CHRIS KENNY: Andrew, thanks for joining us. I haven't spoken to you since you got promoted to become Assistant Defence Minister. It's a fascinating position for a former SAS captain, to be in that role of the Assistant Defence Minister, because the SAS Regiment, of course, has played such a big role in Australia's recent deployments, and at the moment, of course, is embroiled in a lot of controversy?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: That's right, Chris. Good to be with you, and glad we can talk. It's a big portfolio, Defence. I spent all my formative years as an adult, in my working life in Defence. So, in a sense, I feel like I'm coming home. I understand the organisation – at least at the ground level – and the culture that drives it, and so it's a pleasure to serve there. Yes, you are right – Special Operations Command has had a rough eight months or so with the Brereton report being handed down in November, but we are rebuilding, and it's excellent to work with Peter Dutton, who is focusing on core business and that is the ADF doing what it's designed to do: and that is, defend our country using lethal force if necessary. So, that is our mission, and that's what we're going to keep driving towards.
KENNY: I'll come to some of that controversy in a moment. But first up today, you've been at Holsworthy army base south of Sydney where the 2nd Commando Regiment is based. This again is the Commandos, the Army's commandos, have done a lot of the heavy lifting in Afghanistan and other places. Obviously, that's been pretty tough on them, but they need to be battle-ready for other situations, at the moment presumably, it's a bit of a lull in terms of deployments?
HASTIE: That's right, Chris. The 2nd Commando Regiment lost 12 killed in action, The unit with the most casualties during the Afghan war – and, of course, Cam Baird VC MG was one of their casualties. They have a very proud history in Afghanistan. It was great to meet with the commanding officer today and also Commander Special Operations to talk about the capability and how they're preparing to meet the next threat and the challenges ahead. Of course, they hold the responsibility as the Commonwealth's first responder for a terrorist incident on the east coast – Tactical Assault Group East – and, you know, I know you had some personal experience with the Lindt Cafe siege, and if something like that were to happen again, I'd certainly be very keen to see the 2nd Commando Regiment resolve a situation like that if necessary. But of course, they're looking to the next ridge line, the next task, and that's what we talked about.
KENNY: Yeah, fantastic. Now, tell me about the Brereton report. You mentioned it, especially as a former SAS captain. How does it sit with you the fact that we have the Chief of Defence and you're now a Minister, the Defence Minister Peter Dutton, we had the Prime Minister in fact, it wasn't the Defence Minister Peter Dutton, it was Prime Minister Scott Morrison effectively apologise and say that Australian troops had been involved in war crimes. This is before any charges have been laid, and anybody's had recourse to a court of law?
HASTIE: That's right, Chris, the Brereton report had the powers of a royal commission. It spanned a number of years, it interviewed hundreds of witnesses and credible information was found that some unlawful actions had been taken on the battlefield in Afghanistan. And the government acknowledged that, and we've established the Office of the Special Investigator to deal with that. But the Office of the Special Investigator is investigating and doing their job. Our job, now, as a government is to prepare for the next challenge. And as you would know, Chris, the Defence Strategic Update, which was handed down by the Prime Minister in July of last year paints a pretty uncertain picture for our country over the next decade. We're seeing increased geopolitical competition between the United States and the People's Republic of China in the Indo-Pacific region. We're seeing grey zone activity – which is the space between international law and declared war: paramilitary activity, economic coercion, cyber attacks – there are a lot of challenges ahead. Peter Dutton and I and the rest of the government are focused on getting the Defence Force ready for those challenges.
KENNY: I'll come again to those challenges in a moment. But while we're on the Brereton report and these alleged war crimes, you've been called as a witness, you're going to be a witness in this defamation trial involving Ben Roberts-Smith, this is effectively, while it's a defamation trial, it's effectively a war crimes trial because the media involved here are pleading truth. What are you going to tell this court when it comes to your knowledge of Ben Roberts-Smith?
HASTIE: Chris, that's correct. I have been called, but as it is a legal matter before the courts, I can't and I won't comment and I know you respect that.
KENNY: But you are a witness not for Ben Roberts-Smith, but for the media organisations that are effectively accusing him of war crimes?
HASTIE: Chris, as I said, it's a legal matter before the court and I won't and can't comment.
KENNY: Alright. Well, the eyes of the nation will be on that court cases as they already are, of course. I want to go back to this idea of us being prepared for existential threats for looming threats in the region and in your home state of Western Australia the Labor Premier, Mark McGowan, has been critical of the way various actors in the federal government have talked up the threats in this region and they say that this has put China offside. Mark McGowan is saying this sort of talk has put China off side. What is Mark McGowan saying, we should shut up about the strategic issues and just take the money from Beijing?
HASTIE: Mark McGowan is way above his level of competence and expertise. He's naive and reckless. He's out of step with leaders of the free world – President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, President Emmanuel Macron, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison are on a unity ticket on some of the challenges we're facing from the rise of China, and for Mark McGowan to go out of his way to snipe at the Prime Minister while he's at an international summit is low. The Chinese Embassy last year came out with a list of 14 things they would like to see the Australian Government concede. Now, the Prime Minister will never trade away our sovereignty. He'll never trade away our values. And he is standing firm. Mark McGowan and Anthony Albanese who has been running some similar lines in his own uniquely boorish way, need to look the Australian public in the eye and tell us which of those 14 points they would concede. Until they do that they should put up or shut up.
KENNY: All right, strong words there. Thanks for joining us, Andrew. I appreciate it.