GARETH PARKER: There was the Land Forces conference that was going on in Queensland, where WA Defence industry companies were exhibiting, among others. It's a big sort of national – actually international – conference. But they're all out there trying to display their wares. And Paul Papalia spoke very well about the good and interesting and innovative work that those companies do. Well, yesterday, that conference was totally derailed by protesters who tried to shut the thing down, carried on like pork chops, and I think they tried to make it sound like anyone working in these industries is a war criminal. On the line, the Assistant Minister for Defence, Andrew Hastie. Andrew, good morning.
THE HON. ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Good morning to you, Gareth.
PARKER: Pretty disappointing?
HASTIE: Very disappointing. The Australian Government is spending $270 billion on defence industry over the next decade to build a sovereign defence industry, but also to prepare our country for the challenges ahead. The Defence Strategic Update highlights that we are facing some big strategic headwinds. So, the Land Forces expo in Brisbane was an opportunity for our best defence industry businesses to showcase their kit, and also to have our regional partners along, and we have these ratbags calling our uniformed personnel war criminals, and harassing people going and coming into the expo, and generally being a total disruption. In fact, it evoked images of the way diggers were treated when they came home from Vietnam – and it's an absolute disgrace.
PARKER: You’d think we'd be smarter than that, wouldn’t we?
HASTIE: I reckon so, Gareth. And look, you know, I'm a Liberal, I believe in freedom of speech, freedom of association, and a strong democracy will always allow room for minority voices. But these protesters were a disgrace, and they were treating people with contempt: the fake blood on the ground and all the rest of it was very, very disappointing
PARKER: Okay. The conference itself. How badly disrupted was it, do you know?
HASTIE: Look, it was just the negative press around something that was actually a very positive thing for our nation. I’ve spent quite a bit of time travelling around Australia in my portfolio, looking at these growing Australian defence businesses – I was up in Queensland and Caloundra and Maryborough seeing a couple of businesses that are creating hundreds of jobs and building our prosperity, but more importantly, our security – and so it's something to celebrate, and these people detracted from that.
PARKER: Okay. We've spoken you and I previously in the recent past about cyber security, and there's been another big cyber attack. And it's a global one. It's this meatworks JBS. They have thousands of employees here in Australia, too?
HASTIE: Yeah, that's right – a big ransomware attack on JBS. And it's another example – there's plenty out there, Gareth. We had one report every 10 minutes last year to the Australian Cyber Security Centre of a cyber criminal incident – and they're the ones we know about. So this is becoming commonplace, and these cyber criminals are going after big businesses like JBS and so it’s a timely reminder for all Australians that we can no longer think about cyber security in personal terms. We've got to think about it in terms of our country and the digital sovereignty of Australia – and everyone has a role to play. Our country needs everyone to use complex passphrases; to patch your software on your phones, your tablets, your laptops; to use multi factor authentication, which is just providing two bits of evidence before you’re given access to your bank account or your email; and then backing up your data. And if we do that right – if we all sharpen up across the country – there will be less opportunity for cyber criminals and, indeed, state actors to attack us.
PARKER: Do you have any information about this JBS attack, about whether it is cyber criminals or a state actor? We do know that, as you say, there's the ransom demand now and the company have confirmed that, but when you're talking about meatworks, especially one at that scale, you’re starting to talk about food security too, right?
HASTIE: You bet, absolutely. Food security is absolutely critical, and so you can see how dangerous a cyber attack or a cyber espionage event is. It's a large spectrum. At one end, you've got private individuals who are sitting at home or somewhere else hacking away. You’ve then got sophisticated criminal syndicates, who works for themselves and for money, or perhaps they work for a foreign government, and then you've actually got state actors with their own cyber capabilities – and it's very hard to attribute these things early on. That investigation is underway and the Australian Government is liaising with JBS. But once a ransomware has happened, you know, there are things that we can do, but the most important thing is to prevent these things from happening – and that's why I'm calling on all Australians to do your bit and to uplift your cyber security.
PARKER: Andrew Hastie, you've been very direct in your language about China both before you entered the ministry and since. Yesterday, Anthony Albanese, the Opposition Leader gave a speech to the Minerals Council of Australia. He had a fair bit to say, including that he’d continue the export of fossil fuels but says that we need to make a transition to renewables. But it was noteworthy I thought that he also talked about the relationship with China. He says that bellicose rhetoric from the Morrison Government is putting mineral exports at risk. I presume he’s talking about people, including you. How do you respond to that?
HASTIE: Well, Gareth, I don’t resile from anything I've said or written over the last five years. That’s the first thing I'd say. Under this Coalition Government, our exports to China have grown to $168 billion dollars annually. When Labor left office in 2013, our exports to China were valued at $94 billion. So, over a $70 billion increase in the time we've been in government. We're a trading nation. We're a friendly nation. We want to get on with everyone. But one thing our Prime Minister will never do – never do – is trade away our values and our sovereignty. So the question I have for Mr. Albanese is which of the 14 demands the Chinese Embassy briefed out last year would he change Australia's positions on? All the legislative measures on the list of 14 demands passed with bipartisan support – and I would know because I was the chair of the parliamentary joint committee for intelligence for four years. I worked closely with people like Kristina Keneally and Mark Dreyfus and Anthony Byrne on Labor’s side to pass that legislation. So, he's being very tricky. And, in fact, I think he's a threat to national security. This is a man, obviously, unfit to be our Prime Minister. We need to lock in as Australians and hold our course, because there are strategic headwinds. We're in a in a changing region with a lot of uncertainty and we’ve just got to stay the course, continue trading, and continue to uphold our sovereignty.
PARKER: A threat to national security, the Opposition Leader?
HASTIE: Well anyone who's undermining Australia's national position at the moment, yes, fits that category for me. And, you know, I'm pretty confident that's what the Minister for Defence yesterday was suggesting in question time when he was asked on this. So yeah, I’m not backing away, Gareth.
PARKER: Surely, though, you would appreciate that if China had any alternative to West Australian iron ore they would be seizing it. I mean, they're desperately trying to get Brazil back up and running. They're desperately trying to develop iron ore mines in West Africa. The minute that they can drop us they will, won’t they?
HASTIE: Well, that's why we’ve got to continue to diversify our economy, but like I said, we're a trading nation. The Prime Minister has been very careful with what he’s said, but he's always emphasized that we will never trade away our democratic values and our sovereignty, and that's why he has my full support and that's why I have great confidence in the direction of our country. Yes, we are experiencing a lot of challenges, but we are going to work through that and, you know, the Prime Minister is heading to the G7 very soon. We're working closely with allies on a number of these issues and, as I said, it's very unhelpful when people like Mr Albanese weaponise internal Labor politics to take a potshot at the Prime Minister.
PARKER: Andrew Hastie, thanks for your time.
HASTIE: Thanks very much, Gareth.