Transcript: Interview on ABC Insiders





DAVID SPEERS: Andrew Hastie, welcome to the programme.

THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Good morning, David. Good to be with you.

DAVID SPEERS: So how would you describe the strategic outlook facing Australia?

ANDREW HASTIE: David, the strategic outlook is very bleak. It's being driven by a rising China with both revisionist and expansionist ambitions. Almost 10 years ago, former Singaporean Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, said that China will reach a crossroads when it's grown sufficiently in military and economic might, and the question will be, does it become a good global citizen? Or does it use its strategic bolt to force or seek a sphere of influence? And I think what we've seen over the last week, particularly with the missiles being fired in and around Taiwan, is that they're using that strategic bulk to force a sphere of influence and we need to respond to that. And insofar as the review does that, I welcome the review.

DAVID SPEERS: Well, let's talk about how we respond to what you've just described as a very bleak outlook. Does the Australian Defence Force have the right assets right now for this outlook?

ANDREW HASTIE: Over the last decade, under the Morrison, Turnbull and Abbott Governments, we invested a lot in the Australian Defence Force. We have upgraded and commissioned 70 new ships, we've struck the AUKUS deal, new capabilities in cyber particularly, but there is work to be done and I think the review can look at these things. My issue with the review is the selection of personnel. Angus Houston is a very fine officer, however, Stephen Smith has a very, very mixed record as Defence Minister from 2010 to 2013. He oversaw the biggest cuts to Defence in 70 years. And so, if you're looking to send a signal to the Australian people, I'm not sure Stephen Smith is the man to send the signal that you're serious about Defence going forward.

DAVID SPEERS: Ok, but if we're looking at historical records, and then even the Coalition's nine-years in power, yes, you know, a lot of things announced but we've had long delays and problems on the frigates, we've had chopping and changing on which submarine to go for - we still don't know what that's going to be. I mean, everybody has some baggage to carry here.

ANDREW HASTIE: Of course, and the Port of Darwin 99-year lease is something that I think is a reminder that we did make mistakes. But insofar as Richard Marles is a successful Defence Minister, then our country will be successful. So, I want to work to make sure that our Defence Force has the right kit, it's postured correctly, and that we’re set up for success. But that's my job. That's the Coalition's job in Opposition is to hold this government to account and we'll be watching very closely what comes out of this review. We can't afford to have cuts to capability, particularly as we need to build our deterrent strength, which is going to be critical going forward.

DAVID SPEERS: So, you wouldn't want to see any cuts to capability, but are there any - just coming back to this question about what extra capability we need right now urgently - are there things that you can identify?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, whether engaged in a high intensity war or whether we're at the periphery of one, there are certain things we absolutely need. We need more fuel stocks - I think that's clear, we need more ammo stocks, Ukraine has proven that we need to continue to invest in our cyber resilience. The Morrison Government announced just this year in fact, Project Red Spice - a $10 billion investment in ASD over the next decade. These are the sorts of things that we really need to focus on and they’re key areas of vulnerability. But of course, we need to be able to hold an adversary at risk at distance, which is why we struck AUKUS, which is why we need those nuclear submarines, which is why we need missiles that can reach out and touch an adversary, among other capabilities.

DAVID SPEERS: Should we allow the US to base long-range missiles here?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, I think we need to partner more closely with the United States, with the UK -

DAVID SPEERS: - On missiles?

 - On missiles, they’re a critical partner, yes -

DAVID SPEERS: - So base US missiles here, you're okay with that?

ANDREW HASTIE: - No, no, I didn't say that. I said we need to partner to develop our own sovereign missiles. sovereign missiles, Australian owned, Australian delivered, if required.

DAVID SPEERS: What about submarines? How worried are you that we might have a capability gap between when the Collins-class become useless and the nuclear submarines are ready?

ANDREW HASTIE: The advice I received from Defence, as Assistant Minister for Defence, was that we were going to cover that gap with the Life of Type Extension for the Collins-class. They're still a regionally superior submarine. Now the question is how quickly can we deliver a nuclear submarine or several of those boats to the Royal Australian Navy. And that's why I've said again, several times over the last month, that Richard Marles as Defence Minister needs to be focused on delivering those submarines as quickly as possible. Every single day he should be thinking about it. When he wakes up he should be thinking about submarines, when he goes to bed he should be thinking about submarines, when he's asleep he should be dreaming about submarines. We need relentless political focus on delivering these submarines for our country.

