Doorstop interview, DSTG Edinburgh, South Australia

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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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12 August 2022

SUBJECTS: Launch of Defence High Performance Computing capability; Importance of Defence Science and Technology; Consular assistance to Professor Sean Turnell and Cheng Lei; Taiwan; AUKUS.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER RICHARD MARLES: Well, it's fantastic to be here with the Chief Defence Scientist, Dr. Tanya Monro, who's done such a fantastic job in promoting science and managing the scientific endeavour within the Defence establishment. Today is a very exciting day as we launch the High Performance Computing capability for Defence, Taingiwilta Mukarntu. This is a transformational technology that we now have in place. What it will do is turbocharge the research that currently is underway within the Defence Science and Technology Group, working with partners in industry and partners around the world. So much of the way in which modern warfare happens is actually a contest of minds, a contest of ideas, a contest of technology. It's a place in which, for Australia to compete, we need to be making sure that we have a Defence Force which is potent, and which is built on smarts. Which is why a High Performance Computing capability is so important for our nation, and this is the culmination of years of work to get to this point. The computer that we have launched today will be one of the 50 most powerful computers in the world, one of the biggest computers in our country. But most significantly, it will operate at the level of Secret, which enables it to engage with classified research and classified science, which is the space that needs to be engaged in order for us to advance our science and technology within Defence. I would like to introduce Dr Monro to be able to take you through this in more detail. But it is a very exciting day.

DR TANYA MONRO, CHIEF DEFENCE SCIENTIST: Thank you very much indeed. Today is indeed a very exciting day, and it's an enormous privilege having the Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, Richard Marles, launch this facility. It is a real milestone in delivering capability for Defence. If we want to accelerate the timelines in which we deliver capability for the Australian Defence Force, we need to be able to take these complex platforms and put them inside the computer. So we can refine, develop, and essentially skip generations of testing and experimentation that would otherwise have taken years, and condense them down into weeks and days. This is a game changer. And it's not just a game changer for the Department, but for the nation. Because what it will allow us to do is to take some of the best ideas from industry and from our universities, and have them working within this facility to take their ideas and apply them to real data that might be classified or sensitive platforms. So what you will see from this is contributions to everything, from new underwater un-crewed vessels, right through to the way we use all of the assets we have today. We will be able to predict and prevent failure of our platforms. We will be able to design a new generation of platforms. So this is transformational. But it's only transformational because we have extraordinary Defence scientists and extraordinary partners around the nation who will come and use it and make the future possible. Thank you very much.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: So we might take questions for Tanya here in relation to the high performance computing capability, and then if you've got questions of the day I'll deal with them later. But does anybody have any questions?

JOURNALIST: Can you give an idea, in the modern landscape, how important technology and science is working with Defence and the future of that?

DR MONRO: Thank you. The reason why it's utterly critical in these changing circumstances that we have Defence Science and Technology delivering for Australia is because science and technology creates strategic surprise and avoids strategic surprise. So it's through having some of the very best minds of our nation focused on Defence Science problems, that we can see what's coming, and we can make sure we are prepared, and then we can create deterrent. I would argue that Australia's Defence Science is arguably the most integrated as any in the world with its military. And that means that my Defence scientists and technologists understand the problems that Defence face, but we also do work to predict the future and help avoid that strategic surprise. So I've argued that, as circumstances become more contested, and more uncertain, science becomes more and more important.


JOURNALIST: First one is about the Australian academic Sean Turnell. He's reportedly testified in his trial in a secret prison court in Myanmar, but his lawyers have been banned from speaking to the media, can you tell us if there were any Australian consular officials there for that testimony?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: I can't go into the details of Professor Turnell's consular access. But let me say this, we are concerned about the situation of Professor Turnell. We're concerned about the level of access that is available to those providing consular services to Professor Turnell. Our most important engagement with Myanmar right now is around seeing a safe return of Professor Turnell to this country. And we will not rest until we have a situation where Professor Turnell is returned safely to Australia and safely to his family.

