Press Conference: Safeguarding National Security, DSR





SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, THE HON. ANDREW HASTIE MP: Good afternoon. I’d just like to make a few comments firstly about the prohibition on ADF personnel working for a foreign power upon leaving the ADF and secondly, a few brief remarks about the Defence Strategic Review, which was handed to the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister yesterday.

Firstly, on ADF personnel working for a foreign power, the Opposition welcomes the government's move to legislate prohibitions against ADF personnel working for a foreign power that is directly in competition with the Australian national interest. It's really important that we protect our technology, our techniques, our tactics and our procedures. And so, for personnel who have worked in submarines, special operations, fighter aircraft, or indeed cyber capabilities, it's really important they know what their obligations are to our country upon leaving the ADF, and indeed, that there is a legal framework for them to operate in and to understand those obligations. So we welcome the legislation, we called for it back in October, and we will support the government's move to fix this area of public policy.

A few comments about the Defence Strategic Review. We welcome the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister receiving the report yesterday from Sir Angus Houston, we understand that there is more to come. But we are concerned, however, and there are serious questions for the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister on how details of the report found its way into the media within a matter of hours. It's simply unacceptable. As the Defence Secretary confirmed in Estimates this morning, there hasn't been a departmental briefing to the Minister himself yet and moreover, the Opposition has not been briefed yet. We found today, details of a classified report leaked into media. So we have some serious questions for the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. And what this says to me is that we need to look seriously about how we provide institutional support for AUKUS. Last year, I wrote to the Defence Minister and I made the case for an AUKUS committee of Parliament, one that has statutory authority, one that has secrecy provisions, like the Parliamentary Joint Committee for Intelligence and Security. It's important because it would send a very significant signal to our allies in the UK and the US that this parliament is serious about seeing AUKUS through, through multiple governments. It would also provide a forum where we can have robust discussions about AUKUS, we could receive classified briefings, and we could work together in a more bipartisan fashion. So today, I'm also calling on a Defence Minister, to consider my suggestion and to implement it, and if so, the Opposition will work with him to make that happen. I'll now hand over to questions.

JOURNALIST: Mr Hastie, the officials today have confirmed that they've known for quite some time about reports of foreign militaries trying to headhunt Australians, should action have been taken earlier, and now with this government, do Australians have a right to know if Australians have been identified as working against the national interest as they have in the UK?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think the best disinfectant, if you will, for these sorts of deals happening in the background or jobs being offered is sunlight. So, transparency is critical - transparency in the Parliament, transparency in the public service, and of course, transparency in our defence community as well - and I think that's the best way to prevent our national secrets being bought off by a foreign power that's in direct competition with our interests.

JOURNALIST: So, the government should reveal how many have been -

ANDREW HASTIE: - I think that'll be a judgment for Government based on what they know and what they need to protect, of course. But certainly, I think more transparency would help everyone to understand the scope of the problem and also prevent further ADF personnel being targeted by foreign powers so that our secrets can be purchased and leveraged.

JOURNALIST: Mr Hastie, should the Government allow American aircraft B-52's to be stationed in the top end if they have nuclear weapons on them?

ANDREW HASTIE: We have a very strong relationship with the United States and of course, those decisions are for the government of the day. Of course, we want to see a greater presence of the American military in the Indo-Pacific. They've provided great support to the region, provided peace and prosperity over the last 80 years since the Second World War, and we hope to see that relationship continue.

JOURNALIST: Just going on [inaudible]. In Senate Estimates it was revealed that then Defence Minister Peter Dutton was aware of potential poaching tactics from 2021. So, if you're calling for legislation now, one - why don't we already have legislation to stop our military personnel sharing secrets? And two - if that is the case, why wasn't that a priority of former government when they found out in 2021 that this could be a problem?

ANDREW HASTIE: I'm not aware of the Estimates testimony this morning about that, but certainly, this is a problem that we need to fix which is why we called for legislation back in October, and we will support the Government as they moved to close this loophole and give clarity to Defence members and veterans as they transition out into civilian life and seek employment.

