Protecting Australia

Protecting Australia

Reporter Dominick Bondar talks to former Minister for Defence Kevin Andrews about Australia’s challenges and the state of conservative politics in Australia
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Mon Droit: What do you see as being Australia’s current defence challenges and imperatives?

Kevin Andrews: In no particular order, we have four potential strategic challenges. The first is obviously the spread of terrorism worldwide from the Middle East, and particularly the spread into South East Asia, with probability that there will be hundreds of returning foreign fighters to countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. Second is the rise of China, which can be either peaceful or more problematic, and events in the South China Sea currently are indicative of that. Thirdly is the expansionary intent of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and whilst we’re a long way away from it, nonetheless I think it could have, if it continues, repercussions to our region. The fourth is a potential, but hopefully unlikely, but if it were to occur would be quite challenging, and that is the failure of a nation state in our region. We’ve seen coups in Fiji, but if it were to be a larger state than that, it could be problematic for Australia’s future.


Mon Droit: Samuel Huntington wrote that Japan is an ‘associate member of the West’, are they in fact an associate member, or have they become a ‘western country’?

Kevin Andrews: Huntington defines a number of civilisations, and he includes Japan as a distinct civilisation, or distinct culture using his broad definition. The West is probably different as a civilisation. The West in once sense is European Christendom, which has its roots in the Hellenic, Roman and for that matter Judeo culture. So it depends in which way we describe the West. I would include Japan in the West. From our perspective in Australia, I think it’s important that we continue to develop strategic relationships with nations such as Japan, they’re keen to do it and we already have good relationships with them, we have bilateral relations, trilateral relations with Japan and the US, I think that’s important. They could well become our number one trading partner again, they are a significant trading partner of this country.


Mon Droit: Should Australia be reaching out to China, or maintain its traditional alliance with the US?

Kevin Andrews: If I can put this in an expression that would make sense to the Chinese, we have many friends but only one ally. We have a long term alliance with the US which goes back some seven decades I think it is now, that’s been important for us, it will continue to be important for us into the future. But we also have friendships and trading relations with many countries, one of which is great significance is China, and we want to continue to develop that. Our relationship with China should be based on a number of foundations. One is that we believe in economic freedom and freedom of trade, which President Xi Jiping has spoken about himself in many speeches. Secondly, we believe in peaceful cooperation. And thirdly, we believe in international rules based order, including freedom of navigation over the sea and through the skies. If we can all subscribe to those views, then we can continue to not only peacefully coexist, but indeed be good trading partners and good friends into the future.


Mon Droit: Does Australia need to playing a more leading role in the South China Sea contestation?

Kevin Andrews: To date we’ve taken no position on the various territorial claims by countries surrounding the South China Sea. I know we are doing some work ourselves on trying to understand the relative merits of those claims that may well lead to us taking a position in the future. What we have done is we’ve said that these claims should be resolved in a peaceful way according to international rules, and the obvious way of doing that is through the international tribunal. We’re a party to that and we take the view that all countries should respect this process. There should be unrestricted movement, and because an atoll has been turned into an artificial island, doesn’t necessarily make that claim valid.


Mon Droit: Conflict over resources seem to be in vogue. With this considered, it wise for Australia to be selling its agricultural assets?

Kevin Andrews: I think we need to be careful on how we do this. We’ve always encouraged foreign investment in Australia, in fact Australia wouldn’t have developed economically without foreign investment, whether that was the agricultural pursuits of the 1800’s or gold or resources over time. One argument about agricultural assets is that you can’t actually take the farm away – it still remains in Australia, its still subject to Australian laws. I think where there is a greater concern, is where you get vertical integration of agriculture with processing and that going overseas, because what that tends to do is cut out certain levels of economic activity which would’ve otherwise been a benefit to Australia. I think we need to continue to monitor that and ensure that it doesn’t become a challenge for us in ways that it doesn’t reduce the normal economic activity that would occur in Australia and therefore the normal returns to Australians via taxes and via employment.


Mon Droit: We seem to be mollycoddling the issue of Islam and ISIL. People are being crucified in the 21st Century in the Middle East. How can we respond effectively and respond to this, perhaps the largest challenge to date?

Kevin Andrews: Well there is in my view an absence of a clear strategy on behalf of the coalition forces. The reality is that we will not defeat ISIL by airstrikes alone, ISIL will only be defeated ultimately by a combination of air strikes and troops on the ground. There is a lack of coordination as a reality. If you talk about Iraq, the forces on the ground are a combination or Iranian official forces and militia forces, and Iraqi forces, and all we’re doing at the moment, is basically advising, assisting and training. There is not in my view sufficient coordination between ground forces and the airstrikes which are occurring. There is a failure of strategy which is multiplied or compounded in Syria where you’ve got many more players in operation. I fundamentally believe that ISIL can be defeated, I have no doubt about that, but can only be defeated when we have a clear strategy to how we’re going to do it, and that’s lacking at the present time. We need to be responding in a more assertive way than we are.


Mon Droit: Ideology, resources and culture have been identified as the key motives for going to war. Which of these would you say would be a pivotal motivation looking into the future?

