Interview With Greg Jennett: Transcript




GREG JENNETT: With that said, Andrew Hastie, hopefully we don't have to interrupt our discussion for the Ukrainian President but I don't think you'd be too affronted.

THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: I'm happy to give way to the President Zelensky and it's good to be with you, Greg as well.

GREG JENNETT: Good. Now, why do we need this Force Posture Review? The government's putting it on a pedestal and saying that it is long overdue, much needed and needs to reshape the Defence Force for the next decade. Do you agree?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, I want to give the government room to review its position. That's fine. But I am concerned that the Prime Minister having said today that we're facing the most complex strategic environment in the last seventy years, and what does he go and do? He appoints the man, Stephen Smith, who is responsible for the biggest Defence cuts in seventy years. That happened under his watch as Defence Minister from 2010 to 2013.

GREG JENNETT: You don't think A leopard can change its spots? He would, by the same token, have already preexisting knowledge about this institution and the way it works. So are you implacably opposed or just mildly querying?

ANDREW HASTIE: Greg, I judge people by their past performance, and he drove Defence spending under the former Labor Government to 1.56 percent of GDP. We've taken it back up to 2.11 percent. It's got to stay there. The UK, who are in the middle of their leadership debate right now, Liz trust, for example, the leader has committed to three percent by the end of the decade. If we're going to deliver AUKUS, we need to continue our Defence spending trajectory and I'm concerned that Stephen Smith is going to be a one man razor gang.

GREG JENNETT: Do you accept that the stated position of the Albanese Government is that they are open to further growth against GDP? So it is at two plus at the moment –

ANDREW HASTIE: - That’s right.

GREG JENNETT: - they've not set a limit on that.

ANDREW HASTIE: No, and nor should they because in the end, as we develop our strategy, and we develop the capabilities that we need to protect our country, you can't put a price on that. You've got to spend to deliver. And that may be 2.5 percent, it might be less than that, but that's why we need to remain flexible. And my concern is that Stephen Smith, of course, brings that history of cuts and that's why we'll be watching it very closely.

GREG JENNETT: All right, point made. And now without attributing blame or mapping capability over governments of recent past, looking into the future, where is the Australian Defence Force short? What sort of weaponry, ships, planes, or other armaments - what's needed to face what we're told is a very severe threat?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: There are a number of areas that we need to work on. Obviously we need to develop our strike capabilities so we have an air force that is growing. We have the JSF, the Joint Strike Fighter, which is a great aircraft, we're developing nuclear submarines, we also need strike missiles. But there are areas that aren't as sexy, if you want to use that word, that we don't talk about enough and that's fuel security, so that our Defence Force can actually fight. We need to think about cybersecurity, and the previous Government made a big commitment - Project Red Spice - investing in our defence and our offensive operations, and they're the areas that we really need to build on.

GREG JENNETT: So around fuel security logistics, can you please fill that picture out for us? Are we talking about more around existing facilities that we have, particularly in the north? Or should we be building all new installations for the Australian Defence Force, again, across the north?

ANDREW HASTIE: Sure. We import a lot of our oil and we're reliant upon our lines of communication and trade through the South China Sea particularly. And so we need enough reserves of diesel aviation gas to sustain our Defence Force, and our economy for that matter. Our economy runs on a lot of diesel - if we want pharmaceuticals, if we want food delivered on time, we need diesel. So, these are the sorts of areas that we need to really look at closely as part of this review.

GREG JENNETT: Right, but local refining capacity, which would be commercial in nature, would be outside the scope of this review, wouldn't it?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, it's something that you have to consider. We can talk about Defence platforms, but we also need to look at our national resilience. I've just come from Jim Molan’s book launch, which was superb, and that's one of the areas that he identified. We've got to be more resilient as a country, we've got to consider the really, you know, scary prospect that we might be cut off one day on our own, and the question is, will we be able to run our economy, run our health services, run our Defence Force on our own? And they are a critical areas that we need to focus on - fuel is one of them.

