Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News, Afternoon Agenda

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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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31 August 2022

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Now, the Deputy Prime Minister is, in fact, in Europe at the moment. Richard Marles is travelling through Germany, France and the UK for high‑level talks about our defence ties with those nations. This includes a visit to key shipyards in Britain, which build some of the world's most powerful submarines. Richard Marles joined me earlier from the UK, where I began by asking him whether the likes of Germany can really be relied upon, if push comes to shove, in the Pacific.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER RICHARD MARLES: Well, I mean, what we're seeing is an increased presence of Germany in the Indo‑Pacific. They're in Darwin right now, participating in Exercise Pitch Black. They've announced that they will be participating in Exercise Talisman Sabre next year. We've seen the visit of their frigate Bayern. So, this is all a much greater tempo of German presence within our region. I think what's really clear is that we are seeing a seismic shift in German policy and German politics, actually, in the face of the appalling invasion by Russia of Ukraine. And the decision by the German Government to take their defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP is a massive decision in the context of German politics and the heritage of German policy around defence. And this does say that they see that not only is there a threat in relation to Ukraine, obviously, but what that represents is the global rules‑based order being placed under stress, not just in Eastern Europe but around the world.

GILBERT: So, you're there inspecting the British shipyards. The 18‑month consultation for the nuclear subs is meant to wrap up in March 2023. Is that all on track? And do you expect we might be able to get capability in the water sooner?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, so it is on track and we're certainly trying to have a capability in the water as soon as possible. The reality is that what the former government left us was the prospect of the next generation of submarine, the successor to the Collins ‑ the nuclear-powered submarine ‑ not having the first boat in the water until probably the 2040s. That's a long way into the future. That would open up a capability gap when one considers that when the Collins was first put into service, it was imagined to come out of service in the mid‑2020s, in the next couple of years. So, we do want to look at any way that there is of bringing that date forward of when we can get the first of the successor submarines into the water. You know, I'm not in a position to speculate about what might be able to be achieved there, other than to say that that's certainly our objective. But there is a lot of work being done with both the United States and the United Kingdom. There is a real sense of shared mission amongst all the AUKUS partners. And, you know, we couldn't be happier with the way that process is playing out and we are confident that we will be able to make the announcements that we said we would in the first part of next year.

GILBERT: Do we have to accept more offshore builds as a principle and limit local content to try and keep a lid on local costs? That's certainly the view, Deputy Prime Minister, of one former defence economic adviser in a report for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute this week. Do you accept that as a principle as you undertake this defence capability review?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I don't think it's as simple as that. I mean when we're talking about the next generation of submarines, what's really clear is that Australia is going to need to play its part in increasing the industrial base of the three countries. In other words, you know, we will need to develop the capacity to build a nuclear-powered submarine in Australia, we're going to have to add to the combined industrial capacity of the three countries if we want to see a timely supply of the class of submarines in the future.

So, in fact, I actually think that that will give rise to cost advantages, ultimately. I think we're also going to see Australian companies in this context participating in a supply chain in respect of the building of an Australian submarine, but also supply chains in respect of both the United Kingdom and the United States. And, you know, today I have been at Govan, in Glasgow, looking at the Type 26, which is the reference ship for the Hunter Class frigates that we are building in Adelaide.

Again, we will see a supply chain being developed in Australia in respect of the Hunter Class, but I think there are real opportunities for those companies to participate in the supply chains, in that case, in Britain and in Canada, which is also picking up that class of ship. So, we will see supply chains be more global, is really the point I'm making. But we definitely need to develop increased industrial capacity in Australia to add to the net capability of the three AUKUS countries.

GILBERT: Now, Richard Marles, one of our Collins-class submarines was reportedly stranded in Hawaii last week. Does that give you concern? And does it show you the urgency of the task at hand when it comes to getting that next‑generation capability?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I wouldn't comment specifically on the operational availability of a particular submarine, other than to say in the broad that the Collins-class right now is very much meeting its operational availability targets and is one of the most available classes of submarines that we see in the world. And in that sense, it's providing Australia both a very potent and agile force. But there is an urgency. I mean, there's an urgency because when, as I said, when Collins was first coming into service, it was imagined that its end of life would be in the middle of this decade.

The idea that we've seen now a wasted ten years from the former government as they've gone back and forth in the choices that they have sought to make in relation to the successor submarine build is ten years that we can't afford, and it has raised the very serious possibility of a capability gap. And that's why, you know, we are doing everything we can in working with the United States and the United Kingdom to bring forward, if we can, the date of when the first of the successor submarines will come into service.

GILBERT: The big focus has been in recent times, of course, the Pacific, our neighbours. The Solomon Islands has now temporarily suspended visits by the US Navy. Is this a further sign of deterioration in our relations with Honiara, and that of our allies with the Solomons, that key nation in the Pacific?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Look, I've seen those reports. I mean, ultimately, those sorts of decisions are clearly decisions for the Solomon Islands Government and we understand and respect that. We really do feel confident that we will be able to build our relationship with the Solomon Islands to a point where we are the natural partner of choice with Solomon Islands. We've been in the past, and we've seen the contribution that we've made to a whole lot of security circumstances that Solomon Islands have faced.

We don't take for granted that countries in the Pacific will see us as the partner of choice. We understand that, in order for that to happen, we need to put in the work. But as a Government we are putting in the work. I mean, Penny Wong has visited Solomon Islands and, indeed, Penny has been throughout the Pacific really in force ‑ is in PNG right now ‑ since the Government has been sworn in only a few months ago.

And what we're all really confident of is that, when we put in the work, we will see a positive response from the countries of the Pacific. We include Solomon Islands as part of that, and we are confident that we can be their natural partner of choice.

GILBERT: Just finally, Deputy Prime Minister, on a domestic story, Sky News reported yesterday that three of your ministerial colleagues were rushing to get rid of shares now as part of the Ministerial Code of Conduct that the Prime Minister announced seven-eight weeks ago. Is that good enough? Shouldn't they have done that as a matter of urgency as soon as they were being sworn in as ministers?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, I'm not aware of the specifics of that. All I'd say is that we take questions of probity and ministerial standards very, very seriously. And that will be a hallmark of the Government that we will be.

GILBERT: Joining me from the UK, Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, appreciate your time. Thanks.



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