THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Well, thank you, Christina. Thank you, Terry, and to the WACA staff who are here today. Thanks, Premier. One of the tasks of local, state and federal governments is to steward the natural historical and cultural assets that have been passed down through the generations to us. The WACA is such an asset. There’s so much history here. I think the first turf was laid in 1889. We've seen a lot of cricket: Don Bradman played here from 1930 to 1948. It really is an important part of who we are in WA and it's so good to be able to work with the state government, and the WACA and the City of Perth to make it fit for purpose for 50 years and beyond. This is part of a bigger picture – which is the $1.5 billion Perth City Deal that we've struck with the state government. So today, I know that my federal colleagues would like to be here – many of them are locked down in Canberra, unfortunately. I know Christian Porter would love to be here, and our federal leader Michaelia Cash, but as the Premier said: we've worked together on this – all three tiers of government, and it's amazing what we can achieve when we all work together. So Christina, thanks for what you do. To the WACA staff – this is great, we get to continue your employment through this project, and we're going to create 250 direct and indirect jobs as well through the investment that we're making in the WACA. So with that, Terry – crack on, and thanks for having me today. Cheers.
/// /// /// ///
JOURNALIST: Minister what’s your message to Australian veterans who feel their service in Afghanistan was in vain?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Every soldier, sailor, and airman who served in Afghanistan or in the theatre around Afghanistan can take pride in their service, because it's noble and honourable to serve your country in uniform, and to risk your life doing that. That, in itself, is an honourable thing. A free society must have people who are prepared to bear arms to defend it and its values and its interests. And everyone who went to Afghanistan did that, and they can take pride in that. That's what I'm holding onto at this time.
JOURNALIST: How do you feel as a veteran watching [inaudible]?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Look, there's going to be a time for dissecting the last week, indeed the last few months. But right now we have an ongoing operation where we have troops in the field, potentially in harm's way. Our mission is to get Australians home, to get Afghans who've worked with Australians home, and that's it. So commentary at this stage, it's not something I'm going to go into. There are plenty of people on Twitter who are making all sorts of comments. I'll leave that to the Twittersphere. Our mission is to get Australians out, to get Afghans out, and get them back here safe.
JOURNALIST: On the Afghans you just mentioned, who helped troops including you on the ground. Should more be being done to get them out sooner, can more be done now to get them out of harm’s way?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Our government was ahead of the curve. We started packing up several months ago, in fact, and on the question of interpreters who served with Australian soldiers on combat operations, we were conducting combat operations in Afghanistan from late 2001 to the end of 2013. Every interpreter who went out on the ground, got shot at or exposed to roadside bombs has had their case resolved by this government. And in fact, there's an interpreter down south who works as a tailor not far from the Premier and myself, who was an interpreter with Australian troops in Chora Valley and he's now here with his wife, and his son, and he's making a go of it in Australia. So, to suggest that we're behind is not correct. We have settled a lot of people over the last 10 years, and over the last three months, we've settled 430 people alone. Now, it is an ongoing operation. There are still Australians outside the wire trying to get to the Kabul airhead. There are also Afghans trying to do that and our focus is on those people.
JOURNALIST: Is 3,000 people under the humanitarian program enough? Should Australia be doing more to [inaudible]?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: We're doing everything that we can. My office has been deluged over the last four or five days with requests. I know other MPs and Senators across the country are having the same experience. We're directing them to Home Affairs, there is a process that is open and ongoing. People can have confidence in the process and legitimate claims will be processed.
JOURNALIST: Can we make room for more than 3,000 if their claims are legitimate?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: That's a decision for Cabinet and I'm sure it's being considered, but it's a fluid situation, and, as I said, the mission is getting Australians out first. There are still Australians outside the wire in Kabul. We need to get them in, and we need to also get Afghans who've helped us over the last couple of years out as well.