GREG JENNETT: When you say on our own, this presupposes that with the best will in the world, our ally, the US, may not be able to what? Come to our aid? Be present in this country? This is a fairly dire scenario that you're picturing here.

ANDREW HASTIE: That's right. Well, Jim's book, Danger On Our Doorstep - the opening chapter is about a preemptive strike by China, against the United States, around the Taiwan Strait and what it means for Australia. And I can tell you, it's a fairly scary scenario. But Jim's done our country a service by putting it out there and I think it's a great way to engage some of these questions that this Defence review is going to consider.

GREG JENNETT: Is that traditionally how they would go about these reviews, starting with scenarios that are grave to say the least, under the Jim Molan scenario anyway, and then they plan back from there?

ANDREW HASTIE: That's right. It's the job of Defence to consider all scenarios, the most dangerous course of action. Because if you don't plan for the worst, then when it actually does happen, and history shows us that it does happen, you find yourself ill prepared and vulnerable.

GREG JENNETT: And you have no reason to question the strategic review of two years ago that says, you know, the traditional ten-year window of preparedness doesn't exist anymore? Do you think in fact, it may have shrunk further below ten years?

ANDREW HASTIE: It absolutely has shrunk and the elephant in the room is that China is undergoing the biggest military buildup in peacetime since the Second World War. President Xi has entered into a no-limits partnership with President Putin, and authoritarian powers are on the move. And we need to consider a range of areas that we need to improve on - ammo stocks being one of them. If there's a lesson straight out of Ukraine, it's that you've got to have ammo stocks that won't be depleted after a fortnight, you need to be able to fight for a long period of time. So, these are the areas that I hope the government looks at closely. What I remain concerned about, though, is the cuts to our Defence Force.

GREG JENNETT: Right, and on any analysis, the delivery of some of the bigger platforms - submarines being the most obvious, but there are a bunch of ships in the frame as well, many years away - is there urgency, is there anything that you can foresee in plugging that gap, particularly around submarines? Are you a proponent, new to this portfolio as Shadow Minister anyway, not as a soldier, do you see an interim submarine solution as necessary?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think we have to make best speed for the nuclear submarine of the future. Sure, there might be an interim capability gap but we can't go down a conventional submarine that will be outdated by the time it's in the water and will also draw away resources that is needed for the delivery of the nuclear submarine. And as I've said before, Richard Marles, the Defence Minister, needs to be thinking about delivering those submarines when he wakes up, before he goes to bed, he needs to be dreaming about nuclear submarines and how he can accelerate the delivery of those platforms.

GREG JENNETT: You will have had, of course, an opportunity to discuss with your Leader, Peter Dutton, some of his written remarks that he made since the election defeat in which he spoke about the possibility of getting US sub around 2030. Do you still believe that to be feasible?

ANDREW HASTIE: I want to see both the United Kingdom and the US make a pitch to the Australian Government that they can deliver submarines by the end of this decade - at least two submarines. That's the message I delivered over at Westminster a couple of weeks ago to both UK Conservative Government members, but also the UK Labor Defence spokesman, and that's a message that resonated. And I said if you want to revive your industrial base, and you want to do something post Brexit, please make a better pitch for the submarine because at the moment publicly, we're talking about US Virginia class submarines. I think the UK also has a lot to offer through their Astute-class submarine as well.

GREG JENNETT: Could one reason why they haven't made a compelling pitch so far be they're just not ready, they're just not capable of delivering something on that timeline?

ANDREW HASTIE: That’s a challenge for the UK Government. I put it to them, and I'm looking forward to seeing them make the argument.

GREG JENNETT: Alright. Andrew Hastie, thanks for your thoughts on this Defence Force Posture Review. No doubt, we'll hear more from you as it comes forward early in the new year, I think we’re told. Thanks for joining us.

ANDREW HASTIE: Thank you, Greg.