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The Hon Richard Marles MP
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for Defence
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
02 6277 7800
25 September 2022
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, thanks for your time. How soon will our next shipment of Bushmasters be sent to Ukraine?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, there's a schedule of delivery to Ukraine, which is on time. And the Ukrainians are very appreciative with the speed with which Bushmasters have been delivered to Ukraine. It's not in Ukraine's interest for us to make public what that delivery schedule is. But the delivery schedule is there. It's on time and they're getting those Bushmasters. And they're having a really big impact.
GILBERT: They are having a big impact. Can you tell us how many they've got at the moment? I know we've promised 60.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, again, I know the answer that question, but I don't think it's in the interest of Ukraine for us to put that number into the public domain. What's important is that the program of delivery is on time-
GILBERT: It’s not being held up by red tape, as the Opposition Leader said?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: It's not. And I think it's- I mean, this has been a really important bipartisan matter in this country, I think it's important that we keep it at that level. It is not being held up by red tape, and certainly there's no complaint coming from Ukraine in respect of any of that, and the program of delivery that was worked out between us and Ukraine is on schedule.
GILBERT: The Ambassador wants 30 more, he's pushing for 30 more and 30 Lighter Hawkei vehicles, plus Howitzers, mid-long range missiles. Are you are you pushing for that? Are you arguing for that?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we're working with the Ukrainian Government about how we can provide support over the long term. And I think this is the important point to understand; we've seen really significant gains by Ukraine in the last few weeks, in the Kharkiv region, we've seen them in a counter offensive gain an area larger than the ACT. But the Oskil River is a natural barrier, we've seen both Russia and Ukraine consolidate their positions on either side of that river. And I think what that says to us is that we need to prepare ourselves for this turning into a protracted conflict.
GILBERT: And are you inclined to back them with those additional resources? Is that what you’re thinking?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: The point is we need to stand with Ukraine over the long term. We need to see this as all the potential for it to be a protracted conflict, and our objective here has to be enabling Ukraine to ultimately end this conflict on its own terms, for it to be the author of the resolution of the end of the conflict, because-
GILBERT: So is it fair to say you’ll give them those extra vehicles, am I right to assume that?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we're going to work with Ukraine to look at the way in which we can provide support in an ongoing way. I'm obviously not about to announce what that will be now, but rest assured that we're talking with the Ukrainian Ambassador, talking with Ukrainian Government, about the way in which Australia can be there and be there over the long term, because we get that this has all the potential to be a protracted conflict.
GILBERT: Does it include the range of supports, like the long range missiles, like the light vehicle - the Hawkei – plus the Bushmaster?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Again, I'm not going to get into specifics, but we're working through all the ways in which we can provide support to Ukraine so that we stick with them and keep them in the fight, and enable Ukraine to be able to determine the resolution of this on their terms.
GILBERT: You're not getting into specifics, but it sounds like you're very much inclined to back them and what they're calling for and asking for?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: What we understand is that Ukraine is going to need support over a long period of time. That's very much the sense when I was in Europe and speaking to NATO countries - Germany, UK, France - all of those countries are really steeling themselves for this being an effort which needs to be undertaken over a long period of time, and that the importance of standing with Ukraine and enabling Ukraine to be empowered to resolve this on their own terms is fundamentally important. Because the Russian aggression that we have seen, and certainly the comments that we've seen from Vladimir Putin in the last few days, which speak to the behaviour of Russia, it cannot be allowed to stand.
GILBERT: How worried are you by those comments from Putin, and this latest nuclear threat, given he’s been humiliated on the battlefield, he's having to call in 300,000 more reserve troops? Are you worried that under pressure he might go for that button?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, certainly the comments cause anxiety, you can't hide from that. But we've heard the President make those threats before. They are appalling comments to make. I mean, it is clearly an appalling thing to do to place that potential on the table. The mobilisation of the 300,000 reservists in Russia in turn is a step in completely the wrong direction. Russia needs to stop and Russia needs to leave Ukraine. I think the scenes that we've seen from Russia over the last few days, of people seeking to leave the country, of obvious distress for those being called up and being asked to serve in the Russian forces in respect of this says everything about where public opinion is actually at within Russia.
GILBERT: It's a very brave protest. There’s been a very brave fight for the Ukrainians, but there are a lot of brave Russians protesting in the face of certain arrest right now.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I completely agree, and what that says is that Vladimir Putin and his government must stop. This is an unprovoked act of aggression against Ukraine. We have seen an absolutely inspirational resistance fought by Ukraine, and in doing so, they are upholding the international rules-based order which is so important to every country in the world, including Australia.
GILBERT: Do you think he could be toppled from the internal disquiet?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don't seek to speculate on that. What matters is that we see an end to this, and for countries like Australia, for countries in NATO, for countries that support democracy around the world, it is so important in this moment that we are standing in support of the global rules-based order. That matters in Eastern Europe and it matters in the Indo Pacific. It's really because of the principles which are engaged in this conflict that Australia is very present and our presence has been very much noticed in Europe, obviously by Ukrainians.
