Interview: Greg Jennett, ABC Afternoon Briefing





Topics: Penny Wong’s dangerous comments on Palestine, ANU National Security Conference speech, appointment of new ADF leadership.


GREG JENNETT: Andrew Hastie, welcome back to the studio, always good to have you with us. Why don't we start out talking about Israel and the search for a two-state solution that has been ongoing for about 40-years now. The war with Hamas won't last forever and like Germany and Japan before it, when the guns fall silent, there will be a need, won't there, to reset thinking about what the reconstruction looks like and who governs Gaza? Why doesn't that make now a good time to consider recognition of a Palestinian state?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, you're referring to last night, of course, Penny Wong's speech, and I think the problem there is that this is a premature call by the Albanese Government for a two-state solution whilst there are still Israeli hostages held by Hamas. Hamas is still a political and military force and if we want to have a two-state solution, which has been the bipartisan position for a long time, we need to have security and a peaceful settlement of sorts. Until that happens, it's very, very difficult. Our concern is that, effectively, what the government is advocating for is potentially to allow Hamas to have a seat at the table.

GREG JENNETT: All right, to be clear, they would argue they're not advocating it and they certainly have a highly conditional approach to contemplation of recognition – so no involvement by Hamas as part of a long-term pathway to peace, and after the imposition of a ceasefire. So, as an exercise in contemplating the future, and what might be needed for governance, what's wrong with going through those thought processes and bringing the public into it too?

ANDREW HASTIE: There's some structural challenges here – we've got to see the world as it, is not as we wish it to be, and this is wishful thinking from Penny Wong. Palestinian leadership is divided between the Palestinian Authority, which is very weak, President Abbas is weakened, and Hamas is still a force in Gaza. So, who's going to be at the negotiating table? They can say we would exclude Hamas, but Hamas is in the ascendancy when it comes to the Palestinian leadership. The other structural problem they have is that over the last decade, we have seen declining support for a two-state solution, both in the Israeli and Palestinian population. Just a cursory read of the March/April edition of Foreign Affairs shows the declining support for a two-state solution. If your viewers want to check it out, go to Foreign Affairs March/April 2024 – it shows, over the last decade, the declining support for a two-state solution. So, we've got to deal with the reality as it is now, and we should be working for security, the return of the hostages, the removal of Hamas as a fighting force, and a political force –

GREG JENNETT: – They are also among Penny Wong's conditions and Australia is not alone in contemplating this semi-publicly, is it? I mean, the UK has, and up to a point, the Biden administration has too. It would be burying one's head in the sand to not contemplate what happens after the war wouldn't it?

ANDREW HASTIE: Of course, we all want peace. We all want peace, but Hamas cannot be part of that settlement. The government has said they would exclude Hamas – that's great – but what are they doing to put pressure on Hamas to return the hostages and surrender? Then we can start talking about a settlement with the Palestinian authorities.

GREG JENNETT: Alright, let's move on. You've given a speech at the ANU National Security Conference today, Andrew Hastie. You've spoken about Australia being in a fog at a time of chilling threat assessments, and that there's a vast gap between closed door analytical consensus and what's kind of expressed publicly by the government. You've asked, how can we defeat our national threats if no one is clear about what the threat is? In plain words, explain to us what that threat is that the government knows about, but is not properly explaining to the rest of us?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, as I said this morning, authoritarian powers are on the move. China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and their proxies – Hamas and Houthi rebels to name a few – are destabilising the American-led world or global order – 

GREG JENNETT: – Don't we pick that up daily though?

ANDREW HASTIE: We do but the government is undergoing a form of self-censorship. We've seen that over the last few months, particularly as they've worked hard to win concessions from the Chinese government.

GREG JENNETT: They're pulling their punches, are they, to carry diplomatic favour?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, we want to have a good relationship with China, absolutely. But we can't ignore that China is undergoing the biggest peacetime military build-up since the end of the Second World War. And that being the case, that's the reason why we've invested in AUKUS. My point is we've got to be clear about the challenges that we face as a country because if we're not clear, then we have very vague goals, it makes it very difficult for us to set Defence policy and strategy, and we don't have the social licence for the sort of Defence expenditure that we're going to need with AUKUS and other associated capabilities.

GREG JENNETT: Okay, so you didn't use these words in your speech, but would it be fair to encapsulate what you're saying as you want Richard Marles and others to use more hawkish language towards China and others? And if so, where would that get us compared to the deployment of such language by say, the Morrison Government?

ANDREW HASTIE: No, not hawkish language at all – just to be clear about what the challenges are. Penny Wong uses words like 'preventative architecture'. Richard Marles uses words like 'impactful projection'. My question is, what does that actually mean? The vast majority of Australians don't have a clue what it means and that being the case, how then can they go to the Australian people and argue that we spend more money on Defence? You go behind closed doors, the briefings are very clear what the threat is, and what the challenges are, you step out, and there's a massive gap between the analytical consensus and what our relevant leaders in foreign policy and Defence policy actually say to the Australian public.

GREG JENNETT: All right. Well, you've issued the challenge, we'll see if there's any shift in tone or emphasis from the incumbent government. I might also ask you before going, Andrew, about ADF leadership. We saw a change at the top brass level yesterday, and you will have read some criticism in the commentariat that David Johnston, the new CDF designate, might be too implicated with existing and past problems in Defence – not enough fresh thinking is going to be brought to the job by him. Do you see any validity in that?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think David Johnson has a very sharp mind. He was dux of general school along with former ASIS director, Paul Simon, back in 2004 – he's very sharp. I note the criticism that has been made of him but in the end, all criticism lies at the feet of the minister, Richard Marles, which is why I called on him today to use clear language in defining the threats, the strategic objectives and the direction that we're going to head as a government. It's the job of the military to execute that intent and right now, we're not getting much intent from Richard Marles.

GREG JENNETT: All right, well, I guess your job is to hold him to account more than the CDF. We'll see where that language develops, if in fact it does. Andrew Hastie, really appreciate it, thanks again.

ANDREW HASTIE: Thanks, Greg.




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