Interview with Chris Kenny, Sky News

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The Hon Alex Hawke MP

Assistant Defence Minister

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

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2 July 2020

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1 July 2020


CHRIS KENNY: Let's go to the Assistant Defence Minister, Alex Hawke, now who joins us via Skype. Thanks for joining us, Minister. Just briefly on this logo first up, you promote Australia's interests throughout the South Pacific especially. Don't you think we should stick to a kangaroo brand? Everybody knows what the hell that is.

ALEX HAWKE: Yeah, well, Chris, it's not my portfolio. I certainly like the kangaroo, like everybody else. And, look, branding in the Pacific is actually quite important and we do that through Australia Partnerships. So, we have a consistent brand there, and it's something we constantly look at but people know in the Pacific you get a high quality product from Australia and a good service.

CHRIS KENNY: Yeah, and clear branding, a kangaroo branding often with Australia is pretty successful. It works. People recognise it. And, I mean, look at Qantas.

ALEX HAWKE: Yeah, well, absolutely kangaroos are unique, a unique animal to Australia. It's on our Coat of Arms. It's, you know, certainly there is a lot of support for the kangaroo. You won't find me arguing otherwise. 

CHRIS KENNY: All right. Well, let's get on to the Defence portfolio. A major statement today from the Prime Minister: $270 billion over 10 years, a strategic update and infrastructure update. In the material here and, indeed, in what the Prime Minister said, I suppose what really struck me was the fact that our defence analysts are now saying this is not really about planning for the future; that we are dealing with threats now in real-time and we need to beef up in order to deal with them. 

ALEX HAWKE: Yeah, thanks, Chris. The Prime Minister made the point this morning that the pandemic is accelerating existing strategic and economic trends and worsening to the point that we haven't seen since the 1930s. So any responsible government, like the Morrison government, would act now to update and refresh our strategic policy. And that's what we've done today, and that is to make sure we're thinking about the kind of force we're going to need for the future but also the deterrence that we're going to actually need as a nation to stop any actors from taking any action in our region. And that's what this policy is about today. It puts the money on the table. As you said, the $270 billion over a decade is a big investment. We've reached our 2% of GDP and we're going to increase the amount of defence spending taking into account the deteriorating situation. 

CHRIS KENNY: This reference to the 1930s and '40s was very deliberate, very clear, and it's very bracing for Australians, isn't it? This is a direct reference to the lead-up to World War II and they're saying that we're in that environment now. 

ALEX HAWKE: Well, certainly, you know, uncertainty increases when you've got bad economic times, and we all anticipate a major global economic recession or depression-like event. I think everyone can see that coming after a very serious pandemic. Coupled with that, you've seen the rules-based order under threat, and Australia has been at the forefront of protecting and attempting to defend the rules-based order and, you know, that has had varying success in the last few years. So these trends are the reality of the world we live in. We accept them as a government. But what's important is that we're putting the money on the table, and the strategic nous to be ready for the threats that will face our region and Australia. 

CHRIS KENNY: And when we're talking about those threats in our region, we are talking about China, aren't we? 

ALEX HAWKE: Well, we're certainly talking about the increased competition, and the PM made the point if you look at what's happening in the South China Sea, in the East China Sea or on the border with India and China at the moment, we're all distressed to see the increased competition and the problems that go with that. So we are absolutely preparing for what we can see on the horizon as being an increased threat environment. 

CHRIS KENNY: In pure defence terms, we would want to make sure, we've always wanted to make sure, that we have aerial superiority and naval superiority in our region. Do we have that now? 

ALEX HAWKE: Well, certainly we've got a fantastically capable Defence Force, but you know with the advance of technologies, you know, things that we're talking about in this refresh, like hypersonics, you know, you've seen the government's commitment to cybersecurity in the last 24 hours. We're taking into account what will come next in terms of a strategic threat to Australia, and putting the money on the table to make sure that we are ready to meet those threats. And when you think about the kinds of technologies, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds will be there at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute tomorrow to step through some of those technologies and the capabilities that we're looking at. But you can imagine we've already invested in a word leading program, the Joint Strike Fighter. The Government has already taken a lot of measures to bring our Defence Forces right up to speed, but we have to stay ahead of what is a fast-evolving theatre. 

CHRIS KENNY: Now, there's all sorts of possibilities, scenarios that you need to, you know, obviously prepare for and when you look at recent history in South-East Asia and Malaysia and Indonesia, look further afield to some of the hotspots in South Asia, there's all sorts of scenarios that could unfold. But the prime threat here obviously is China, when we look what's happening in the South China Sea, when we talk about these cyber-attacks. So that's an open secret, if you like, in Australian strategic planning. It also underscores surely then that the US alliance has to remain bedrock in anything we do. 

ALEX HAWKE: Absolutely, Chris. And the Prime Minister spoke today about the bedrock of our defence being the US alliance. It will remain so for a long time to come. But we also talk very carefully about the fact that we, as a priority in our defence update, support sovereignty in the Pacific. And what that means is having the capacities to support that sovereignty not just in economic terms, economic sovereignty, but also military terms, and we're going to work with our partners throughout the region and my own portfolio does that. We bring together defence, we bring together international development policy. We bring together all the arms of government to make sure all the partner countries in our region are strong, they're resilient, they're sovereign and they're able to withstand any attempts to undermine them, and we know there's attempts to undermine them in this day. 

CHRIS KENNY: Well, exactly. You've got a lot of Chinese interest in the Pacific. Does that mean we'll be increasing our defence cooperation and integration with South Pacific nations? 

ALEX HAWKE: Yeah, we certainly are, and that's exactly what the update says. It brings, basically, the strategic policy up to date with what has been actually happening on the ground, the reality. And defence cooperation is increasing. We're enhancing defence cooperation with south-west Pacific countries, and it highlights the fact that in the next few years we expect to increase that. And you can see that, the best example is, for example, our base that we are supporting PNG to build at Lombrum and that's a tri-lateral base. That is a brand new development there and that will be a base owned and operated by the PNG Government but, you know, will be a facility, a first class facility for their Navy. And you see Blackrock Camp that we're working on for the Fiji Government. We're already in the South-West Pacific working very hard for strategic cooperation on defence with partners. 

CHRIS KENNY: Now, just finally, of course there'll be a lot of defence staffers would live in the electorate of Eden-Monaro, so this won't escape the by-election examination either. What are you expecting for the government in the by-election on Saturday? Can that seat be won by the government? 

ALEX HAWKE: Well, Fiona Kotvojs is running a fantastic campaign. You know, I think she's done a really good job. She's a great candidate, you know a through and through local, got the runs on the board, run before. So, she's shown some hunger. She wants to do the job. She hasn't just turned up on this by-election. And, you know, I think it's a competitive environment in Eden-Monaro and given that governments really never win by-elections, and we have no expectation that we will win it, it's fantastic to see a strong campaign and a competitive environment. 

CHRIS KENNY: Alex Hawke, thanks for joining us. 

ALEX HAWKE: Thanks, Chris.

CHRIS KENNY: Alex Hawke, the Assistant Defence Minister



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