JOURNALIST: Can you comment on the lack of transparency involved in the proceedings?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well what we expect is that there is transparency, that there is an application of justice, and an application of procedural fairness. And we are concerned about all of those in its application to Professor Turnell.

JOURNALIST: When can we expect the government to make a decision about any sanctions that will be imposed (inaudible)?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, all of that is a matter that's being worked through. Right now, our concern in terms of our engagement with Myanmar is to ensure the safe return of Professor Turnell to this country.

JOURNALIST: Just on another matter, Cheng Lei, is it time for the Government to ramp up efforts to get her home?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: We have been advocating on behalf of Cheng Lei to the Chinese Government. We've been concerned around Cheng Lei's access to justice and to procedural fairness. We will continue to provide all the consular support and access and service to Cheng Lei for the situation that she is in. We will work tirelessly in our advocacy to China in respect of Cheng Lei.

JOURNALIST: The Chinese Ambassador said that her human rights are being - her basic rights are being upheld. Do you agree with that?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, we are concerned about the application of justice to Cheng Lei and procedural fairness. We will continue to advocate on her behalf to the Chinese Government, and we will continue to provide Cheng Lei with all the consular services available to her.

JOURNALIST: What would you say to children who have drawn pictures of their mum saying that they miss her?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: The situation is completely heartbreaking. And we can only feel for her family here in Australia. And that's why we maintain advocacy on Cheng Lei's behalf to the Chinese Government, and we will continue to provide her with that consular service, and we will continue to advocate to the Chinese Government about her circumstances.

JOURNALIST: Is it inappropriate that she only gets one half-hour visit with an Australian Embassy official each month?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, without going into the detail of it, we want full consular access for Cheng Lei, and we will continue to advocate for her situation.

JOURNALIST: Is the Chinese Government the biggest threat to our national security?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, Australia faces now the most complex set of circumstances that we have since the end of the Second World War. Part of that is that China is seeking to shape the world around it in a way that we've not seen before. And that does provide a whole lot of challenges to our country. I mean, the global rules-based order which has underpinned our prosperity and peace within the region is profoundly important to Australia's national interests. Freedom of navigation on the high seas, for example, given that we are a trading island nation is fundamentally important to Australia. And so all of those are critical issues for us. Now, having said all of that, China is our largest trading partner, which is of course why these circumstances are so complex. And we do value a productive relationship with China and we would like to see the relationship in a better place. But we will continue, with vigour, to articulate Australia's national interest. That national interest lies in upholding of the global rules-based order.

JOURNALIST: China's Ambassador to Australia said that China is ready to use all necessary means to ensure that Taiwan is never separated from China, would you like to comment on that?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: What we want to see is a de-escalation of tension around Taiwan, and in the Taiwan Strait. Indeed, I think the world would breathe a sigh of relief if we saw a return to normal, peaceful behaviours around Taiwan. And in saying all of that, what underpins Australia's position is that we do not want to see any unilateral change to the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. Now, in saying that, we have a One China policy, and that has been the bipartisan policy of governments of both persuasions in this country going right back to the 1970s. So our position is unchanged here. But what we really want to see in this moment is a de-escalation of tensions, and the world would breathe a sigh of relief were that to occur.

JOURNALIST: How crucial will the Edinburgh base here be to the AUKUS arrangements?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, very crucial. Edinburgh is home to so much of the work that DSTG does - the Defence Science and Technology Group. And what AUKUS is, at its heart, is sharing an enhancement of capabilities - cutting edge capabilities - between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. And so, our Defence Science effort will be engaged significantly in the architecture of AUKUS, and on building those new cutting edge capabilities. A whole lot of that work is being undertaken right here at Edinburgh. Of course, what we've done today, in launching the High Performance Computing capability for Defence, is really central to all of that. But this Base is really a critical part of the Defence Science endeavour that we undertake in this country and that will remain so well into the future.


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