GILBERT: We’ve had a lot of support in recent times with officials from the US and UK here for the Aukus program. I know politicians in Washington continue to hear a lot of support from Congress. That, I'm right to say is on schedule to be announced - what submarine we’ll go with - early next year and the Smith-Houston Review to be released within a couple of months?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Smith-Houston Review to be released in the early part of next year as well-
GILBRET: The interim report is out?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: They will provide some initial comments to me, but we will be–
GILBERT: You won’t release that at that point?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: The intention is for the Smith-Houston Review to be released at the beginning of next year, which is, you know, on a pretty tight timeframe. And the importance here is to have both bodies of work happening at the same time so that they can really cross pollinate. It's kind of hard for both of them to undertake their work without an apprehension of the other.
GILBERT: You’ve got to plug that gap, don't you, between the Collins Class and the nuclear capability, the nuclear powered sub?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well what we’ve sought from the process that's underway with Aukus right now is not simply to answer the question as to what platform we run with, although that's clearly critical, but how soon we can get it noting that really, the situation we inherited from the former government was a successor submarine some point in the 2040s. Were that to be the case there definitely would be a capability gap as against where the Collins is at now. To the extent that there is any capability gap, if we can bring some start date forward, what is the solution to plugging that? We obviously need to have a sense of cost, and we need to make sure that what we are doing is completely compliant with our non-proliferation obligations. And we're confident that the body of work that's underway now we'll be able to answer all those questions in the first part of next year.
GILBERT: And on the helicopters. Are you ready for another spat with France, are you worried about the reaction because I know they're lobbying to keep the Taipan capability, but that looks like it's not reliable as the former government found.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Look, we’re going through a process with the Taipans, we've not made a decision, but we are clearly going through a process and France knows that. I've certainly been very open about that with my French counterpart, Sébastien Lecornu. I think the point to really make here is, I'm not worried about the interaction of that process with the rebuilding of our relationship with France. I think there is a lot of sincerity that's been brought to the table by our Prime Minister in his dealings with the French President, there was a very warm meeting that occurred earlier in the year and we hope to see another meeting between the Prime Minister and the President. And all of that is putting the obvious issues that arose last year in the past. I think both Australia and France want to move on and we want to move on very clearly with the view that France matters, you know, France is in many respects our closest neighbour, we have a very close alignment of interests in the Pacific and our region and having a liberal democracy, like France, as our near neighbour is really important for us. And, and it's really focusing on that, which is how we're rebuilding our relationship with France. Now, part of that means we need to be operating in a completely open and honest way, something we did not see from our former government and that applies in terms of this program. So we've been really clear with them about what we're doing with the helicopters. We'll let that process play out.
GILBERT: The Andrew Hastie comments from late last week where he supported the posture of Joe Biden, Joe Biden has said again that the US would send troops to defend Taiwan in the event of an invasion. It seems strategic ambiguity is gone, in a sense, the comments from Joe Biden and Andrew Hastie of the Coalition supports that posture. What's your view?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, firstly, I observed that America has made clear that their policy in relation to Taiwan has not changed and they have repeatedly said that, notwithstanding the comments that have been made by the President, and I've said previously that I think what the comments from President Biden do show, do demonstrate is an ongoing interest in the Indo Pacific, in East Asia and America's presence. And obviously we welcome America retaining its presence in the Indo Pacific –
GILBERT: But this government's position hasn't shifted –
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: From our point of view, we maintain the position that has been held by governments of both persuasions in this country in the past, which is that we don't want to see any unilateral changes to the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. And that means that the One China policy, which has been bipartisan policy since the 1970s, is the policy of this government. And I think it's really important that that be reiterated. Obviously we want to see a de-escalation of tension around Taiwan. I think the world would breathe a sigh of relief were that to occur. And our focus is on making sure that the Australia’s position is very clear that we do not want to see any unilateral changes to that status quo.
GILERT: Penny Wong met with her Chinese counterpart and raised a number of issues; the tariffs, Australian nationals being held and so on. But when you talk about this relationship stabilizing, I know you've used that language, what does that mean? Does it mean that they're going to come our way a bit now and maybe take off those tariffs and let some of our nationals free that have been detained without trial?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I think what it means from our Government's point of view is that we engage with China in a professional, in a sober, in a diplomatic way. Done so with a fundamental belief in the power of diplomacy. Now, I can’t guarantee you how far that takes us. But what I do know is that engaging in that way is the best way in which we can advance our national interest, and advancing our national interests needs to correctly observe that whilst the government in Australia changed, our national interest didn't. So, when there are issues which are in Australia's national interest, which differ from- the actions of any country, actually, but certainly China- It's important that we are able to articulate that and we will. And so we will continue to do that. And I think for that reason, there will continue to be challenges in our relationship with China. I think it's really important that we continue to raise as the Foreign Minister has, consular matters with China, that we continue to raise questions of human rights because that's a statement about who we are, that we continue to speak to our national interest. But I do believe that doing that in a sober and a diplomatic tone that does allow us to move to a place where the relationship can be more stable.
GILBERT: Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles thanks for your time. Appreciate it.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Kieran.