25 July 2022
SUBJECTS: ADF support to Aged Care; AUKUS.
PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: On that point, let's bring in the Defence Minister, Richard Marles. Richard, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. So how will the troops be deployed?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is an increased number, as you said, which will take us from this moment through until the end of September. It's increasing the numbers from 30, as they currently are now, to 250 - and clinical and nonclinical as you as you said. It's an important level of support that we're providing to aged care centres. It's appropriate we do that given there are about a thousand outbreaks in aged care centres across, it's probably important also to say this is not going to be a permanent situation. Obviously, the Defence Force is there for the defence of the nation and it's important that they are able to do that job as their first job. But right now, we are facing a very significant set of outbreaks and so we want to make sure that the Defence Force is playing its part in a national response which has us doing everything we can to deal with the situation.
STEFANOVIC: Right. So what will their roles be and how do they get dispatched?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we'll work through that in terms of how we increase the numbers, but it will be, as you said earlier, in the clinical and non-clinical space across the medical needs that are required in aged care centres. And so it will be a very significant contribution that is made. And in terms of which centres they go to, that will be a question that we obviously work through with the relevant aged care centres and with the Minister for Aged Care.
STEFANOVIC: OK. The Opposition on the show a little bit earlier, Sussan Ley was on, and she pointed to the declining vaccination rates in aged care homes. Do you concede a problem there? And how will you pick that up?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we're making sure that we are getting vaccinations out into aged care centres and it is important that that is maintained, along with, obviously, antiviral medication. There's a sense of irony that the opposition is saying that, given how they completely dropped the ball in this space over the last few years, but we will make sure that we have that in place so that people are able to best withstand the outbreaks that are occurring.
STEFANOVIC: What is the problem? Why are you having difficulties with getting the antivirals in, with upping the vaccination rates when it comes to boosters?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: There are antivirals in the aged care setting - in aged care centres - and so I don’t think there is necessarily a problem there. And as I said, we will continue to work forward in relation to vaccinations to make sure that that's kept at the appropriate level as well.
STEFANOVIC: OK. Just because this is the first time I've spoken to you since you returned from overseas, I do want to ask you about the high level talks that you had in the US. What concessions were you able to get, if any, from Lloyd Austin?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Concessions?
STEFANOVIC: Yeah. Was he able to tell you anything more about what America might be able to give us, or anything of that nature when it comes to the threat from China? Is his concerns about China increasing? I know yours have.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Look, there is a real sense of shared mission on the part of Australia and the United States. That was really what came through to me in all the conversations I had, including with the Secretary of Defence, Lloyd Austin, about the circumstances that we face. The global rules-based order is under pressure. It's obviously under pressure in Eastern Europe when we look at what's happening with Russia's appalling invasion of Ukraine, but it's under pressure in the Indo-Pacific as well. And so in all that we spoke about in terms of the way in which we are dealing with matters right now, but also in terms of building capability and importantly, Australia acquiring a nuclear-powered submarine. All of that, there was a real sense of shared mission with the United States about what we both face and about the need for Australia to develop these capabilities and the role that AUKUS can play in building the capabilities of all three countries.
STEFANOVIC: OK. Are you going to go with the Americans when it comes to the nuclear subs?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, all of that is a process that we are working through right now. There's a power of work being put into this. There's a really significant officials meeting happening in the US this week, and we feel confident that we'll be in a position early next year to make the announcements as to exactly what platform we run with.
STEFANOVIC: OK. Did you talk about that with Lloyd Austin? Did he seem open to being the one to win that?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's not really a question of winning, to be honest. And that might seem odd. What there actually really is a sense of shared mission here. And I think that it would be felt with the United Kingdom as well, but obviously these were conversations with the United States. But all three countries are working together to improve the capability of all three nations. That’s what AUKUS is – it's a capability enhancing, technology sharing arrangement. Right now we are using it to have Australia acquire a nuclear-powered submarine capability. But all of this has really been done in a very cooperative way.
STEFANOVIC: Yeah. And I noticed that China in the last couple of days has been very critical - as we've got the banner there at the bottom of your screen there - China attacking the AUKUS participation. It's worried about it leading to a nuclear industry here in Australia. I mean, the irony of that being that China is increasing its nuclear load more than anyone else. Do you have a thought on that as well?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we need to be walking down a path of modernising our Defence Force and making sure that it is as capable as it can be. We are seeing with China is the single biggest military build-up since the end of the Second World War, you can't escape that fact. And it's very important that Australia is in a position to advance its national interest. And we do that by making sure that we have the most capable Defence Force possible, and AUKUS does have a significant role to play in that, and it was a really good set of conversations with the United States, and I look forward at a point in time to be having the similar conversations in the UK. But it's really important that we are making sure that we are walking down the path of having the most capable, the most modern Defence Force that we can have.
STEFANOVIC: OK, Richard Marles, appreciate your time as always. Thank you.
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