DAVID SPEERS: Well, as much as he might dream or focus on them, a lot will depend on what can be delivered by the US or by the British. If there is a capability gap, if it's impossible to have them ready in time, what should Australia do?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, I don't believe that that will be impossible. I believe politics is the art of the possible and to go back in history, David, I think of Malcolm Fraser flying to Washington DC in 1970 as Defence Minister to renegotiate the F-111 deal. He had no traction with the Americans so he threatened to go before a Senate committee and give evidence as to how bad the programme was and very quickly, the Americans came on board and gave us a better deal. So, we need to be shrewd, we need to act with purpose and we need to get the best deal we possibly can with either the United States or the United Kingdom, whoever we go with in the end.

DAVID SPEERS: But should we at least consider the option of an interim submarine to avoid any capability gap?

ANDREW HASTIE:  Well, the former Chief of Navy, Mike Noonan, gave evidence at Senate estimates earlier this year where he said we just don't have a big enough Navy to run simultaneously three different submarines, nor is our industrial base big enough to sort of do two submarines over the next 20-years. So hence, my point, we need to focus on getting the nuclear submarine delivered as quickly as possible.

DAVID SPEERS: So it shouldn't be looked at at all?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, sure, make it part of the review. But in the end, I think it's a bad signal to our adversaries and to our allies that we're unfocused and that's why we need to get on with the task of delivering a nuclear submarine.

DAVID SPEERS: Let's turn to Taiwan. Do you think Nancy Pelosi’s visit has made the region a safer place?

ANDREW HASTIE: That's a great question and that's one for the United States to answer. My view is that it's good to engage with China, it's good to engage with Taiwan, and we should be doing so as a country ourselves. I know that Christopher Pyne was there recently, and her visit to Taiwan is no different to previous congressional visits. Now, things are a little bit tense at the moment, but that's a question for the United States. In the end, we need to continue to engage with China and Taiwan, and to do so through diplomatic channels and through back channels as well, because the last thing we want is miscalculation, as Penny Wong has identified.

DAVID SPEERS: In a speech in London last month, you said, and I quote, “free peoples must be prepared to fight and defend themselves against an aggressor, as the Ukrainian people have boldly shown.” They must also you said, “be prepared to defend others under attack and others that are threatened.” Were you referring to Taiwan?

ANDREW HASTIE: I was referring as a general principle. And I think, you know, it's a principal position to defend your neighbour, but it's also a principle born out of self-interest - if I don't stand up for other countries who is going to stand up for me? And as a nation of only 26-million people on a vast continent, we need as many friends as we can get. In fact, I would say the era of the lucky country is over, it's dead and buried, and we need to start thinking, with this new development over the last decade, about how we secure ourselves into the future. And I think the strategic culture of Singapore and Israel are good examples of how we can prepare for the challenges ahead, given our size and strength relative to countries like China and Russia.

DAVID SPEERS: But that principle, as you put it, of defending others under threat, does that apply in your mind to Taiwan?

ANDREW HASTIE: It's a hypothetical question and, you know, God forbid war should ever breakout. That's why I'm emphasising, as our Foreign Minister has, de-escalation, minimising the risk of miscalculation and continuing to engage with China and Taiwan. I also note the joint statement put out by the US Secretary of State and the Foreign Ministers of our country and Japan, and that is that the One China policy remains unchanged.

DAVID SPEERS: Well, Peter Dutton, as Defence Minister, said it was inconceivable to think that Australia would not come to Taiwan's defence militarily, do you share that view?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think the point is that if there was a conflict around Taiwan, whether we're involved directly or indirectly on the periphery, we would certainly be in the gun and that's why we need to build our deterrence strength. And that's why we need to exercise exceptional political leadership - diplomatic leadership - and these are the things that we need to think about as this review goes forward.

DAVID SPEERS: But should we also be telling Taiwan and the world what we would do? Do you think this strategic ambiguity can be sustained?

ANDREW HASTIE: That's a great question, David. I think the ambiguity at this point in time allows a bit of flexibility. Miscommunication, miscalculation, is at the highest risk and I think allowing a little bit of space for both parties, or all parties involved, to give each other the benefit of the doubt is really, really important.

DAVID SPEERS: And just for the record, you do you support the One China policy, not formally recognising Taiwan?

