CHRIS KENNY: Let's cross live to Western Australia now and catch up with the Assistant Defence Minister Andrew Hastie. Thanks for joining us again Andrew, lots to talk about. I want to first give you a chance to respond to these criticisms that have come from Labor and elsewhere that the federal government was slow to mobilise the Defence Force in the Northern Rivers flood-affected areas of New South Wales, that the military just haven't been doing enough, fast enough, up there?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Look, I listened to your interview with Senator Murray Watt and I think whilst he might be on the ground in Lismore, I think his motives are hardly pure: he's the front man for the Labor-Greens effort to attack the Prime Minister, and, in doing so, he's also running down the ADF – and I think the facts just don't bear out his point of view. Our troops today will be about 5,800 in number in the field. We've had 12 helicopters assisting for the last week, and more. We've conducted more than 80 sorties. We've rescued more than 113 people. The federal government has committed more than $500 million to 400,000 people through Services Australia, delivering disaster relief payments and income replacement for small businesses and employees. So, Murray Watt is there to attack the government – and that's about it.
CHRIS KENNY: Well, I want to go on to global issues and I talked at the top of the program about the horrors we're seeing Russia inflict on the people of Ukraine, and the frustration of NATO countries, in particular, not intervening. Are we doing enough? What more can Western countries do firstly, in terms of economic sanctions, but is there any more we could do militarily? For instance, the US has now rejected this idea of supplying Polish MiG-29 fighter jets to the Ukrainian Air Force. Surely, that would be one thing that would actually help save lives?
ANDREW HASTIE: The first thing I would say, Chris, is that the Ukrainians led by President Zelenskyy have done brilliantly over the last 14 days. They have really slowed the Russian advance, they've inflicted a lot of casualties, and Russia has yet to be able to achieve their military and political objectives – and they've done it with the support of countries like Australia. We committed $70 million of military aid, along with Germany, the UK, NATO countries, the US. Vladimir Putin has galvanised NATO countries, European countries, in a way we haven't seen for a generation and that's a huge plus, not to mention the financial and economic sanctions. But there is more that we can do and we need to…
CHRIS KENNY: What more can we do? Russia is – they are bombing hospitals. What more can the West do to stop that?
ANDREW HASTIE: The bombing of the maternity ward at Mariupol today was just disgusting, innocent women and children, babies, who perished in that strike. It's a very, very ugly war, led by a very, very ugly dictator in Vladimir Putin – and we need to do more, that's why we need to keep sending lethal aid. I note the UK Government is sending potentially surface-to-air missiles, the UK Secretary of Defence mentioned that. We need to keep strengthening their defence so that they have a strong negotiating position. Now, decisions about no-fly zones – that has been ruled out. The Polish position, the US has ruled that out. So, as an assistant minister in the Australian Government, we've done quite a lot with lethal and non-lethal aid – missiles, ammunition, helmets, medical equipment – and there is more we can do, and we will continue to support President Zelenskyy in his efforts to defeat the Russians.
CHRIS KENNY: It was a big day today in terms of domestic defence policy, the announcement of that increase in the size of personnel. Now this is very important. Why is it crucial? Is it about of course, recruiting and training people to operate new equipment that we'll be procuring in the years to come? But is it also just about building the numbers of our standing army so to speak?
ANDREW HASTIE: We're responding to strategic circumstances, Chris. Over the last five years, it's significantly deteriorated in the Indo-Pacific region and of course, Eastern Europe. Authoritarian powers, like Russia and China, are on the rise. They are acting without regard to the international rules-based order, and the only thing they respect is hard power. If there is a lesson that is to come out of Ukraine, it is that the inducements of the liberal order – whether it be access to capital, to markets – isn't enough to stop the strategic objectives and aims of people like Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. The one thing they do respect is hard power. They prey on human weakness. That's why the Australian Defence Force is getting $270 billion of new capability – a lot of which will be strike – but we're also increasing our Defence Force personnel numbers by 18,500 up to 2040, which is a $38 billion commitment. That's what we need to do. We need to actually enliven and realise AUKUS. That means we need to grow submarine crews, we need to put people against our emerging cyber capabilities, which are already world-class, but we're going to continue to grow them. We've got future frigates and we also have missiles that we're going to acquire, or build and acquire, and we need people to man those as well. So, for young Australians who are considering a career in the military, this is a very exciting time, and as the Assistant Minister for Defence, and someone who spent 13 years in the ADF, I encourage all young Australians to consider a career where they can serve their country and protect our sovereignty.
CHRIS KENNY: We're almost out of time but I want to put to you briefly what Anthony Albanese has said today. His criticism is ‘all announcement, no delivery’ that we still are confronting a submarine capability gap because we've switched to AUKUS. How do you respond to that criticism, because it is a reality of course, that we're way behind where we would want to be when it comes to submarines?
ANDREW HASTIE: You know, I'm sure it was a lovely speech from Anthony Albanese, but he can't escape history. Labor didn't take any serious defence decisions 14 years ago when they were government. In fact, defence spending dropped to 1.56% of GDP when Anthony Albanese was Deputy Prime Minister under Kevin Rudd. We've taken it to 2.1% which represents an increase of $55 billion over the last eight years. So, we're actually remediating a lot of the mistakes and a lot of the decisions they didn't take when they were in government. They didn't commissioned a single ship. Here in WA alone, we are commissioning and upgrading 50 ships – an investment of $2.7 billion. That's 2,000 jobs, we’re driving defence industry. So, Anthony Albanese, he can say what he likes, but this guy isn't sure whether he wants to “fight Tories”, or be John Howard. He's a phony. He doesn't know who he is. And the last thing you need in a time of uncertainty is someone who doesn't know who they are.
CHRIS KENNY: Minister, always good to talk to you. Thanks for joining us.
ANDREW HASTIE: Thanks very much, Chris.