WEDNESDAY 19 OCTOBER 2022
PETA CREDLIN: Andrew Hastie, former SAS captain, now Shadow Minister for Defence joins me now from Mandurah, which is just south of Perth. Andrew, these reports in relation to China, the active recruiting we’re told of our ADF pilot, how accurate are they?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Well, good evening, Peta. I made inquiries of my own today, I have a very well placed ADF source – a former fighter pilot who confirmed that two former Australian fighter pilots had been approached by the people who run the programme, but had declined to participate. So, it's a real thing.
PETA CREDLIN: So, help us understand. I mean, it's great to hear that they declined. But why would China think that any fighter pilots for Australia or the UK could be tempted? I mean, are we not looking after our own pilots well enough? Why would they even be on the table as possible defections?
ANDREW HASTIE: Well, I think what China has been doing over the last two decades has been, you know, buying or stealing as much Western intellectual property as possible. We know there's been a lot of commercial theft as well, and commercial espionage, And it's no surprise therefore, that they should try to buy our military secrets as well by offering large sums of money to people who are our fighter pilots or work in any other critical area of our Defence establishment. But it does ask the question, why would fighter pilots be signing up to this or considering it? And I know there are some issues within the ADF. Our fighter pilots are elite by nature but over the last few years, there's been a number of factors which have made it more and more difficult for fighter pilots to continue in their positions.
PETA CREDLIN: And can you talk about some of those factors, I mean, I think it’s also be good for people at home to understand that fighter pilots aren't like normal pilots. They are exceptionally special in what they do and it's a tactical job - that's perhaps what the Chinese are after. But give us a sense of the background here.
ANDREW HASTIE: These are the most elite pilots in the Air Force. Air-to-air combat is probably the most demanding thing anyone can possibly do - physically, mentally, you've got to have superior situational awareness. We've pumped millions of dollars into these people. And the average, as I understand it, the average lifespan of a pilot now is 11 years, it needs to be 20 years. And the simple fact is the ADF can't recruit enough pilots and they can't retain enough pilots. And pilots are leaving because they can't get stability with their families - they're overworked and undervalued. There's been a, I think, denigration of the elite nature of the role that they play in our Defence Force. Tall poppy syndrome fused with identity politics means that we like to pull down those who do elite jobs, fighter pilots do a very elite job. So, I understand there's a fair bit of discontentment and if we're not careful, we're going to lose more of these people. I understand, you know, potentially there could be six to 10 more discharges of our elite fighter pilots over the next 12 months.
PETA CREDLIN: I tell you what, I hope Richard Miles is listening to your interview tonight that you're putting these sorts of issues on the table when he has his review into the Chinese approaching our fighter pilots. These are the things he has to fix at home surely.
ANDREW HASTIE: Absolutely. We've got to be thinking about how we retain these people, how we look after their families better, how we keep them flying, and we don't saddle them with extra governance and paperwork. Because in the end, it costs millions of dollars and years to train these people. Peta, last year as Assistant Minister for Defence, I went up in a PC-21 at RAF base Pearce, my single objective was not to vomit in the plane. The pilot who was flying me said that young Australian kids get up there, they vomit into their masks, they swallow the vomit and they keep flying because that's how bad they want to be fighter pilots. And I tell you what, I only just got back keeping my lunch down. So, hats off to any fighter pilots out there.
PETA CREDLIN: And you're a former SAS man so all credit to you on that front. I've got to get your take on these comments from the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, not mincing his words in relation to Taiwan. He says Beijing wants to seize Taiwan, and they want to do it on a much faster timeline. He says the US and Australia and other allies have got to get on a war footing. Well you've been saying this for years. How concerned are you?
ANDREW HASTIE: I'm very concerned. Admiral Davidson, the former Commander of Indo Pacific Command, said that China would try to take Taiwan by six years. And we're now a year and a half after he said those words. So what the Secretary of State has said is nothing new. I think Jim Molan is 100 per cent correct. The Defence Strategic Review is a good thing, but we need to look beyond it as well. We need to think about our energy security, our fuel security, our food security, our communication security, our underwater sea cables, all these things are critical inputs into our national security as a country.
PETA CREDLIN: Yes, I don’t think China is worried about Net Zero anymore. Andrew Hastie, thank you.
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