PETA CREDLIN AO: Andrew Hastie joins me now. Thank you for your time, Minister. Give us a sense of these new rules from China – rules that you're standing up to. How dangerous is the situation in the South China Sea right now?
THE HON. ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Good evening, Peta. Look, China is trying to impose new rules that prevent Australia or any other nation from exercising freedom of navigation and overflight through the South China Sea. We want a secure and stable Indo-Pacific region, we believe in a rules-based global order, and so it’s really important to keep exercising our freedom of navigation, as we have done so six times already this year, and we are looking to our allies to do the same – as they have been doing as well.
CREDLIN: I want to move to Afghanistan. We've seen the news just announced regarding the new regime’s government and occupying one of the most senior positions, interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, a hardened terrorist, someone with a US$10 million American bounty on his head, hugely significant, but of course it's no surprise, Andrew. There was never going to be a gentler, kinder Taliban was there?
HASTIE: No. I think we judge by the past and we hope for the best for the future, but, at the moment, I'm a realist. Before we make any sort of concessions, we need to see evidence of good behaviour. I think what we've seen over the last thirty years from the Taliban does not bode well for the future and so we need to maintain a very realistic view of the Taliban, the ideas that they hold, and of course, the way they govern, and have governed in the past.
CREDLIN: Well, that, of course, brings in to play the cricket season. We know there's a proposed a test between Australia and Afghanistan in Hobart for later this year. If it goes ahead, aren’t we just endorsing this regime as legitimate? You’re a veteran of that war. Would you feel comfortable with the match going ahead? Would you want to see the Taliban flag flying there on the stadium roof top? And if you’re not, will you step in as Minister and stop it?
HASTIE: Peta, I do not want that cricket match to go ahead. We lost good soldiers in Afghanistan. We've been at war with the Taliban for the last twenty years. We've just evacuated Kabul, and the Taliban, in fact, prevented some Australian passport holders and visa holders from getting to Kabul airport. I think playing this match will give them a strategic victory through the proxy of sport. So, I'm opposed to it. It's as simple as that.
CREDLIN: And will you be able to step in and stop it?
HASTIE: I'll make my voice known, and it's ultimately a decision, at least, the International Cricket Council makes determinations about the status of Test matches, but in the end, this is Australian sovereign soil and it is an intensely political decision, so I’ll make my voice known inside government.
CREDLIN: Before you were elected to the parliament of course, you were in the SAS, Australia's Special Forces. I don't know that we've seen the world as troubled as it is now in many years. I know you've made some changes to governance, in and around the SAS. Give us a sense of what's changed and why?
HASTIE: I was there last week, at the SAS, on behalf of Minister Dutton. The Chief of Army also beamed in via teleconference, and we made a very important announcement, which will make the SAS mission-ready for the strategically sensitive operations that they will undertake on our behalf into the future. What we've done is we've enhanced their command and control. We've made the commanding officer more senior. The Regiment’s now 57 years old, having been raised in 1964. It's expanded in its role and tasks over that 57 years, but one area that we haven't grown is in command and control. And so we're moving from a half Colonel to a full Colonel. We'll have a strategically mature, experienced officer now in command of the SAS Regiment, and it's an important signal to our interagency partners, to our coalition partners, and to our regional partners, that we mean business and we're putting our best foot forward in Special Operations particularly at the Special Air Service Regiment. And can I add to that, Peta, morale is as high as it has been for several years and I've had very positive feedback about this reform from the Trooper level right through to senior ranks. So it's encouraging. And the Minister wants the SAS and the 2nd Commando Regiment, and the rest of the ADF, of course, to be mission ready. That's the direction the Minister is headed in. He's only been in the seat for six to eight months and getting people to be ready for the challenges ahead is a really important part of leadership and that's what he's doing.
CREDLIN: Yes, I underscore the comments you made a little while back to say the job of the military is to win wars, it’s to win battles that’s first, second and third priority. And it's unusual to see a Minister like you in charge of a portfolio where prior to politics, you've had direct experience, and we don’t I think see enough of that in Australia. Before you go, it would be remiss of me on the eve of the September 11, twenty year anniversary on Sunday, not to ask you about that moment in history. When I was working for the Howard government, inside the Howard government at that time, I remember almost every moment of those days. You were driven by the experience of September 11 to join the military. Tell us about that.
HASTIE: It changed my life, Peta. I was sitting there in the family room with my father in the inner west of Sydney in Ashfield, watching Sandra Sully on Ten Nightly News, the late news. We saw the smoke coming out of the first tower, we watched the second plane hit the second tower, and then I think we stayed up till you know 4am or 5am the next morning. I knew right then that that was a hinge of history. I felt that I was called to serve my country in some way. And as I watched the war unfold over the next few months, I realized that my time at university was not what I wanted to do and I joined the ADF, the Army, and then transferred to the Australian Defence Force Academy. And that's what I did for the next you know, thirteen years or so. It's fundamentally changed a lot of things about me, and for the better. But certainly I know it had a huge impact on a lot of people and for me personally, growing up in the inner west, I went to Ashbury Public School, my year two and three teacher, a lady by the name of Giulia Ferraina – the late Giulia Ferraina - her daughter, Elisa, who I knew, she was killed in the Twin Towers. So, it came right back home for me that we had to do something and be part of the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
CREDLIN: I agree one hundred per cent. And sadly, that war is still with us. Andrew Hastie, Assistant Minister for Defence, I appreciate your time.
HASTIE: Thank you, Peta.