Interview with Liam Bartlett: Transcript







LIAM BARTLETT: Andrew Hastie, also the Member for Canning here in WA, has told an audience in the UK that China and Russia have formed a ‘no-limits partnership in an effort to re-shape the world order and bend it to their liking’ and democratic nations like ours must ‘bolster their Defence forces and be prepared to fight against such authoritarian aggression’. The Shadow Defence Minister joins us this morning from London. Andrew Hastie, good morning.

ANDREW HASTIE: Good morning to you Liam, great to be with you.

LIAM BARTLETT: Andrew, thanks very much for giving us your time and for staying up so late over in London. Look, what is going on here because we get the impression the government are making much softer noises with China and about China, and yet on the Opposition side you seem to be diving deeper into the criticism.

ANDREW HASTIE: Well look, I welcome the opportunity for some of our senior ministers to meet with their Chinese counterparts – Penny Wong, the Foreign Minister with her counterpart, Richard Marles, the Defence Minister with his counterpart – and one thing we’ve always got to do is continue talking to everyone in the region. It’s really important that we’re a good neighbour and we’re open and we discuss things, but we always have to come back to our values and our interests. And my job as the Shadow Defence Minister is to remind the government that we have core interests that need to be preserved, our sovereignty is one of them, the rules-based global order is one that affects our whole region, and of course there’s our values as well and we should never step back from those, so I’ll keep pressing the point. The reality is the world is changing, as my speech highlighted, Russia and China are in a no-limits partnership and that has implications for our region.

LIAM BARTLETT: What do you mean by that, Andrew? A ‘no-limits partnership’.

ANDREW HASTIE: President Xi and President Putin met in Beijing in February on the eve of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and there’s a, I think it’s a 500-word memorandum where the no-limits partnership means they’re going to support each other across a range of different areas. What it means is that they’re closer than ever. Two authoritarian powers who are revisionist and that is, they’re challenging the global order, and they’re also expansionist – Russia has expanded into eastern-Europe by attacking Ukraine, which is a sovereign country, and they’re still at war and a lot of people have already died. So my point is that this no-limits partnership is not a good thing and it’s a concerning thing.

LIAM BARTLETT: Well, how does this fit into the Chinese narrative when they say to us, ‘look, here’s a four-point plan in order to go forward and improve the relationship’ and one of them is ‘treat us as a partner rather than a rival’. Now if we’re talking about them still being in bed with Mr Putin, how does that make them a partner? How does it allow us to move forward to treating them as a partner rather than a rival?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, China is a neighbour, you know, more than a billion people on our doorstep, they’re going to be a neighbour for many years to come and so we need to keep up the relationship, we need to maintain that dialogue, we obviously have a good strong trading relationship with China, but in our personal relationship there are always boundaries and that’s no different at the national level as well. And so these demands, in addition to the 14 demands that were put to us back in November 2020, they’re fairly significant and we can’t just bend the knee and do what we’re told – we have our own core interests, our own core values and we need to speak up and advocate for them. And so being a partner, sure, we’re willing to partner no doubt, but on our terms and according to our interests in as much as China’s.

LIAM BARTLETT: What do you think of those four demands?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, they’re not surprising but we have some concerns of our own. We want our wine producers, our beef producers, our barley producers to get fair treatment. We want access to those markets. There’s a whole range of things that we’d like to see happen as well. The demands, sure, great that they’ve been put to us but we need to re-calibrate a whole range of things in the relationship.

LIAM BARTLETT: Andrew, look I’m sure you’ve been briefed on the incident involving HMAS Parramatta, recently apparently closely tracked and challenged by the Chinese military in the South China Sea. There are concerns here in Australia this morning that a serious incident could soon occur between the Australian Defence Force and the Chinese military as those strategic tensions continue to grow. We saw the other incident of course just a couple of months ago with the aircraft. Are you also worried about this sort of thing escalating?

ANDREW HASTIE: There has been a worrying pattern, Liam. We saw in February that one of our
P-8’s was lased by a Chinese warship in the Arafura Sea up past Darwin, on May 26 we had a P-8 receive some very aggressive manoeuvring from a Chinese fighter jet and that fighter firing chaff which could’ve endangered our aircraft, and I think it’s good that those incidents have been made public because transparency is really, really important. The best disincentive for that behaviour is to make it known and to make it public. So I’ve written to the Minister, I’m seeking a briefing when I return to Canberra on the latest incident, and I think it’s a good thing to be transparent about these things. So I hope to know more about it and if there’s some concerning behaviour, I hope the Australian public is informed about it as well.

LIAM BARTLETT: But the fear that is being expressed, Andrew, is really in the form of a miscalculation. That is that somebody, somewhere in one of these ships, or submarines, or aircraft could make a miscalculation, rather than outright aggression in those waters, and that may trigger a serious incident that may end up hurting or killing Australian personnel. Can you, I suppose you more than most being a former Army veteran, understand that?

ANDREW HASTIE: That’s right, and our Navy personnel who are on operations or who are on patrols, they have to exercise incredible judgement and we’ve got exceptional leadership at sea leading our sailors, so I have great confidence in our Defence personnel. But you’re absolutely right, the risk of miscalculation is high and that’s why good behaviour is critical, and keeping up communications and dialogue, and of course being transparent about these incidents. So, yes, it’s bad if this behaviour is aggressive and provocative because it does not only damage the relationship, but it also increases the risk of miscalculation which is significant now.

LIAM BARTLETT: And let me just ask you finally, as Shadow Defence Minister, what do you think of the government’s position that essentially they’ve come out and said the number one security threat for Australia is global warming?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, Liam, I deal in strategic realities and my speech referenced the rise of authoritarian powers and the way that they’re challenging the rules-based global order. I think that the obvious example to point everyone to is Russia’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine. So they’re the sorts of realities that I’m focused on as the Shadow Defence Minister. And in the end if I look over history, the greatest challenge and threat to world peace has always been man-made. In my speech in London, I quoted John F. Kennedy, his 1963 American University speech, and he talked about creating a peace where we can live together and, you know, build a life for our kids, and that’s the sort of peace that I want to see continue. And the way we do that, of course, just to re-cap my speech, we’ve got to stand for our values, we’ve got to stand strong, and that is – have military power because the best way to maintain peace is through strength, and of course, we need to stand together with our neighbours in the region, and that’s what I want to see our government focus on.

LIAM BARTLETT: Andrew, thanks very much for your time this morning and safe travels back to Australia.

ANDREW HASTIE: Thanks Liam, and I look forward to seeing you in the studio soon.