JOURNALIST: You don’t have an opinion on whether we should accept more than 3,000 if we can?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: My opinion is we need to help get the Australians out first, we need to get Afghans out and if there's room, we'll do the best that we can. But which we've got four aircraft, we've got two C-17s, two C-130s. We're trying to get as many sorties done. There's all sorts of complications, as you can imagine. So our focus is on those people right now and I'm sure there'll be a broader discussion over the coming weeks.
JOURNALIST: Was it emotional for you, watching those scenes?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: A lot of us have had to make peace with Afghanistan over the last few years. I've done that over the last couple of years. But I am shocked and surprised at the speed at which the gains that we’ve made, have been lost. Nonetheless, the mission is get the Australians out, get the Afghans who have helped us out, and that's what I'm focused on.
JOURNALIST: Was this inevitable? That the Taliban were going to take back power?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Nothing in history, in my view, is inevitable. There's always human agency. And there'll be a time to dissect this. But at the moment the mission is get Australians out, get the Afghans out.
JOURNALIST: Did Joe Biden let down the Afghan people?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: I'm not going to run a commentary. We have troops in the field, okay? I'm a Minister of the Crown assisting the Minister for Defence. My job is to make sure that they have everything that they need and they know we've got their backs. Running commentary, historical or otherwise, is not helpful.
JOURNALIST: In a uniform you can't express an opinion, now you’re in a suit in politics, you can. Do you think Afghanistan was let down?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: My opinion is we need to get Australians and the Afghans who've helped us out of country back to safety.
JOURNALIST: If things continue to deteriorate over there, can you see a point in time where we may need to go back into Afghanistan?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: I'm not going to get into hypotheticals.
JOURNALIST: I've got a different topic, you've been joined to a defamation case this morning along with WA Today. What are your thoughts on that?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Well, one of the enduring lessons that I've taken from Afghanistan – and I know many other veterans share the same view – is this: weakness is provocative. So, I'm not intimidated by this legal action. I'm proud of my service as the Federal Member for Canning. I’ve fought for my community. I’ve fought for my country. And so I welcome a thorough, forensic, searching, and expansive examination of the plaintiff’s claim in open court. And perhaps, Minister for Transport, you might have a comment on this?
All in due time, I'm sure. All in due time.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the timing, two years after the stories? To add you in?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: I’ve said what I need to say.
JOURNALIST: Just on COVID, the Premier has said that it is his preference to maintain COVID zero beyond 80 per cent vaccinations, which appears to deviate from the national plan. Do you think that is feasible?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: This is a very straightforward question. National Cabinet has made a decision to get to 80 per cent and that frees up the country. We need to get as many Western Australians vaccinated as possible. I’m booked in happily for Tuesday next week from my first shot. I'm not yet 40. I encourage others to do the same.
JOURNALIST: Do you want to see borders gone at 80 per cent?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: I want to see freedom. I'm a Liberal. I love freedom. Now I understand we've taken decisions to protect Western Australians. I'm not getting into an argument about that today. But the pathway out is vaccination. And that's as simple as that.
JOURNALIST: It's not as simple as that though. It seems there are various levels of freedoms in pandemic circumstances, and there is wiggle room in the national plan, and there’s two schools of thought, which is same as it was back at the start of the pandemic, that there seems to be a choice between restrictions to allow some COVID cases, minimal but some COVID cases, and transmission, while keeping things open; or no restrictions and using borders to keep it out and COVID zero, are you in either camp?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Look, there are a lot of armchair generals out there about Afghanistan at the moment, and I'm not going to be an armchair general with the Premier sitting right here in front of me. He's got a job to do. The Prime Minister's got a job to do. They talk regularly. I'll leave it at that. Suffice to say the pathway out is vaccination. We're shooting for 80 per cent. I'm doing my bit, and I ask other people to do the same.
JOURNALIST: What are your circumstances for federal parliament and the lockdown? Will you be going back to Canberra?
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: I won't be going back to Canberra. I have a wife who's in the third trimester so I need to look after my family, as many others do. I know that the Federal team, some of them are going to be there for 5, 6, 7 weeks locked down, so we're represented in WA.
Thanks very much.