Interview with Sharri Markson







SHARRI MARKSON: Joining me now, Shadow Defence Minister Andrew Hastie. Andrew, thank you so much for your time tonight, there's so much to talk about in the defence space. But before we get onto that, I just quickly want to ask you about the energy crisis, and the comments that you just saw there from Matt Kean. Do you think and not just in New South Wales, but across Australia, do you think ideology has put us in a worse situation when it comes to dealing with the energy supply issue that we're now facing?

THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Good evening, Sharri, a government should always be pragmatic when it comes to delivering essential services to the Australian people, whether they be State or Federal governments. And so, when it comes to energy security, we have an abundance of coal, of gas, of renewables—being solar and wind—and also uranium, which we export in this country. We could be an energy superpower, the task of government is always to deliver affordable and reliable baseload power. And that's something that we're going to look at very closely in opposition, how we can deliver better for the Australian people. And so any conversation going forward must include all those options, and I think Europe is a cautionary tale about countries rushing too quickly down the direction of net zero, and forgetting that their first task is to deliver affordable and reliable energy. Boris Johnson has pivoted away from his fairly strong green direction just in the last week, with a spike in gas prices after the war in Ukraine, issuing new exploration licences for oil and gas in the North Sea, as an example.

SHARRI MARKSON: Do you think that's been a problem here as well with, you know, some states focusing more on ideology than actually ensuring there's enough supply and reliability?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think it comes down to a question of economics. There are always going to be trade-offs in the way that we make policies. And I think setting aside some of the ideological battles of the past is really critical going forward if we're going to deliver cheap and affordable, reliable baseload power for Australian families, small businesses, industry manufacturing. If we want to be globally competitive, then we have to have cheaper and more reliable energy going forward.

SHARRI MARKSON: Okay, now, just in the past couple of hours, we've learned that Defence Minister Richard Marles has had an hour-long face to face meeting with his Chinese counterpart, General Wei. This is the first meeting between a Federal Government Minister and a Chinese official in over two years, more than two years, there has been this diplomatic freeze. What do you say about, do you welcome this move?

ANDREW HASTIE: We do welcome this. This is this is a good development, and we wish it happened sooner. We were always willing to talk, we wanted dialogue, but we were frozen out for some reason. So, this is good to see, but it's not a Nixon goes to China moment. Richard Marles has had this meeting with other defence officials, including CDF and DEFSEC. But I'm not surprised they chose Richard Marles, given his previous comments on defence cooperation with China, which he gave in Beijing, and, of course, his relationship with the former ambassador in Canberra. But the test of any meeting is the outcome it delivers. And so I'd like to know whether or not the Chinese have withdrawn their 14 demands. Whether they've apologised for the lazing of our P-8 crew in the Arafura Sea in February, and indeed, the P-8 crew in the South China Sea, which was intercepted by a Chinese fighter last month. These are really important things, and we cannot trade away our values or our sovereignty in these discussions.

SHARRI MARKSON: Yes, we still haven't learned yet the precise detail of what was discussed at that meeting. But Andrew Hastie, you say it doesn't surprise you that Richard Marles was the politician that China met with ending this freeze. Can you expand a bit on that? I mean, we know he ran a speech he gave in Beijing, a pro-China speech in Beijing, past the Chinese Embassy, we know he had 10 meetings with the Chinese Embassy during a period when Penny Wong, the Foreign Spokeswoman only had two, Marise Payne the actual Foreign Minister only had two, and for a lot of that period, Richard Marles wasn't even, he was in a domestic portfolio. So, you know, why do you think Beijing chose Richard Marles as the politician to meet with, ending this high-profile freeze?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, I think he's been very accommodating in his public record, in the statements on the public record, and I think he's the sort of person that they want to talk to now. Like I said, I want to know what they've asked us to do. We certainly can't trade away our values or our sovereignty, we're not the problem here. We didn't issue 14 demands as they did, including demands that we clamp down on press freedom in this country or repeal our foreign interference laws or allow Huawei into our 5G network. So we don't have a case to answer here. The Chinese have been the ones freezing us out, and so we welcome this dialogue. But as always, the test of any meeting is the outcome it delivers, and I hope they've withdrawn those 14 demands and I hope they've apologised for the treatment of our RAAF crews this year.

SHARRI MARKSON: Well, Richard Marles today accused you and Peter Dutton of undermining national security by leaking details of the Defence review into the submarines, the temporary submarines. Can you respond to this? Have you compromised national security by leaking classified details for political purposes, which was his allegation?

ANDREW HASTIE: No, we have not. We've simply called for Richard Marles to commit to AUKUS, namely the delivery of nuclear submarines at best speed. He gave an interview during the last week to the ABC where he talked about the timeline for the delivery of the nuclear submarines blowing out to the 2040s, and he also talked about a diesel submarine as an interim capability. Now there are a number of problems with that. Firstly, it sends a bad signal to the UK and the US that we aren't serious about delivering nuclear submarines in a timely fashion. It sends a bad signal to our would-be adversaries, and as the Chief of Navy himself said—on the public record—the Royal Australian Navy is a fairly small force, and we can't be running three different submarine classes at one time. So, this idea that we can just get a new submarine to plug the gap over the next decade or so is fanciful. The real question is what happens now, he's committed to AUKUS, but we want to see conviction and we want to see delivery and decisiveness in securing those nuclear submarines for this decade and beyond.

SHARRI MARKSON: So just to clarify on that, publicly raising the prospect of going with the Virginia class submarines rather than the other interim diesel submarines that wasn't leaking classified information that wasn't public yet.

ANDREW HASTIE: No, Peter Dutton was simply saying that he was moving towards a position, to secure, he had a plan to secure two Virginia class submarines from the production line in Connecticut, and he was hoping to do that in July or August. Richard Marles in his interview said that Peter Dutton had left the portfolio in a disgrace, which is so far from the truth. In the 15 months that he was Minister for Defence. He committed to large increases in our manning, our personnel, 20,000 over the next 15 years. He committed to more strike capabilities and of course record investment, the biggest investment in the Australian Defence Force since the Second World War. So, what we need to see from Richard Marles is continuity, and we need to see conviction and commitment to delivering these nuclear submarines. That's why Peter Dutton called him out last week when he attacked his record.

SHARRI MARKSON: Okay, look, just finally, the Sri Lanka economy has been in freefall for months, but just now, boats are restarting, it seems. Do you think this is a coincidence?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, I think Labor's record under Rudd, Gillard and Rudd was very, very bad when it came to securing our borders. We saw a lot of boats; we saw deaths at sea. And we saw 50,000 People arrive by boat, so it's not surprising that we've already seen two boats, I expect that we'll see more. And our resolve will be tested, the government's resolve will be tested. And they better keep that border secure or will be holding them to account as you'd expect in opposition.

SHARRI MARKSON: All right. Andrew Hastie, Shadow Defence Minister, thank you very much for joining me and for your time tonight, really appreciate it.

ANDREW HASTIE: Thank you, Sharri. Always a pleasure.