JOURNALIST: Can I seek clarity on what those loopholes are? Because we hear that our secrets are protected but at the same time, we might have a loophole that [inaudible].

ANDREW HASTIE: Well you'll have to ask the Defence Minister exactly where the loopholes are and like I said, we'll work collaboratively on the legislation that comes forward.

JOURNALIST: We just heard in Senate Estimates as well that the department's inquiry [inaudible] security clearances. Deputy Secretary, Celia Perkins said it was not appropriate to track former personnel [inaudible] that no longer hold security clearances. Are you concerned there's a bit of a gap there? Because [inaudible].

ANDREW HASTIE: I'm going to wait for a briefing on what the recommendations are and see the fullness of the report. But certainly, I think we need to be mindful that someone like myself, who left the Defence Force about seven/eight years ago, I still understand quite a few of the sensitive capabilities, I was out briefed on the way out, but certainly someone like myself or someone from submarine capability, we'd certainly want to make sure that we're aware of where they are and who they're working for because this is how our national secrets can be passed on.

JOURNALIST: You said that transparency would be part of exposing [inaudible] also consequences [inaudible].

ANDREW HASTIE: That'll be decided as the Government respond. But I think what's really important is that Australian servicemen and women understand their moral obligation to our country. I was a beneficiary of a lot of taxpayer dollars being invested in me through Australian Defence Force Academy of Duntroon, all the training that I did, I have an obligation back to the Australian people to preserve the secrets that I know and to also ensure that they're not passed on to a foreign power. So obviously there's a legal framework, but there's also a moral emphasis here and we want everyone doing the right thing and I think education is a pretty good way of making sure that this doesn't happen again

JOURNALIST: With the DSR, are you concerned about the prospect that the Army in particular might drop some of its projects like armoured vehicles?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well again, I haven't been briefed on the report. This morning I requested a briefing. But certainly, it is concerning to read about potential cuts to Army in the media today. So again, why are the details of a classified report in the media today?

JOURNALIST: On the details being out ahead of time, Mr Moriarty said in Estimates today that the DSR will help the Government make hard decisions about what we need to focus on and what needs to be de-prioritised and perhaps even cut. Do you accept that within the priorities, there could be a shift and even some programs cut? Is that something that you're prepared to consider from a bipartisan approach?

ANDREW HASTIE: Sure, and that's the whole point of a review - you get an opportunity to review things and make decisions going forward based on new information. Our concern is the process. The Prime Minister and the Defence Minister received the report yesterday afternoon, within a matter of hours, details were in the media, including potential cuts to the Army and this has consequences for industry as well. People have been waiting for a decision on LAND 400 for many months now and they're frustrated and again, this kind of leaking into the media creates uncertainty for our defence industry.

JOURNALIST: So, it's not your position that no programs should be cut whatsoever?

ANDREW HASTIE: I'm open minded. I always want the best for our country. And so, if there's logic, and there's good cause for taking decisions, then we'll look at it with an open mind and with an open line of support as necessary.

JOURNALIST: Just on the review - the Federal Government hasn't yet given the green light to the Henderson dry dock and said it was subject to the Review. If there is funding in there, or there's not, I mean, what are the consequences for WA if the government doesn't push ahead with that?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think we do need a dry dock out West. We've got one in Sydney, but we need two. As they always used to say in the military, one is none, two is one. We need redundancy and that's why it's important that we have one in the West so there's capability. But moreover, it would create a lot of jobs out West, it will build our shipbuilding industry and that's why it's really important for Western Australia to have a dry dock. And that's something that the former government committed to and we're going to be holding this Government to account if they walk away from it.

JOURNALIST: Are you supportive of the removal of those cameras and why were they allowed to say so long in such sensitive sites like Defence?

ANDREW HASTIE: That's a good question, and I'll leave it to the answers in Estimates. But certainly, I'm glad that the Defence Minister has taken the decision to remove those, I'm glad that the Government is acting - we support them - and of course this was brought to light by my colleague Senator James Paterson. Thank you very much.