Kevin Andrews: A couple of things. What’s important in defence is that there is from Australia’s point of view a compact between the government of the day and the defence forces, because we ask the defence forces to do things on behalf of the nation. That compact means we have to align three things which have been out of alignment in the past. One is that we have national aspirations for our defence forces, which could mean going to Iraq or going to Afghanistan or being involved in humanitarian/disaster missions. Second is you have to have resources, which are personnel and the defence assets: the planes, ships, submarines etc. Thirdly, and this is where its been out of alignment, you’ve got to be able to pay for it. And so if you say that you need the defence force to do X, you need Y to do it, then you got to have Z dollars to pay for it. Defence purchases are long term purchases, and must be assured at least ten years into the future. This hasn’t been the case when we came into government.

In terms of any future conflict. Conflict I suspect involving Australia, the likelihood of Australia being invaded is remote. The likelihood of Australia going to war in a conflict in our region is probably at the moment remote, but its more likely to happen through some misadventure than through some deliberate activity. This is why in the South China Sea for example, China get back into the negotiations for a code of conduct with the ASEAN nations, because if there is a code of conduct there, it is less likely that a case of misadventure could occur. You know, a ship bang into another and one fire, and all of a sudden there is a conflict that’s started, which nobody really intended to start. That’s the challenge I think we’ve got.


Mon Droit: You are revered by all as somewhat of a father figure of conservative political thought in Australia. What is your definition of a conservative?

Kevin Andrews: Well conservatism is an intangible thing in a sense. Conservatism in my view defies some exact definition. There are elements of it which involves respect for the dignity and liberty of the individual. It respects institutions, whether they be family institutions or the nation state. It recognises, as Burke said, that society is a compact across generations. So these are aspects if you like of conservatism.


Mon Droit: What battles do Australian conservatives fight, and do they differ to those internationally?

Kevin Andrews: Well again I think this is the nature of conservatism, that you address the situation as you find it. We’re not utopians. We’re not engaged in reform for the sake of reform. We think change occurs, change is important, but the case should be made out for change rather than change for the sake of change. So that means that conservatism will have a different hue in different places because you’re dealing with different situations and different political issues that arise from time to time. For me this is the beauty of conservatism, that its not this mixed formula, it’s a way of looking at things, it’s a sentiment in part, but it’s a way of looking at the situation in which we find ourselves. It’s preserving what’s good, but also recognising that change is necessary from time to time.


Mon Droit: Conservatives seem to be in a bit of a dire circumstance with the leadership change. Obviously people like yourself, Eric Abetz, Tony Abbott have been unfairly dismissed despite doing a capable job. Does this mean there is a place left for conservatives in the Liberal Party, and in Australian politics?

Kevin Andrews: Well I subscribe to the view that John Howard has, and that is that the Liberal Party is a broad church, and by a broad church, he means that we are the custodians of two political traditions: the classical liberal tradition and the conservative tradition. When we’ve been successful in government we have represented both of those traditions, and whilst there was tensions from time to time about some issues, we put them aside and broadly sought to represent both of those traditions. My view is that if we don’t do that, and we drift for example to the left, people of a more conservative bent will find less of a home in the Liberal Party than they would’ve otherwise found, and some of those people will drift off to other groups and whilst we can dismiss those groups and say well they’re not credible, its happened before that credible leaders have emerged which have brought together those diverse elements. If that were to happen, then the Liberal Party will be in real trouble. So, for both philosophical and political reasons, I am a believer in the Howard theory, if I may call it that. I think that’s why we’ve got to keep doing what we can to ensure the Party does represent both classic liberals and those of the conservative tradition. That’s why I’m hanging around.


Mon Droit: What does the future hold for conservatives in the Liberal Party, who are in your opinion, the rising stars for the cause of conservatism?

Kevin Andrews: I think there is a number of people coming through. If you look in Victoria at people like Michael Sukkar, in New South Wales at people like Angus Taylor, and I’m not trying to single out any particular people, but you’ve asked for a couple, and there are others as well. There are people there who broadly share a socially conservative outlook on life and in terms of their political involvement. It’s important for the reasons I outlined earlier, that people with those views continue to contribute and people who are not in the parliamentary party, people in the broader party who have conservative views continue to be a part of the party and continue to voice those views, because that’s the way we ensure that those views which represent the values and attitudes of a huge number of Australians continue to be represented by the Liberal Party.


Mon Droit: What would be your message for students who aren’t involved in politics, to sign up to their university Liberal club and the Liberal Party itself?

Kevin Andrews: If your views are not being heard somebody else’s are. I have a saying that politics like nature abhors a vacuum. If our views are absent from the public square, then somebody else’s will be heard. And so there’s no good complaining that what I stand for, the views that I represent or what I’d like to see happen or my aspirations for the state or country are being neglected, if you’re not prepared to actually stand up and voice what those views are. I’ve always said this.


dom and kev


Kevin Andrews was born in the town of Sale in country Victoria. A devout Catholic, Mr Andrews spent most of his life running a marriage counselling business with his wife Margaret. Prior his election to parliament, Mr Andrews served as an Associate to Sir James Gobbo in the Victorian Supreme Court before practicing law at the Victorian Bar.

In 1991, Mr Andrews was first elected as the Member for Menzies, the seat he holds today, and has since served with distinction in a number of Ministries including: Minister for Ageing (2001-2003), Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service (2003-2007), Minister for Immigration and Citizenship (2007), Minister for Social Services (2013-2014) and Minister for Defence (2014-2015).

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