pacific, to see Mr. Albanese getting traction with NATO allies is a good thing, and we welcome it on a bipartisan basis. 

ANDREW CLENNELL: How soon do you think Australia could have nuclear submarines? What should we do about capability in the meantime?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, Mr. Dutton said that he was working on a plan to get two nuclear class submarines off the production line from Connecticut by 2030. This is a really pressing issue. We can't waste any time. And so Mr. Marles in an interview that you just had with him suggested that we left a capability gap - if that's the case, why has Mr. Marles extended the Chiefs for two years? Why hasn't Mr. Marles announced a more aggressive timetable for delivering those nuclear submarines? Why hasn't he articulated a plan to achieve those submarines on an accelerated timeline? And why has he opened the door to conventional submarines? The problem we all have in government is the problem of scarcity, there is never enough time, money, or people to get all the things that we want to get done. So we've got to focus on nuclear submarines and that should be the thought for Mr. Marles in every waking moment. As I've said before, he should be going to bed thinking about submarines, he should be dreaming about submarines, and he should be waking up thinking about how he's going to deliver Australia nuclear submarines, and that's what we're going to do - we're going to hold him to account on that because what we've heard thus far is him crab walking away from AUKUS, we want to see those nuclear boats in the water so that we can have an effective deterrent strategy and help uphold the global rules based order here in the Indo-Pacific region. 

ANDREW CLENNELL: And I guess he criticised the state of those Guardian Patrol vessels given to the Pacific, what do you make of that?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think it was a, frankly a pretty low attack on Australian defence industry. Austal is Australia's biggest defence exporter, home grown here in Western Australia. The Guardian class program is about providing vessels to our Pacific Island neighbours, including Timor Leste, so that they can patrol their economic exclusion zone and also patrol their fishing waters. We've delivered 14 of 21. It provides - the program has provided 200 jobs here in WA, 68% Australian industry content, sure there's always issues with any defence platform, but they'll be remediated and we should be doing that quietly. Instead, Mr. Marles came out and called them broken boats, just as Foreign Minister Wong gave the Samoan people another boat to replace the one they ran aground last year. So look, I think we should do things quietly. We should uphold defence industry, particularly as defence industry will increasingly become an arm of our diplomacy in the region. 

ANDREW CLENNELL: Did the past government fumble some relationships though, with the Pacific and with the French, for example?

ANDREW HASTIE: Could you say that again sorry Andrew? 

ANDREW CLENNELL: Did the last government fumble some relationships with the Pacific countries and with the French?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, no government is perfect. But we always sought to act in the national interest and in the interests of our Pacific partners, which is why we rolled out the Guardian class program. Mr. Marles talked about capability gaps well, when Labor last left government, they hadn't commissioned a single ship. Since we've - for our period of government, we commissioned up to 70 ships, including the Guardian class, so we've been getting on with the job. When it comes to the French Attack class submarine though, Mr. Morrison, the then-Prime Minister, and his National Security Committee of Cabinet came to the view that our interests would be best served by a nuclear class submarine, which is why we decided to cancel the Attack program and seek a deal with the UK and the US to deliver AUKUS and nuclear submarine capability for Australia.

ANDREW CLENNELL: So I asked Richard Marles before about the Brereton report, I guess this is something quite close to you having served in the Special Forces. When do you hope the cloud over this can be resolved? Do you hope there's some finality here? Some charges?


ANDREW HASTIE: Well, the Brereton report was handed down 18 months ago and we've seen a range of things take place - as the Assistant Minister to Peter Dutton when he was Defence Minister, I enacted command and control reforms at the Specialist Air Service Regiment, we moved the CO from a half-colonel to a full colonel, which was a really important signal that we take leadership seriously and we want to modernise the SAS. So that was something I'm very proud of, and Lieutenant General Burr was intimately involved in that, so he can be proud of the changes that we made over the last 18 months. But certainly, we also set up the office of the Special Investigator and that's an independent process, independent from government, independent from me, obviously, being a member of the unit and having served on Special Operations Task Group 19 myself. So we want to see this resolved. We don't want young soldiers who had nothing to do with the events in Afghanistan being tarred with the same brush, they need to get on with the job. And as you know, Andrew, the Indo-Pacific region is changing rapidly, we have increasing challenges right here, China is rapidly militarising, by 2030 they'll have more than 450 battleships, and we're seeing military bases in Djibouti, Cambodia, and I reckon they're going pretty hard for one in the Solomon Islands. So we've got a lot of work to do, we need to re-orientate. And morale of the force is really important. So hopefully, this will be wrapped up soon. And we can turn the page completely and start a new chapter for our Special Forces. 

ANDREW CLENNELL: Alright, just briefly, how do you reflect on the election loss, and particularly the result in WA?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think Andrew, all politics is local. WA is a unique part of Australia, it has its own challenges. If you look at the swing against the Coalition in WA it was about 10% uniform, and that was very different to the rest of the country. So we had our own issues, we had a very popular and ascendant Premier, a strong Labor brand, and Labor ran a very local campaign quite separate from the national campaign. And we did get a hiding, we're going through a process now of understanding what we can improve on. But certainly, Andrew, my belief is restoration follows ruin, and we have a state and a federal election in three years and my focus as the Member for Canning and also as a senior member of the WA team is to get us ready, and to win back government under Peter Dutton. 

ANDREW CLENNELL: There does seem a bit of a mindset in the Opposition that you were a good government and were unfairly thrown out. Is that how you see things? Or can you say that Scott Morrison made some mistakes?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, like any government we made mistakes, but we always acted in the best interest of the country. We had exceptionally challenging times - we had the pandemic, which of course, created health challenges for this country; it created economic challenges with constrained supply chains; it created all sorts of problems for small business with lock downs, we had a very, very difficult time. But by and large, we've come back pretty strong. But nonetheless, we were going for a fourth term, and the people have decided, we respect that choice. And now our task is as the Opposition to get on with the job. But one thing that we're very proud of is Scott Morrison delivering AUKUS, and whatever people might say he acted in our best interest and now it's up to Mr. Marles to deliver those nuclear submarines for us. 

ANDREW CLENNELL: All right. Well, we're actually out of time, but I will ask you a very quick one as a former serviceman, how do you feel about Greens’ leader Adam Bandt failing to stand in front of the Australian flag?

ANDREW HASTIE: I thought it was disgraceful from Mr. Bandt. As I said last week, the Australian flag is the only flag I had on my shoulder when I served our country overseas, and it's the only flag that I serve as a Commonwealth parliamentarian, and so his move was to divide Australia, we need to unite it. Migrants come from all over the world, more than 50% of the people in this country weren't born here - they've come and they've chosen to stand under our flag and are very proud of our flag and always defend it. So I think it was cheap politics, but it really shows the character of the Greens movement, and that is that they're not proud of our country, and they want to tear it down, not build it up. 

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

ANDREW HASTIE: Thank you, Andrew.