Interview with Karl Stefanovic, Today Show

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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: Passing of Paul Green; Taiwan; Australia-China relationship; Correct way to eat a dagwood dog; Acting Prime Minister security.

KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Look, just on that, too, Peter Dutton’s joining us now, Opposition Leader. He’s talking with Richard Marles, but you knew him, didn’t you? And it was a big shock to everyone yesterday.

PETER DUTTON, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Mate, it’s just shocking news. And, you know, young kids, beautiful family and was a legend of the game and just respected by everyone. And I think all of these, you know, circumstances just shock people because, you know, everything in his life is, as Wally just said, I mean, it was all to play for and, you know, whatever support can be provided to the family I’m sure the rugby league community will.

STEFANOVIC: You know, it was such a big thing for Townsville, too. North Queensland climbed the mountain with JT and that side. And that was the most extraordinary grand final and one of the greatest sporting things I’ve ever seen. For him to help that side do that was really amazing. Thank you for talking about that.

Let’s move on now to these tensions that are growing in the region. China flagging this week they’re prepared to take Taiwan by force. Those comments putting Australia in a very precarious position. Joining us now is, along with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, is Richard Marles, who’s Acting Prime Minister at the moment. Good morning to you both.

Richard, to you, this is our backyard. Are you comfortable with the way that the US is handling China right now, or are you a little bit nervous?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER RICHARD MARLES: Well, I think what we want to see is a de-escalation of tension across the board. And I think we want to see a return to normality. Obviously, the exercises that we are seeing from the Chinese in and around the Taiwan Strait is of concern. But what we want to see is a de-escalation of tensions and, to be honest, I think the world would breathe a sigh of relief if we were able to see a return to normal, peaceful activity in that part of the world.

STEFANOVIC: I appreciate that. But as we discussed a couple of days ago with Nancy Pelosi diving into Taiwan on a government jet, that wasn’t doing anything to wind things back, was it? It was winding things up. Is the US on the same page as us, do you think?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, we are very much on the same page with the United States. The question of Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan is ultimately a matter between the United States and Taiwan. So I’m not going to comment on that. But what we really need to see is a de-escalation of tension around Taiwan. That’s the critical issue here. And I think the world wants to see that. I think we would all breathe a sigh of relief if we saw a return to normal, peaceful activity around there. And from Australia’s point of view – and I’ve said this a lot over the last week – our engagement here is based on the fact that we have an unchanged policy of not wanting to see any change to the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.

STEFANOVIC: Peter, in every conceivable way it’s a disaster if Taiwan is taken by China. Your language has been very strong on it. You’re saying you’re not going to back down, even though there are some inside your own party saying wind back the rhetoric because there are some key electorates that have significant Chinese Australians who are voting. Are you going to do that? Are you going to take a backward step?

DUTTON: No, I’m not, Karl. And it’s not about politics. I mean, this is an issue of national security and importance for us and for the region. I think if you looked at what happened in the Ukraine, I think there’d be a lot of people saying if only we’d put more pressure on Putin not to go into the Ukraine in the first instance we wouldn’t have the bloody scenes that we’re seeing now. And there’s no sense in a couple of months or a couple of years’ time saying the Chinese have gone into Taiwan, we didn’t see this coming. I think we’re right in – shining a huge spotlight on the behaviour, calling it out, and I think if we do that that gives us the best chance of keeping peace in our region.

STEFANOVIC: But you know, too, this escalating rhetoric from the US - the US seems to be picking fights with a lot of people at the moment. We can debate whether that’s right or wrong, but in regards to China, it doesn’t help us, does it?

DUTTON: Well, Karl, I’ve got a slightly different view. I think if you look at where the Chinese are on the Indian border at the moment, there are Indian troops that have lost their lives at the hands of Chinese troops on that disputed border just in the last few years. The Chinese are in the East China Sea in the Senkaku Islands bumping up against the Japanese Coast Guard. They’re obviously very provocative in our region and clearly in relation to Taiwan. So it’s China that’s changed here, not the US or Australia or India or New Zealand.

