Interview with Chris Kenny, Sky News

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The Hon Andrew Hastie MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

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Ella Kenny 0437 702 111

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10 September 2021

CHRIS KENNY: It's been an historic, tragic, and dramatic 20 years that has changed the world. Let me bring in the Assistant Defence Minister, Andrew Hastie, who joined the Army in the wake of 9/11 and served with the SAS in Afghanistan. Thanks for joining us again, Andrew. Really appreciate your time.


CHRIS KENNY:  Yeah, really good to talk to you on this very historic occasion. We've discussed before the impetus for you to go to Duntroon and join the Army but I wonder if you can reflect for us back at 9/11 when and how you first heard about what had occurred and what it crystallised in your mind?

ANDREW HASTIE:  I was in suburban Sydney, in my family living room with my parents watching Sandra Sully on the 10 Late News. I was a first year university student, a bit lost to be frank, not sure what I wanted to do with my life. I was aiming towards journalism at that point. And like the rest of the world, I saw the Twin Towers get hit and then sat up through the night until they finally came down in the early hours of the Sydney morning. And at that point, I felt it was a turning point in history. It was a hinge, and war was coming. I felt like that was the moment where I decided to change track in my thinking and as the war started and the US and Australia and other allies got involved in Afghanistan, I wanted to be part of it. On a personal note, my Year 2 and Year 3 teacher at Ashbury Public school, the late Mrs Giulia Ferraina, her daughter, Elisa Ferraina was killed and I knew her brother Greg and I knew Elisa from school and it really came home that you know, this was real. And this was affecting people I grew up with, and I also, Chris, lived under the Sydney flight path and I remember a couple of mornings afterwards, waking up bolt upright in bed after one of the low flying planes took off or landed in the morning and it really did rattle me. So, that's how I started on my journey. And 20 years later, I'm here, but via Afghanistan, via the Australian Defence Force’s institutions, and I've learned a lot and that's why I want to make a contribution to public life.

CHRIS KENNY:  Yeah, that's a really intimate personal connection, reminding us that 10 Australians died on 9/11. I recall at the time one of them was a friend of the then Senator Natasha Stott Despoja who I knew quite well, so there was a personal link there, too. But the thing is, you ended up in Afghanistan fighting that war on terror almost 10 years later. Did it shock you that this struggle had gone on so long? And we know what's happening now, but what is the struggle? How do you define the war on terror?

ANDREW HASTIE:  You're absolutely right, Chris. I didn't get there until June of 2009, some 8 years after the war had started. It was a very different war then. I was actually deployed with the 1st Battalion. I was a cavalry officer at the time and my job was to escort the commanding officer around Uruzgan province visiting the outposts that we'd established, or patrol bases as they were called, working with the Afghan National Army building bridges, schools, hospitals, working with the Afghan people to make it a safer place. And we didn't see any Al Qaeda, and we were at that point, surging along with the Americans and other partners into Afghanistan to take on the project of nation-building in Afghanistan. It was very tough. I remember driving through a village in Afghanistan and little girls throwing rocks at our vehicles. We had many positive interactions, especially with the children, but nonetheless, that's when I started to realise that this was going to be a long war: it was going to be much more challenging than we realised back in 2001. And your question about terror, well, terror is a tactic. It's very difficult to wage war on a tactic. Calling it the war on terror was probably unhelpful for people to think about our strategic goals…

CHRIS KENNY:  It's really war on Islamist extremism, isn't it. But we didn’t want to use that terminology, it's about Islamist extremism versus western values.

ANDREW HASTIE:  One hundred per cent, Chris. Al Qaeda and its affiliates, which gave rise to Islamic State and all the different permutations – at the core of that is radical Islamic ideology. And, you know, that's what we've been up against, over the last 20 years. But nonetheless, in Afghanistan, a lot of the people fighting us in Afghanistan, though, were young people who were children at the time of 9/11. And many of them weren't ideological, they were just Afghans who were, you know, defending their homes. And in that sense, you know, I had a kind of a grudging respect for them. Nonetheless, it was tough, and there were very bad people over there, and our soldiers were there to fight – which is what we did. 

CHRIS KENNY:  So what happens with Afghanistan now and what happens with the way we deal with it as a country? I saw what you had to say about that cricket match, Peter Jennings told us similar things, and it looks like being scrapped. But how do we have normal relations with with a country that is really a collection of badlands ruled by a terrorist group?

ANDREW HASTIE:  It's really tough, and it's going to take a bit of time to work out how we approach the problem, because of course, the Taliban's track record is terrible – the executions, the treatment of women, of minorities, has been appalling – and already we're seeing a return to the past. So back on that cricket match, I mean, look, Cricket Australia talked about gender representation, I think the issue is much deeper than that: it's a question of honour. And we've been at war with the Taliban over the last 20 years. We've lost 41 Australian soldiers. We’ve had 39,000 soldiers go to Afghanistan, and to suddenly recognise the Taliban through the proxy of sport, is dishonourable. It dishonours our fallen and their families. It dishonours our veterans. And that's why I opposed that. So I guess the cricket match, and the discussion around it, shows how tough it's going to be to deal with the Taliban government, which now rule Afghanistan.

CHRIS KENNY:  I think you’re dead right. I think it's a much more fundamental issue than women playing cricket. I mean, if you look at all the evils of the Taliban, and the way they treat women and girls, I think not letting them play cricket is the least of their sins, even though of course, it is the wrong thing. So we've got to be more upfront about what we're dealing with. Just before I let you go there now as Assistant Defence Minister, you know, we've got an enormous focus on our own strategic vulnerability and what we need to do to defend ourselves against perhaps, a rising China and the like, what we need to do with the big hardware, like submarines, what we need to do with small hardware like, like missiles and drones, but we’d be very, very unwise to drop our guard against Islamist extremism, wouldn't we? Because it's still rampant around the world.

ANDREW HASTIE:  That's right. We're going to see great power competition over the next decade – the Defence Strategic Update lays that out. That's why we're spending $270 billion to get ourselves ready and to be able to deter adversaries, keep them at risk, which is why we need submarines, strike fighters, and missiles. But radical Islamist extremism is not going anywhere, in fact, the fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban is only going to embolden jihadists around the world, and so we need to be on guard and we need to be ready. Which is why it's so important that our intelligence gatherers, whether it's through ASIS or ASIO, are properly resourced and on the front foot. That's why our ADF need to be ready. That's why the 2nd Commando Regiment through their domestic counter-terrorism capability that they have the lead on need to be ready because, Chris, as we know, as 9/11 teaches us, we were caught by surprise, and there's no reason to think that an attack like that won't happen again. With history as our guide, we must always be ready, and weakness – as I've said many times before – weakness in the face of evil is provocative. 

CHRIS KENNY: Andrew, thanks so much for joining us, and thank God you didn't choose journalism! 

ANDREW HASTIE: Great to be with you, Chris. Thank you. 

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