Doorstop interview, Parliament House, Canberra

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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10 August 2022

SUBJECTS: Taiwan; Chinese Ambassador’s speech at the National Press Club; Nuclear-powered submarines; Defence Force capability; Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

JOURNALIST: Defence Minister, Acting PM, still hitting the fan across the Taiwan Strait. What can the government do, what will the government do, if, I guess, what China's calling the inevitable happens and we see things escalate further?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER RICHARD MARLES: Well, I'm not about to speculate on what may or may not happen. What we are calling for right now is a de-escalation of tension. That's what we need to see. It's obviously where Australia's national interest lies, but it's, to be frank, where the global interest lies. And I think there would be a sigh of relief around the world were we to see a de-escalation of tensions in the Taiwan Strait. Obviously, what we are seeing play out there is very concerning. And it needs to be said that our position is underpinned by an unchanged position over a long period of time across governments of both persuasions in this country of not wanting to see any change to the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.

JOURNALIST: How worrying is it that they have announced that - Beijing has announced - that those war games are going to continue indefinitely?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: I think that is a deeply concerning comment that has been made. What we need to be seeing is a de-escalation of tensions. It is critical for the region, and it's critical that we return to a much more peaceful and normal set of behaviours in in the region and across the Taiwan Strait.

JOURNALIST: Taiwan's Government says that these drills are a simulation of an attack by Beijing on the islands, does that tally with the information that Australian authorities are getting and its allies?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think people can observe what the drills are. Again, we just call for a de-escalation in tensions. That's what the world needs to see at this moment.

JOURNALIST: Was it appropriate for Peter Dutton to call Taiwan an independent country, and will government officials attend the Ambassador's speech at the NPC?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: I don't have any plans on attending the Ambassador's speech. The position of the Australian Government in relation to the One China policy has been consistent, and my understanding has been bipartisanly consistent, over many decades now. And that is that we support a One China policy - recognising One China, its capital being Beijing. Now we have a productive relationship with the people of Taiwan, we've maintained a trade and investment relationship with Taiwan over a very long period of time. But we maintain a One China policy, and what we want to see is that there is no change to the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. That is the position of the Australian Government. And it was the position of the Australian Government before the election as well.

JOURNALIST: So has that jeopardized that status quo order with the Opposition, in terms of decades of bipartisanship, now calling Taiwan an independent country which has strong ramifications?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: I'm actually not aware of him having said that, but I can only reiterate what is the Australian Government position, and it's as I've just stated. And that was the position of the former government. Indeed, it's been the positions of governments of both persuasions since the 1970s.

JOURNALIST: Just on the issue of submarines, you've said that you're open and you're looking at options. Can you confirm that Swedish representatives from SAAB have approached Defence on possibly providing a replacement for the Collins Class?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: I don't want to raise expectations about any particular outcome here. I have said that my mind is completely open about what we need to do in order to deal with any capability gap, but that's a long way from then raising expectations about any particular outcome. The fact of the matter is that with the former government having walked down a path with Japan, and then backed out of it, having signed an agreement with France, and then five years later ripping it up, they have created a situation where we've lost precious years, obviously in the context of a very complex strategic environment, years that we could not afford to waste. And there's obviously been an extraordinary amount of money wasted as well. That leaves us with a challenge. We need to be getting our next generation of submarines as quickly as we can. If in doing that, there is any capability gap, we obviously need to make sure that we have answers to plug it. And my mind is open about that, and I've asked Defence to look at every possibility about ways in which we can do it.

JOURNALIST: Understand you might be a little bit reluctant to talk specifics on defence, but, as a country, we do have to be ready, don't we? What can you tell us about our readiness right now and how that might change should things escalate?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: I want to assure Australians that we have a very capable Defence Force. I mean we really do, and anyone who has been in the position that I've been in and been able to have, really, the privilege of looking at our Defence Force operate at close range, you can only be admiring of the capability and the skill of our servicemen and women. So Australians should be reassured that we have a very capable Defence Force. There are challenges, and I've described one in relation to submarines. We want to do everything we can as a government, and we have hit the ground running in this respect to make sure that we are building the potency of our Defence Force and making it as capable as it possibly can be. That's what the Strategic Review is about. It's why we've put an increased urgency into the process in respect of choosing the next generation of submarine for the country. But we have a very capable Defence Force on this day. And we will make sure that that capability grows.

JOURNALIST: Thank you. During your meeting with a representative from the Republic of Korea, did the issue of submarines or their own models come up during those meetings?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Do you mean Korean?



JOURNALIST: What do you make of Taiwan's Foreign Minister praising Penny Wong and basically saying Australia is a model for other countries to follow in terms of response to Chinese actions?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, those comments were made in respect of ourselves and in respect of Japan and the United States. And we've obviously worked very closely with the United States and Japan in terms of calling for stability within the region and calling for a de-escalation of tensions. And I think that Penny Wong has done an excellent job in representing this country since becoming the Foreign Minister, and we completely stand by her comments, and they are very much consistent with those of the United States and Japan.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it's rich that China is now saying that Penny Wong is jeopardizing stability in the region by making those comments?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: China is going to say what China says. We control our end of this equation. And in describing that end, it's this - we will engage with the world with respect, with professionalism, with sobriety, with a faith in diplomacy. And we will continue to do that. While the government has changed, our national interest hasn't, we will also speak to our national interest, and we will speak to it with vigour. And we will do so irrespective of whether that differs from the actions of other countries, including China. That's what any country should do, and that is what we will do. Now, how others respond to that is ultimately a matter for them. But we are completely confident and comfortable in the way in which we have been holding ourselves in the international environment. And as I say, I think the Foreign Minister has been doing that in an outstanding way.

JOURNALIST: There's been a lot of discussion about the relationship between President Xi and President Putin, particularly after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Do you think that invasion has emboldened President Xi here, and that's why are we seeing such hostile activity happening in the Taiwan Strait?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, I wouldn't directly speculate on the connection. But what I would say is that we are seeing the global rules-based order under pressure around the world. We're seeing it under pressure in Eastern Europe. The invasion by Russia of Ukraine was an appalling flouting of the United Nations Charter. This is a large country seeking to impose itself on a small nation, not by reference to any rule of law, but simply by reference to power and might. And that can't stand. I mean, it can't be allowed to stand. And it's precisely because we see the principles engaged in Eastern Europe as being so significant that, whilst Ukraine is a long way from Australia, we've been a significant contributor to Ukraine, and we stand with Ukraine. So we see that as a very significant moment in global affairs and the global rules-based order is under pressure in the Indo-Pacific as well. And we will do everything we can to assert the global rules-based order.

JOURNALIST: Would we recognise Russia as a terrorist state, given that's what President Zelenskyy and the Latvian Foreign Minister called for?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, we condemn Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. We condemn Russia for its total flouting of the UN Charter and the global rules-based order. We stand with Ukraine in solidarity against the actions of Russia, and we continue to participate in the global regime of sanctions against Russia.


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