Interview with Chris Kenny, Sky

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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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5 November 2021

CHRIS KENNY: Let’s cross to Perth now and catch up with the Assistant Minister for Defence, Andrew Hastie. Thanks for joining us, Andrew. First up, I wonder what you thought of Malcolm Turnbull's interventions from Glasgow?

THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Good afternoon to you, Chris, and to your viewers, I'm going to heed Lyndon Johnson's advice and that is to never get into a pissing contest with a skunk. Former prime ministers are entitled to say what they think, but Scott Morrison is serving our national interest. He's made a tough decision to not proceed with the Attack class submarines. That's, of course, aggrieved the French political class but he's done it in the national interest and I'm very optimistic about AUKUS and what it will deliver for our country long-term – not just nuclear submarines, but a whole range of other benefits that will come with this alliance.

CHRIS KENNY:  Well, you have to get the award for the best use of a Lyndon Johnson quote in Australian politics for many a year, so well done there! Andrew Hastie on the substance of this, and the nuclear submarines decision, which of course, is a monumental one, it is going to take a long, long while – a lot to be achieved before we see it come to fruition. But there is one of the British Astute class nuclear submarines in Perth at the moment, in Western Australian waters. You've been on the vessel this week. Tell us about that vessel. I understand it's smaller than the American nuclear vessel. So it might be the one that we ended up going with, or some version of it?

ANDREW HASTIE:  That's right. I was hosted aboard an Astute class submarine which is alongside at HMAS Stirling, Fleet Base West, here in WA. A very warm welcome from the crew, very open, and glad to have us on board. I think the first thing I'll say is, it's bigger than the Collins class, obviously. I could stand at full height and not stoop. But certainly, submarines sort of look the same and smell the same once you're down under the casing – but a very significant capability, and amazing to hear some of what they've been doing from the captain of the ship. I was surprised at how qualified they are: the captain was an astrophysicist, the executive officer was a geophysicist – very intellectually-gifted people. And it was, I think, a reminder to us that we need to really start growing our human capability here in Australia, and our education sector is a critical part of getting our country ready for nuclear submarines as part of AUKUS.

CHRIS KENNY:  Well, it's a very important and very timely visit, too, because it underscores the point that these vessels are out there and being involved in these sort of visits. Already, there are naval exercises involving the American Navy, off Western Australia at the moment. And your point about the qualifications is key, too. When I was doing my nuclear energy documentary the people involved in nuclear research in Australia were telling me that because it's so sophisticated, and it touches so many areas of technology, nuclear science, if you don't have a nuclear capability in a country like ours, a developed country, you'll get left behind the development, the technology of other countries.

ANDREW HASTIE:  That's right. Well, we're not just talking about nuclear submarines, there's a lot of intellectual property that's going to be shared with us, which has implications not just for the military, but for industry, our education sector, even our health sector – you need health services that can support nuclear submarines as well given the radiological nature of nuclear power. So, very, very significant implications for us – and exciting, too, because with that brings opportunities for young Australians. And we need to really capture the imagination of primary and secondary students and start directing them towards the opportunities that will come with this arrangement.

CHRIS KENNY:  Now, I know some of our submariners have been doing time on US and perhaps UK nuclear powered submarines already. Is there any potential for us to get leased vessels that perhaps is beyond requirements from either of those countries before we take delivery of our own new nuclear powered submarines to try and bridge that gap?

ANDREW HASTIE:  There is a submarine taskforce which has already commenced and they have 18 months to look at all these sorts of questions. Everything is on the table – and that's their job. They've got to explore every option here and they'll eliminate options based on whether they're feasible or not. So I don't want to second-guess that process. It's important that we uphold the integrity of it, and suffice to say there are a lot of fine minds looking at how we build our nuclear submarine capability, but also offset the time period between their delivery. And of course, an important part of this will be the enhanced force posture initiative, where we're going to see more US and UK military visits to Australia. We're going to see more fighters, bombers, tankers, logistic hubs from the United States. We're going to see more naval visits, both surface and sub-surface, and of course, the $1 billion announcement last week from the federal government invested right here in Western Australia at HMAS Sterling is to get our port there serviceable so that we can have more ships and submarines alongside our coastline.

CHRIS KENNY:  Just a couple of other issues. The Victorian Government is taking a stand at the China international import expo in China starting this weekend. The other states and the federal government are not involved. Is Victoria doing the wrong thing here giving Beijing perhaps a PR win?

ANDREW HASTIE:  You'd remember of course, Chris, that we had introduced federal legislation, the Morison Government introduced federal legislation, to strike down the Victorian Government's – the Daniel Andrews Government's – Belt and Road Initiative strategic memorandum with the Chinese government. So Dan Andrews and his team have a habit for acting unilaterally and sometimes at odds with the Commonwealth and national interests. So we won't be there. They're doing their thing. And of course, the Commonwealth Government will always have the lead on foreign and Defence policy.

CHRIS KENNY:  Is it unhelpful?

ANDREW HASTIE:  I don't know enough about it, suffice to say I wouldn't be surprised if the Dan Andrews government was working at cross-purposes to the Morrison government.

CHRIS KENNY:  Yeah it’s a worrying situation. Just finally, Mark McGowan, the Labor Premier there in Western Australia effectively saying that there'll be a hard state border in Western Australia, at least with New South Wales and Victoria, probably until February. There might be a legal challenge about this from Flight Centre and others. It's too severe, isn't it?

ANDREW HASTIE:  Well, there's another proverb: hope deferred makes the heart sick. I know a lot of families in Western Australia who have family on the east coast or overseas are looking to be reunited with families, that want to be with their families – that won't be happening. You’ve got to remember, Mark McGowan and the WA Government was elected with a 69 per cent two party preferred vote in March and he's acting on what he believes is a mandate. He controls the lower house and the upper house. But we have a national plan. We have a national plan that we're going to open up safely as a country once we hit 80 per cent. We're right on the cusp of it. And so to have that hope dashed is going to be hard for a lot of people. Chris, I've got a baby due in about 10 days’ time and my wife has her family in the United States, and my family's in Sydney, Melbourne, and Geelong. We can't get anyone here to support us. And so I think about many others in WA who have family all over the world and I think they'd be in similar situations. The point is, this isn't the Swan River penal colony, this is Perth. We're a global city. We have direct flights to London, to Japan, to China to Singapore, to Bali, to the Middle East. And we need to return to being that global city. Our economy depends upon it. And so the national plan is a safe opening at 80 per cent vaccination rate and I'd encourage West Australians if they're not vaccinated to get vaccinated because that's the way we get out of this mess.

CHRIS KENNY:  A lot of hopes dashed today with that announcement. Thanks for joining us, Andrew Hastie.

ANDREW HASTIE: Thanks very much, Chris.


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