ANDREW CLENNELL: Joining me is the Assistant Minister for Defence, Andrew Hastie, from Perth. Mr. Hastie, thanks so much for your time and I'll start on the floods. This Defence assistance in northern New South Wales, looks like the government was in there pretty quick and clearly required. Some brave rescues occurring there?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Good afternoon, Andrew. That's right, I had a briefing from Defence earlier today, and the New South Wales and Queensland Government have requested assistance from the Australian Defence Force. We've deployed around 600 personnel who are either in the field or ready to go, we've got the 10 helicopters working, and we've got a P-8 Poseidon aircraft doing surveillance, which will become more important as the water levels subside. Terrible scenes. We know we've lost people already. But the ADF has done some fantastic work with courage and compassion, rescuing more than 70 people. So it's great that they can help, and there's a lot more work to do.
ANDREW CLENNELL: Will there be a further need for Defence assistance in terms of well, I guess almost humanitarian assistance and the like, flying supplies in, having supplies go into areas where it's difficult to access or for people who become homeless?
ANDREW HASTIE: Defence Force personnel operate in very tough environments. We have great logistical support that we can give to the New South Wales and Queensland Government, and so this will be something that we do day by day constantly assessing and updating and pushing out support where it's needed. So I anticipate, yes, we will have more involvement in days to come particularly as the search continues for lost loved ones and…
ANDREW CLENNELL: Indeed.
ANDREW HASTIE: Sorry, go ahead.
ANDREW CLENNELL: Indeed. So it's pretty clear, even last year, that the big issue this summer – and it's come a bit late – was going to be floods as opposed to fires. Was government ready enough for it, for that for this sort of disaster?
ANDREW HASTIE: The Queensland and New South Wales Government are ready for these sorts of disasters, their first responders are ready to go, and the reason why we have the Defence Force in the field is because we have additional support that we can push through the 10 helicopters and the 600 personnel. So, the Commonwealth is very quick to respond to the requests and our ADF are doing a great job with courage and compassion.
ANDREW CLENNELL: Now, I want to ask you about this announcement concerning Ukraine by Scott Morrison now, a pretty big step, isn't it? Are the missiles on Australian soil at present? Or are we funding them to come from elsewhere? How's it in effect going to work?
ANDREW HASTIE: Andrew, we are committing $70 million towards military assistance to the people defending Ukraine – ammunition and missiles is what the Prime Minister said – we're not going to say any more because we don't want to make available the operational details. Nor do we want to telegraph when those will be delivered to Ukraine. But, be in no doubt: that assistance will find its way into the hands of the brave men and women defending Ukraine. It'll make its way to the Russian end of the battlefield, and it will arrive violently.
ANDREW CLENNELL: Has there been any request from either Ukraine or the US or NATO or European partners for this? Or is this an Australian Government-alone initiative?
ANDREW HASTIE: We're working with liberal democracies around the world. You'd be aware the German government has committed 1,000 anti-tank missiles, Stinger missiles, and a range of other support - lethal and non-lethal – to Ukraine. We’re joining with the UK, the US, so we are doing what we can as part of a global effort to support Ukraine and their sovereignty and their territorial integrity against Russian aggression.
ANDREW CLENNELL: Certainly that's the case. But is this of our own volition? Is this something that…
ANDREW HASTIE: Of course it's a decision we've taken, because we believe in defending countries that are sovereign, we believe in upholding territorial integrity. President Zelinskyy is now a living embodiment of Ukrainian nationalism and sovereignty. We respect that, and we want to support them just as we would any other liberal democracy around the world. So this is an important step we've taken but we are doing it in concert with many other allies around the world and it's sending a very important message to the Russian Government, to Vladimir Putin, that we don't cower in the face of aggression and bullying behaviour, which is what we're seeing with their unilateral war into Ukraine.
ANDREW CLENNELL: Well, we spoke to you last week as war was breaking out. Have you been surprised by the resilience so far of the Ukrainians, and what do you make of Vladimir Putin's conduct so far?
ANDREW HASTIE: Well, it was clear the Russians hoped to have a much speedier victory, they were going to decapitate the Ukrainian government reports say, within 48 to 72 hours. But as Mike Tyson once said, everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face, and those defending Ukraine have given the Russians a good punch in the face and it's slowed down their movement. Of course, Putin has been trying to scare off the west with thinly-veiled threats of nuclear action, or nuclear weapons, and it looks like he's now amassing more and more firepower into Ukraine and I think we can anticipate over the next coming days more indiscriminate fires, more missile attacks, more artillery, more armour into Ukraine, where they're going to just bludgeon their way to Kyiv. So the best thing we can do as a country here is support Ukraine and their sovereignty, which is what we're doing with the $70 million package of military assistance.
ANDREW CLENNELL: And what did you make of that nuclear threat?
ANDREW HASTIE: It's the work of a bully, but it just shows that, you know, a lot has changed in a week – a lot has changed – and there is a big risk of miscalculation at this point. So everything has to be carefully calibrated and that's why Scott Morrison as our Prime Minister doing an excellent job leading our country through this tough time. He's got the relationships with UK Prime Minister, the US President, and we're working very closely with our allies to make sure that we uphold Ukrainian sovereignty.
ANDREW CLENNELL: I wanted to ask you, too, for your reaction to these reports of cluster bombs being used, cluster munitions?
ANDREW HASTIE: Yeah, well, if you have the Ukrainian population resisting Russian aggression, well, this is a sign that they're pretty much going to abandon any pretence of having rules of engagement and just bludgeon their way through to Kyiv. Cluster bombs is effectively carpet bombing, and so we're going to see more indiscriminate use of firepower, which is disgusting, frankly. Innocent people have already died and more innocent people will die at Vladimir Putin's hands, and that's why we condemn it and we’ll continue working to preserve the sovereignty of Ukraine and backing those people defending their country.
ANDREW CLENNELL: And finally, and just briefly, I wanted to ask you as a former senior SAS officer, you would have seen reports of the Ben Roberts-Smith defamation trial. Do you have any comment on what’s emerged there and how what's emerged there might tarnish the name of the SAS?
ANDREW HASTIE: Andrew, I have been subpoenaed by the court to appear as a witness in that trial. I can't comment, and I'll leave it at that, thank you.
ANDREW CLENNELL: Andrew Hastie, thanks so much for your time.
ANDREW HASTIE: Thank you, Andrew.