Transcript: Launch of the National Defence Strategy





Wednesday 17 April, 2024


ANDREW HASTIE: Good afternoon. Today's launch of the National Defence Strategy and Integrated Investment Program was a test of leadership for Richard Marles. It was a test to see if he could clearly articulate the threats to Australia. It was a test to see if he could clearly articulate a strategy to defeat those threats. And it was a test to see if he could secure the funding necessary to build a strong Australian Defence Force. And he has failed those tests and showed weak leadership in his role as the Minister for Defence.

Richard Marles used vague language to talk about the threats to Australia's national security. How will Australians understand the challenges ahead if Labor refuses to speak openly with them? Richard Marles reverted to vague, bureaucratic language in talking about our Defence strategy. We are still no clearer on what 'impactful projection' is, or how it will work for the ADF. There is a lack of clarity about Labor's design for the ADF and how the constituent parts will work together.

Finally, Richard Marles has presided over more than $80 billion of cuts and delays to the Defence Budget. Given the urgency and the reduced strategic warning time, the Coalition called for more funding now, not later. Today, Richard Marles refused to admit that most of the spending uplift in the next four years will be due to inflation and foreign exchange fluctuations. And we also reject Richard Marles' ridiculous claim that Defence spending is not bipartisan, especially since most of the increase has been due to AUKUS, which the Coalition established and continues to support.

Under the Albanese Government, the ADF will be worse off. There won't be a balanced force or a focussed force, there will instead be a weaker force. Under a Dutton Government, there will be clarity around the threats to Australia, our strategy to defeat them, and Defence funding will be higher under a Dutton led government than under an Albanese Government.

JOURNALIST: Just to clarify that last comment, does that mean you're committing to 2.4 per cent of GDP on Defence spending during the decade at least?

ANDREW HASTIE: Yes, we are committing to more Defence expenditure than the Albanese Government.

JOURNALIST: Didn't Minister Marles today expose the fact that there was something like 40 per cent of over programming in the government that you were a part of, and today is about trying to address a whole lot of projects that were announced but not funded?

ANDREW HASTIE: Richard Marles keeps looking in the rearview mirror. The Australian people need leadership from the Albanese Government. We're not seeing it. If it is true that we are living in the most dangerous time since the end of the Second World War, then we need to be investing more in Defence, not less. And what he announced today was an additional $72.8 billion worth of cuts, in addition to the $7.8 billion of cuts that he announced as part of the Defence Strategic Review last year, totalling more than $80 billion worth of cuts to Defence projects.

JOURNALIST: Mr Hastie, you he said that he was pretty vague on the strategic threat, but he actually named China a few times. How's that being vague?

ANDREW HASTIE: Sure, but authoritarian powers are the main threat to the US global rules-based order at present – China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Iran's proxies in the Middle East, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis. All of these threats directly impact Australia's prosperity and security and I think he could have been much clearer about that point.

JOURNALIST: Do you support any of the, what you described as, cuts, what the Government calls reprioritisation? Do you think there's anything that should actually be put aside so that the military is focused on immediate concerns?

ANDREW HASTIE: As you can appreciate, you had more of a briefing than the Opposition. We will seek a briefing, and we're going through the documents now. From what I have read, I'm glad to see that there is a commitment to combined arms in the Army. The Army has had a tough time over the last two years under Labor. The Army has been made weaker by Labor, and so it's good to see there is a commitment to Abrams tanks, for example. We're going to read this more closely.

JOURNALIST: Do you give Richard Marles any credit for getting more money for Defence, including in the forwards through ERC?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, again, a lot of that spending commitment, the $5.7 billion, let's break it down – $1 billion today, $1.7 for the surface fleet, and then $3 billion last year over the forwards, totalling $5.7 billion. I think was Ben Packham from The Australian who asked him about inflation and foreign exchange – he refused to answer the question. So that's a very modest increase when you consider the inflation that's hitting family budgets as well as the Defence budget across the country.

JOURNALIST: Mr Hastie, can I just clarify in terms of that question about what the former government was trying to achieve in Defence and whether or not there was enough money to do it? The clear indication is that there was not enough money to actually deliver on the programs that the former government had promised. Do you acknowledge that there was a gap?

ANDREW HASTIE: Labor won government in May 2022. So, they can talk about the past all they like, but the reality is that we still need, for example, the large vessel dry berth in Perth – particularly if we're going to increase our shipbuilding in Perth, but also for the maintenance that's going to be done routinely on US and UK ships and submarines as they pass through Perth. That's just one example of where Labor has made cuts and not made a commitment to building that.

JOURNALIST: Mr Hastie, do you agree with the Defence Minister's suggestions that Australia can never be at the same level as our US peers when it comes to defence?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, just on basic population, of course. China has more than a billion people. The US has around 350 million people. We're at 26 million people. Of course, we're at a disadvantage in terms of numbers and mass, which is why we've got to have a focus on asymmetric capabilities as part of our Defence strategy – that's what we should be talking about. I made a speech last week at the ANU where I talked about AUKUS Pillar II generating vicelike asymmetric capabilities that we can deploy against an enemy. To use a very clear picture, last week I said you should be able to tear off the arm of an adversary if they come and threaten us or coerce us – that's the kind of imagery that I think people can appreciate. But 'impactful projection'? Richard Marles, come on. You've got to do better than that. The Australian people are regular punters, and they need to hear things very clearly and plainly.

JOURNALIST: With that in mind that we can't be the same as the US in any sense in that way, do you then reconsider that the threats that you proposed before, being Iran and those in the Middle East, should they be a priority of Australia having a much smaller Defence capability?

ANDREW HASTIE: Are you saying we should have a smaller Defence capably?

JOURNALIST: Should we?

ANDREW HASTIE: No, we shouldn't. Absolutely not. Weakness is provocative. If you want to defend Australia, you've got to be strong. You've got to make people think twice about having a crack at Australia. Richard Marles today made the point that we are a maritime island trading nation. A lot of our imports travel across the ocean as do our exports and so what happens in the Red Sea does matter. We can't just pretend that we live in the Indo Pacific and the rest of the world has no impact on us – of course it does. That's why we committed, under the former Coalition Government, a lot of assistance to the Ukrainian people in their fight against Russia. We are part of the global order, and we have a role to play. Thanks very much.