Transcript: Interview With Tom Connell, Sky News



Friday 23 September 2022


TOM CONNELL: Joining me live is Shadow Defence Minister, Andrew Hastie. Thanks very much for your time.


TOM CONNELL: The hint from Labor is it's a joint US-UK project and particularly nothing bespoke so that we're in with the rest of them, is that a good call?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: Look we'll wait and see what comes out in March when the AUKUS Working Group finishes its work. But I think we want to make it as least complex as possible, which means going with one of the established designs, either the Astute-class or the Virginia-class in the US.

TOM CONNELL: And in terms of capability, if we have to do a bit of a mixer project where we get ships delivered, subs delivered ahead of time that we don't build at all. So, you know, not as big of an impact in our industry, but we bridge that capability gap, would that be a fair enough decision to make?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: I think what the minister has already said is that capability must come first. Of course, we want a sovereign defence industry, and we've been building that over the last decade or so–

TOM CONNELL: And that will happen regardless, we’re not going to buy 12 off the shelf -

ANDREW HASTIE MP: Well just to run nuclear submarines in this country - that has implications for our workforce. It's going to require massive investment just to have the submarines, to maintain them, to run them, to build a workforce that supports that - that's going to create a lot of jobs, and industry. But the main thing is capability. And I guess to focus our minds, I want to go back to what Admiral Davidson, the former Commander of Indo Pacific Command, said at the Senate Armed Services Committee last March in his valedictory appearance, and he said that it's likely that China will potentially try to take Taiwan by force in the next six years. It's called the Davidson window, the six-year window, we're now five years to go if we go with his timeline. And we're not going to see nuclear submarine in the next five years, that's just reality. So, the question is, what are we going to do to hedge against that happening in the next five years? Which is where we need to start talking about strike capabilities like missiles, and potentially B-21’s out of the United States?

TOM CONNELL: They're being spoken about already. So, what do you make of the government's views on that? I mean, they're talking about being a porcupine, that's hard to attack, are you talking about a more outgoing capability?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: I think we need to be able to hold an adversary at risk, at distance, out past the archipelago to our north. And in order to do that you need strike capabilities - missiles, aircraft, and long-term nuclear submarines. And that's the kind of Defence Force capability that we will need to build.

TOM CONNELL: Would it ever get dire enough to think that to be a proper porcupine, we'd need nuclear weapons ourselves?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: That's not a question on the table at all.

TOM CONNELL: But I'm just - when you look ahead, you know, known unknowns if you want, the Rumsfeldian sort of prospect, is that something you think we’d ever have to consider?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: It's not something anyone in the Australian government is considering, or in the Opposition.

TOM CONNELL: Okay. The other thing you've been quite strong on Is helicopters. So, our Taipei helicopters had some issues, the Morrison Government said it’d replace them. Richard Marles will review that decision. Is it fair enough at least for him to get across it? This would be billions of dollars, it's a big decision to make, so a review – is that fair enough?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: Sure. The Minister is entitled to review it. I don't deny him that. But it is important to realise that last year on any given day, the Taipan helicopters were only able to have 46 per cent of its fleet capable for flight –

TOM CONNELL: Well, what is a normal per cent?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: - Well, you'd expect it to be much higher than that. Around 60 to 75 per cent, I'd say. So, it's well below where it should be.

TOM CONNELL: But what's 60 or 75 per cent based on? Look, I’m not a Defence person so I’m asking you a genuine question here, but what's the sort of normal percentage level we might achieve in any given year?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: Well, I think you’d hope to be up around 75 to 80 per cent. You want to be operationally ready, and if last year, we could only on any given day have 46 per cent of the fleet ready to fly, that's a big problem. Now, it's –

TOM CONNELL: Could more of them be out of service because of the improvements that have been tried to make?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: - potentially, but I think the Taipan has had issues for the last decade and even Pat Conroy, the Minister for Defence Industry, last year, when we announced the Black Hawk decision, he supported it. He said the Taipan has been plagued with all sorts of issues. And Tom, this isn't an academic debate either. Phil Thompson, Member for Herbert, was evacuated by a Black Hawk from the US. Member for Menzies, Keith Wolahan, a commando who served in Afghanistan flew Black Hawks. I flew in Black Hawks throughout my career, including in the Pacific with the SAS. There's plenty of Coalition experience on the backbench that says the Black Hawk is the superior airframe. It's the most battle tested as well, and I think it's really, really important that we push ahead with this.

TOM CONNELL: Well, we'll see what the review brings and we’ll talk to you after that. Russia mobilisation – does Australia need to ramp up support along with the West beyond what we're already doing? More weapons, advanced weapons to thwart this? We're already

ANDREW HASTIE MP: We’re already a major non-NATO contributor. We stand firmly with our Ukrainian friends. And of course, we'd support more support to them whether it be humanitarian, financial or military hardware. The Bushmasters have been received very well –

TOM CONNELL: - Yeah they’re doing a good job over there. It’s an interesting moment for China because Russia can't continue really without China’s support. It might be the sensible actor in the room, particularly on the nuclear front, if we see China bringing Russia back from the brink, it could be a good moment for China internationally.

ANDREW HASTIE MP: We hope so. But the statement that they released recently, the premise was all wrong. The premise was that Russia has legitimate interest with Ukraine, whereas it was a completely illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia. And so, if China wants to be a responsible world leader, then they need to call Russia off and negotiate a peace settlement that respects Ukrainian territorial sovereignty.

TOM CONNELL: And just on China, Joe Biden has said for a fourth time, and pretty emphatically in an interview, the US would defend Taiwan if attacked by China. What do you make of that comment? Do you welcome it?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: I make that that comment from President Biden is a pretty strong statement of intent and it has implications. And certainly, the US is an important strategic partner, our close strategic partner, so we're watching that very closely.

TOM CONNELL: What implications are they?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: Well, there's implications that the US potentially will use force to defend Taiwan.

TOM CONNELL: Well, he’s saying that pretty clearly.

ANDREW HASTIE MP: He Is saying that very clearly.

TOM CONNELL: Do you welcome the comment?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: Well, it’s not whether I welcome it or not, it's a reality. And that has strategic implications for our region.

TOM CONNELL: Is it a good call from the US?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: Whether it’s a good call or bad call, they are standing up for an island democracy of 25 million people, and it's right and proper that they should do that.

TOM CONNELL: Right, so you agree with the comment, you’re glad that it was made.

ANDREW HASTIE MP: I support President Biden’s posture towards Taiwan. 

TOM CONNELL: And you say this is a change from the US?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: I don’t think it's a change, but certainly the –

TOM CONNELL: But strategic ambiguity is always spoken about, and yet this goes against that. This says – and it is specific, it’s not no matter what the conflict is, but if China attacks Taiwan the US will defend Taiwan. It’s changed, hasn’t it?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: You have said so yourself.

TOM CONNELL: Do you think it’s a change?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: I think it is a change, yes.

TOM CONNELL: Do you think Australia should review whether we have the same approach?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: Well, I think that's a question for the Australian Government. And nonetheless, we support the US. They're our close strategic partner, and we're going to continue to work with them to maintain peace and stability in the region.

TOM CONNELL: But is it something the Coalition would weigh up, whether you would push for us to make the same move?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: That's a discussion for shadow cabinet.

TOM CONNELL: So, is it a discussion you'll begin?

ANDREW HASTIE MP: Well it’s a discussion we might well have but I'm not going to have it publicly on air with you right now.

TOM CONNELL: Maybe next time.

ANDREW HASTIE MP: Maybe next time, Tom.

TOM CONNELL: Andrew Hastie, thanks for your time.