Interview with Sharri Markson, 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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6 February 2022

SHARRI MARKSON: I spoke with Assistant Minister for Defence Andrew Hastie about how alarming a summit between Xi and Putin is and how this could pose a threat for our global security.

THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: I think this summit was designed to increase the stakes with that dilemma which is why it’s so important that Australia here under the Morrison Government continues to take a very active role in the Indo-Pacific region. We continue on our capitalisation of the ADF – $270 billion over the next 10 years – and continue to secure our sovereignty and our resilience as a country because that's what we can do. We can look after ourselves and be a great neighbor here in the Indo-Pacific region, not just to the US, but also to Japan and India and a number of other nations who are also increasingly concerned about the development with these two authoritarian powers.

SHARRI MARKSON: So much of our security in this region relies on the United States. Minister, how do you think the collapse of Afghanistan and America's disastrous withdrawal from the region, how has that impacted the global power play, and do you think it's actually emboldened our enemies?

ANDREW HASTIE: One thing I’ll always say is that weakness is provocative. I think it's very true in politics. It's truer in geopolitics, and I think the somewhat disorderly withdrawal out of Afghanistan has emboldened authoritarian powers, and that's what we're seeing – and that's the new challenge for us. And we've really got to think things through and so as we come into an election in May, the Australian people really have to consider who do they want at the helm of the Australian Government: Scott Morrison with a proven record in defending our sovereignty? Or someone who's completely untested in a national security portfolio, like Anthony Albanese? So, the stakes are very high indeed.

SHARRI MARKSON: Look, you're right. There is enormous instability in our region as we go into an election campaign and the Morrison Government has been very strong, particularly with rhetoric, and when it comes to standing up to China and Russia and our other adversaries. But the question remains, aside from rhetoric, how ready is our Defence Force right now, to deal with this threat?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, we're dealing with a legacy of underinvestment under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments. They didn't commission a single ship, and they took defence spending to a percentage of GDP lower than 1938. So we're catching up…

SHARRI MARKSON: As Assistant Defence Minister, though, does it worry you that we're actually not ready right now that all of these, this new investment that you speak of, has really only kick started in the past year or so?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, it's been going on for a couple of years now. We're reviving our defence industrial base with investment in sovereign capability, but you’re right there is…

SHARRI MARKSON: But when we talk about new submarines, I mean, that could take a decade or two decades to be delivered?

ANDREW HASTIE: Building submarines is one of the most difficult things any nation state can do. Exceptionally complex – and 10 years is not a long time when you're building and delivering submarines. And that's why it's so critical that we continue on with the task. And so far, I don't think Anthony Albanese has really demonstrated any resolve around AUKUS to keep it going. I don't think he even appreciates the strategic realities that are shaping our region. And so, yes, there is work to be done and that's something we're going to say to the Australian people over the next couple of months: there are big decisions to be made. Yes, the pandemic is a problem. Yes, we have economic challenges ahead. But we also have significant national security challenges. And the Morrison Government is best placed to lead this country through the challenges of the next decade.

SHARRI MARKSON: Look, we've had the news this weekend that there was a state-sponsored cyber attack on News Corp systems in the United States, not in Australia. It's believed to be linked to Chinese espionage. Minister, should we expect more of this? And are you concerned about foreign interference in an election year?

ANDREW HASTIE: Two great questions there, Sharri. Of course, we're seeing an increase in cyber attacks in this country. Last year, we saw 67,500 reported to the Australian Cyber Security Centre – that’s a cyber attack every eight minutes and a quarter of those run our critical infrastructure or essential services in this country and as we move more of our lives online, more of our businesses online, more of our government online, we're going to see more and more attacks. The reality is you don't need to bomb a city to bring it to its knees. We've always thought about warfare in terms of air, land, sea and space – well, cyber is a new battlefield. And if you own a device, and you're connected to it, you're on it. This is the new reality. So I'm not surprised at all to see those reports coming out of the US about the cyber attacks on News Corp. We’re spending a lot of money over the next decade – $1.67 billion into defending this country from cyber attacks – and it's really important as we lead into the election that we also pay attention to foreign interference, particularly online, whether it be disinformation, hacks that discredit our institutions, attacks that create discord, confusion and mistrust. All these things will be very, very damaging to our democratic institutions which are so critical to elections and the trust that people place in our political process.

SHARRI MARKSON: Now, you're in Perth, you've just had a new baby, your third child, Jemimah – congratulations. But you must be very sad that you haven't been able to introduce your newborn to your parents yet. What's your view of Mark McGowan keeping the borders closed indefinitely?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, the last two years Western Australia has managed to live life without the pandemic – businesses have stayed open, schools have stayed open, community groups have stayed open, and that's been a really good thing. But we can't live COVID-free, that's the reality. So we all want to see the border open safely and Australia as one country and WA living with the rest of the country, and I think the reason why Mark McGowan hasn't opened the border yet, is because the health system is a complete mess in WA. He’s had five years now in government. He’s had two years with a front row seat at national cabinet, learning lessons from the east. He's had a flush state budget – billions of dollars from the federal government – and the health system is a complete mess with ramping hours through the roof, people not able to get into have elective surgery or important surgery for really pressing illnesses. So, that's why I think the board is closed, and yes, it's sad that you know, I haven't been able to bring family over but for many people, they’ve missed funerals, they’ve missed weddings, businesses have struggled, our supply chains have struggled. And now people are asking, hey, we've got vaccinated WA is of course over 90 per cent double vaxxed, they're asking the question: “If not now, when?” And when you don't have an objective to push towards, people can lose hope quickly.

SHARRI MARKSON: Yeah, absolutely. It's been a really tough time for people separated in WA from the rest of their families. Just finally, Minister, I have to ask you about the two text message exchanges that have surfaced where the Prime Minister has been given a damning character assassination by his own colleagues, the latest of course, Barnaby Joyce. Do you think that this text characterisation reflects Morrison's nature? Is he a liar and a hypocrite?

ANDREW HASTIE: No. And I think Barnaby Joyce was right to apologise to the PM and I think so genuine was he that he offered his resignation as Deputy Prime Minister – that's very significant, and that says how heartfelt and sincere his apology was. The Prime Minister accepted it, and just wants to crack on with running the country. Now, politics is a tough game. Sharri, you've covered it for a long time, you know how tough it is, and we can often vent on text. I think we're all guilty of sending a text in haste without thinking about it. None of us expect our texts to go public. I actually think of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War who wrote a number of letters, and before he sent them, he stashed them in his desk and slept on them. We have those letters on the public record because they were never sent, after reflecting on it overnight. We don't reflect. Technology today does not encourage us to reflect before we fire off a text, or tweet, or a post online. And so I think we can give people a little bit of latitude regarding these texts.

SHARRI MARKSON: And that was Andrew Hastie, the Assistant Defence Minister.


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