Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon, Today, Nine

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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; Australia’s defence capability; Passing of Olivia Newton-John.

KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well, tensions between China and Taiwan have reached a dangerous new level with the island’s Foreign Minister claiming Beijing is preparing to invade.

ALLISON LANGDON, HOST: It comes after Chinese missiles were launched towards Taiwan in protest of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit. Let’s discuss with Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles. Nice to see you this morning, Richard.


LANGDON: Do you think China will invade Taiwan?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’m not about to speculate on that. What we need to see is a de-escalation of tensions in the region. And that’s what we’ve been calling for. Obviously, that’s what’s in Australia’s interest but, to be honest, that’s what’s in the global interest. And I think the world would breathe a sigh of relief if we saw a return to more peaceful, normal activity around the Taiwan Strait.

STEFANOVIC: In what way was Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan a de-escalation, do you think?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, that’s a matter between the United States and Taiwan so I’m not going to make comment on that. But we really do need to see a return to normal, peaceful activity around the Taiwan Strait. And in saying that, what underpins our view is an unchanged position, in fact over governments of both persuasions in his country, where we don’t want to see any unilateral changes to the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.

LANGDON: But it seemed like with this visit that the US was picking a fight with China.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, that visit was a matter for the US and Taiwan, and I’m not going to comment on it. We’ve just got to see a de-escalation of tension. That’s what the world wants.

STEFANOVIC: The problem is, as an ally and with the US, their language is provocative, the visit was provocative and all those things. If things did escalate further, how on earth would Australia be in any position to respond?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, I’m not about to speculate about hypotheticals, which is the road we’re walking down in that question. I think what we really need to be doing, obviously as a country but what I think the global community needs to be doing, is focusing on this moment in the here and now and seeking that de-escalation of tensions that the world wants.

LANGDON: You keep saying you don’t want to sort of talk about hypotheticals here, but you have China right now doing live-fire exercises, firing missiles towards Taiwan. That is what’s happening, and I think people want to know, okay, where is this going, and if it goes in a certain direction, how are we drawn into it and what do we do.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, I would say that, you know, what we have seen from China is deeply concerning, as are the comments overnight that this is going to be continued in an indefinite way. I mean, that is a deeply concerning comment from China. Look, the answer to your question is we will act in Australia’s national interest. We will be guided by that. And we will be guided by that in a very clear-eyed assessment of what our national interest is. And right now, we are really focused on making sure that we are building the potency of our Defence Force, building its capability so that we can keep Australians safe. And that’s what underpins a whole lot of the work that we are doing right now in the Strategic Review that we’re doing, which is over a very short period of time so that we can be in the position to react and to respond in the way in which we’ve put a much greater urgency into the whole process around choosing our next generation of submarines. We need to have an evolving capability in this country. We’ve been given quite a lot of challenges, I might say, by the former government in terms of they’ve left us, but we will be doing everything we can to make sure that the highly capable Defence Force that we have right now is even more capable going into the future.

STEFANOVIC: I get that. But given the long-term nature of some of the solutions that you’re talking about and trying to work towards, I mean, what we would do if it happened. Time is obviously of the essence here. We’re not exactly going to send a couple of bushrangers over, are we? I mean, it’s a significant problem for us.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s an important observation you’ve made, and, actually, the Defence Strategic Update, which was a document that was done by the former government, to their credit, back in 2020, observed that for the first time we are within what has always been understood to be a 10-year warning window. I mean, one of the precepts of the way in which we’ve thought about defence strategy in Australia is that if anyone means to do us harm, we’ll be given 10 years’ notice. In 2020 for the first time, it was observed that we’re within that 10-year window. So, you’re right, time is absolutely of the essence. And we’ve got to make sure that we are building those longer-term capabilities but that we have an eye to the immediate term so that we are in a position to be able to look after Australia in the here and now. And we’re confident we can do that. But that’s our focus.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah. Just on a much different note – and it’s important, you’re Acting Prime Minister today – ONJ was a Melbourne girl, Olivia. What was your reaction?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: I think, you know, for people of our generation who grew up seeing Grease, which I remember I did as a kid, the world feels a little emptier without Olivia Newton-John in it. I mean, she was an absolute icon of Australia. Listening to a lot of the commentary, she really did lead the way in terms of Australian artists’ presence in the United States. She was an absolute trailblazer. But it's not just that – it’s what she did in relation to cancer research, she was a tireless advocate for that. I mean, her legacy is enormous. And so many thousands of people’s lives have been positively changed by her work, her art, but also the efforts that she’s done in relation to cancer research. And she is just really sadly missed. And, you know, I find myself, you know, tearing up as I look at all of these things because, you know, I’ve grown up with all of those songs. That musical is a real favourite of mine, and it’s a very sad day.

LANGDON: Word is Summer Lovin’ is your favourite.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Summer Lovin’ is my favourite.

STEFANOVIC: Did you get those black tights on?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Summer Lovin’ is my favourite. It’s definitely my favourite. Like, it’s the opening song of Grease. No, I’ve not worn the black tights, Karl, and I don’t appreciate the question.


LANGDON: Lovely to talk to you, Richard. Thank you.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Good to talk to you.


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