ANDREW HASTIE: I support upholding the status quo which is the position of the Australian Government, the US government and the Japanese government.

DAVID SPEERS: Is there more Australia could be doing in other ways that help Taiwan, whether it's through cybersecurity or other measures?

ANDREW HASTIE: Cybersecurity - look, we have a great economic relationship with Taiwan. We have Australian manufacturers going to Taiwan to get their goods made in Taiwan. I have a good relationship with the representative here in Australia, I'll continue that. We're Australians, we should be talking with everyone, we should be maintaining good relationships with everyone and that's true of Taiwan, as it is of China.

DAVID SPEERS: Would you go there?

ANDREW HASTIE: Would I go there? Look, I'm open minded to going there. I've got a very full dance card, as you know, David, a young family and enough travel as it is. But certainly, I'm on the record saying I'd like to visit Taiwan at some point.

DAVID SPEERS: So, if they invited you, what would you do?

ANDREW HASTIE: They have invited me, David. But you know -

DAVID SPEERS: - So what are you going to do?

ANDREW HASTIE: - Well, I'll wait and see.

DAVID SPEERS: So you're open to open to making a visit?

ANDREW HASTIE: I'm open, as I was visiting China back in 2019, before Senator James Patterson and I were denied a visa.

DAVID SPEERS: Okay. Just a few other issues while we've got you there. In that same speech in London, you said, “if we cannot hold ourselves to account for unlawful battlefield conduct in Afghanistan, by what standard do we condemn Russian acts of barbarity in Ukraine?” Look, I know this is an important issue for you, given your own service in Afghanistan, do you believe Australian troops who allegedly engaged in unlawful conduct will ultimately be held to account?

ANDREW HASTIE: That's not a question for me to answer. Suffice to say, I'm not a moral relativist. I think there are rules in war and we are a country governed by the rule of law, and if you go overseas wearing our flag on your left shoulder, then you are accountable to the Australian people and our and our laws. And that's why I supported the Brereton Inquiry, and that's why I support the resolution of this whole process. But it's not for me to decide how that goes except to say that I think it's an important part of being a global leader, demonstrating that when we do things that are wrong, we hold ourselves accountable.

DAVID SPEERS: Well Peter Dutton as Defence Minister said he wanted Special Forces to be focused on keeping our country safe, not distracted by things that happened in the past. Is it fair to say you have a somewhat different view?

ANDREW HASTIE: No, I have the same view. I'm a big believer in our Special Operations units - the Special Air Service Regiment, Second Commando Regiment - in fact, I was intimately involved last year in doing command and control reform. And we bumped the commanding officer of the Special Air Service Regiment from Half Colonel to Full Colonel to demonstrate to our allies in the region that we're taking the challenge of reform seriously. That was among other reforms, but the point I make is that we need our leaders to be accountable, and a more senior officer at SAS was an important part of demonstrating that.

DAVID SPEERS: The Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide is due to deliver an interim report on Thursday. It’s heard some terrible stories of personnel being left down when they needed support. As a former Special Forces Captain yourself, what change would you like to see to better support veterans?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think the first point I'd make is the destigmatisation of mental health. I recently listened to a podcast in the US, it was four hours long, with a former Navy SEAL who had gone through a whole range of mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and when he finally went loud on it and spoke about it, a whole bunch of people came out and said, I'm suffering from the same thing. And he felt a sense of anger because he felt let down that they hadn't talked about it long before the point that he got to almost taking his life. And I think we need to talk about these things more and destigmatise it. It's very difficult, but I think we're on the way there. During the week, I met with the parents of a of a young digger who took his life this year and they said to me that resilience is something that we need to look at. There's a lot of young Australians who are more connected than ever on social media, through their phones, but who are quite isolated and that's another thing that we need to look at.

DAVID SPEERS: And just finally, there's a new book to be published about Scott Morrison's handling of the pandemic. It's by Simon Benson and Jeff Chambers. Apparently, a lot of references to what went on in National Security Committee meetings. You're a former Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security, are you concerned that details of things discussed at an NSC meeting are being published?

ANDREW HASTIE: David, I haven't seen the book. I read Paul Kelly's synopsis yesterday in the Australian but I'm unaware of any national security documents or conversations that are classified being given to the book, so we'll wait and see. But certainly, I take these issues seriously.

DAVID SPEERS: Andrew Hastie, thanks so much for joining us today.

ANDREW HASTIE: Thanks, David. My pleasure.