DUTTON: Just out of interest, Richard, how would we defend ourselves if China parked six Jin Class submarines off Port Douglas?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, I don’t think it helps to speculate about that. What we do have is a very capable Defence Force but one that we want to make more capable. And so the focus of the Strategic Review that we’ve announced is trying to make sure that we build the potency of the Australian Defence Force as we go forward in the years ahead. But can I just say, I wouldn’t agree with your characterisation of the United States either. I mean, I think the United States’ action here is, I think, consistent with ours, which is about defending a global rules-based order. A global rules-based order that all of us helped build from the immediacy of the Second World War and since. And things like the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides freedom of navigation – for a trading island like Australia that is fundamentally important to our national interest. I mean, most of our trade, for example, goes through the South China Sea. So, you know, the rules of the road applying all over the world, including within the Indo-Pacific are fundamentally important.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, if they take Taiwan we’ve got massive problems with chips. We’ve got a whole bunch of things that will possibly, you know, affect trade, affect production of any kind of good, the manufacturing sector. I mean across the board it’s going to be a disaster. I’ve got a solution, though, Richard, this morning – Pete, I’ll get your opinion on it, too – what we should do is we should send Chris Uhlmann up there with a slouch hat and a megaphone to deal with the Chinese. Don’t you reckon that would be perfect? Richard, you first.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: That is a terrifying prospect and, indeed, Chris may well be the most potent asset that we have in the nation. We need to be sending him on the frontline. I ran into Chris on Wednesday, just as he was about to head off to the National Press Club to ask questions of the Chinese Ambassador, so we need to get Chris out there.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah, send him in.

DUTTON: Maybe dress him up in those red DTs you had on in that promo shot you wore for your birthday, Karl. Just to grab attention completely.

STEFANOVIC: Just to frighten them.

DUTTON: I’ve got to say, I mean, Chris is one of the bravest voices, and he’s been calling this behaviour out –

STEFANOVIC: Yeah, seven years.

DUTTON: One of our great journos in the country.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, you are new, relatively new to Opposition Leader status, and there’s something that I wanted to bring up with you. Look, there’s been some significant photos of very opposition leaders over the years taken. This is an important think to bring up with you – and Richard will have an opinion on this, I’m sure as well.

DUTTON: This is breakfast TV, Karl. Just remind people.

STEFANOVIC: It is breakfast TV. It’s the rich tapestry. This is Bill Shorten, by the way, eating a sausage. Then there’s Tony Abbott eating an onion. Just delicious stuff. We have Peter Dutton now eating a dagwood dog. Look at that.


STEFANOVIC: I mean that –

DUTTON: What can go wrong with that photo?

STEFANOVIC: What is going on there? I mean, just a couple of –

DUTTON: Well, what do you do? Do you eat it on the side and then you chew into the stick?

STEFANOVIC: I think so.

DUTTON: You drop the sauce on your pants, which is a bad shot. I mean, what choice were you giving me?

STEFANOVIC: I think it’s a great shot.

DUTTON: And if you go to the Ekka you’ve got to have a dagwood dog, though.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah, you do. Richard – yeah, go on, Richard.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Can I just say, as always Peter is an absolute picture of elegance.

STEFANOVIC: I’m just going to bring something up with you, too, Richard, because there’s been challenges as Acting Prime Minister.


STEFANOVIC: Perhaps you didn’t see this one coming. Reports this morning the man in charge of running this country - which is you this week - encountered a major domestic crisis. His washing machine broke. So no big issue, you can just head to the local laundromat, right? But what happened next, Richard? Share it with the nation?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, yes, we did get to the laundromat with six Federal Police, you know, as they’re talking into their cuffs and all the other people in the laundromat were thinking what on earth is going on here. They weren’t actually wearing dark sunglasses, but it felt a bit like that. But we managed to get in there and get the job done – myself and my son.

DUTTON: Richard wouldn’t know whether he’s got a front loader or a top loader at home.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Not true. I do the washing. I do the washing.

DUTTON: I want to see evidence.

STEFANOVIC: Gentlemen, great to talk to you. Lots going on in the world. Appreciate it as always, every Friday.




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