Gareth Parker: The SAS has had a torrid twelve months. There have been allegations made of war crimes. There has been the special inspector's report. There has been the well, the defamation trial involving Ben Robert-Smith. But today there are command changes happening at the SAS. Andrew Hastie is the Assistant Minister for Defence, and he's going to explain them on 6PR breakfast. Good morning, Minister.
The Hon. Andrew Hastie MP, Assistant Minister for Defence: Good morning, Gareth. Good be with you and your listeners.
Gareth Parker: What's this all about?
Andrew Hastie: This is a positive reform. As you said, it's been a tough twelve months for the SAS. There's been a lot of commentary in the media. Some of it is valid, some of it slanderous. And as we saw with a tweet last year put out [by Chinese Communist Party official Lijian Zhao], some of it was just downright offensive. And so yesterday I went to the SAS Regiment on behalf of Minister Dutton, and we announced that we are moving the commanding officer rank from the lieutenant colonel, which is an (05) position to full Colonel, which is an (06) position. And it's a vote of confidence from the Government and a vote of confidence from the defence leadership. And it's a reform that will help the Regiment to prepare for the challenges ahead. And our focus now must be in the Indo-Pacific Region.
Gareth Parker: So, this change of the command structure, what will it mean for the SAS's position in the military as a whole? And what will it mean for the troops on the ground?
Andrew Hastie: Sure. So, the Regiment was raised in 1964 - it's the birthday of the Regiment coming up this weekend - and over the last 57 years, the Regiment has undergone a lot of changes through the different wars from Vietnam to East Timor to Iraq to Afghanistan. They've embraced domestic counterterrorism duties, they’ve built a surveillance capability, but the one thing that hasn't changed since 1964 is the command structure. And as the responsibilities of the SAS Regiment have increased, the command has remained the same. And so, this recognises the incredible task that the SAS does on our behalf, the operationally and strategically sensitive missions they undertake, and so, by putting a full Colonel in command, what that will mean is that we'll have a more senior officer, someone with a greater experience across the different agencies that the SAS works with, across our coalition partners and more contacts in to Canberra as well. So it'll mean that our guys will be better positioned to fight the future wars and to do the very sensitive jobs that we ask them.
Gareth Parker: Minister, the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS Alliance, Australia, New Zealand and the United States forged in World War II, is today. That makes it one of the most enduring alliances not just in modern times, but really in all of history. Does it concern you that there apparently hasn't been any contact between the US President Joe Biden and The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison in recent days, given what's been going on in Afghanistan, a war that you fought in and that 41 Australians lost their lives in?
Andrew Hastie: Look Gareth, there's been a lot of contact between our governments. I'm not sure if you saw my opinion piece in The Australian today, but the Alliance ultimately is about people-to-people connections. Our Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, spoke to the Secretary of State yesterday. Minister Dutton has been in contact with his respective counterpart. And, of course, our military and our intelligence agencies, DFAT, the State Department are all working very closely. Now, The Prime Minister and Joe Biden have a good, strong relationship, and I'm sure they'll catch up in due course. But for the last week or so, the most important person to person contacts in government have been from the respective heads, whether it be Foreign Affairs or Defence.
Gareth Parker: Minister thanks for your time this morning.
Andrew Hastie: Thank you very much Gareth.