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The Hon Richard Marles MP
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for Defence
17 June 2022
Welcome back. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will chair his first National Cabinet meeting today with State and Federal leaders coming together to discuss the most pressing issues facing the country. The ongoing energy crisis will be on the agenda, of course, right at the top as well as the coordinated push by the States for more Federal assistance with health funding. Joining me now is the Deputy Prime Minister in Richard Marles. Good morning to you.
Well, before we talk about the National Cabinet meeting today, Pacific security, you’ve just arrived back from Japan, recently met with your Chinese counterpart as well. Give us an update as to our security in the region.
Well, obviously, we’re putting a much bigger focus on the region, and you’ve seen Penny Wong be out there in the Pacific making it clear that the Australian Government actually wants to build its relationship with Pacific countries. We’re going to do the work to make ourselves the natural partner of choice.
I did meet with Chinese Minister Wei in Singapore at the Shangri‑La Dialogue. It was a purposeful meeting. There was intent. I think we both realised how important that meeting was. We were dealing with pretty difficult material. You know, we talked about China in the Pacific. We talked about the incident that happened to Australia’s P‑8 aircraft back on 26 May. But I think the important point is that, you know, both of us went into that meeting at the beginning with the sense of wanting to take the bilateral relationship to a better place, and that’s also how the meeting ended. So, it’s only a first step. There’s a long way to go, but I think the door is open to more dialogue with China.
A bit of travel for you early in your tenure. You’re off to India next week. Will you have a better relationship with China, a more constructive relationship with China, than the Morrison Government, and when can you expect to visit China?
Oh, I think a visit to China is a little way off. Look, the substantive issues in terms of our national interests are the same now as they were under the Morrison Government. We are very focused on making sure that we get the relationships with our region in terms of the Pacific right. We want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to have the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, happen, and that’s been an issue between us and China. And the reason that’s important is because most of Australia’s trade actually goes through the South China Sea. So, we’re going to push our issues of national interests as strongly as they’ve ever been pushed, but I think the tone will be different. We want to engage in a professional way. We believe in diplomacy and, in that sense, it’s important that around Defence issues you do have a dialogue so there’s no issue of miscalculation. So, we will do that in a much more professional way than what we saw with the Morrison Government, but in terms of pushing the substantive national issues that our country has, they’re the same now as they were before, and we will be pushing them very vigorously.
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