Ben Fordham, The Ben Fordham Breakfast 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 October 2022

SUBJECTS: Letter from His Majesty King Charles III to ADF personnel; Ukraine; Defence spending.

BEN FORDHAM, HOST: The Defence Minister, Richard Marles, is on the line. Minister, good morning to you.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER RICHARD MARLES: Good morning Ben, how are you?

FORDHAM: I'm doing pretty well. So that's a nice letter from King Charles to all of our ADF members. I'm sure it would be appreciated.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, I think you're right to describe it as something which is very special and I actually appreciate you reaching out to me because, I have to confess, I wasn't aware of the letter until you raised it and we went out and found it. And I know that this is something that will mean a lot to our serving men and women. There's a very strong connection between the Royal Family and our Defence Force and I think for a lot of people in the Defence Force, to be honest, there is a sense of identity about this. People are in the Royal Australian Navy, they're in the Royal Australian Air Force, or the Royal Australian Regiment and so to see the letter which acknowledges Queen Elizabeth's appreciation for their efforts from the new King, I think is something which actually is really special and we really appreciate it.

FORDHAM: We know that Ukraine is front of mind for you and the Defence Force at the moment. You have flagged the potential deployment of Australian troops to the UK. So this isn't going into Ukraine, it's helping train Ukrainian soldiers. Are we going to do that?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, forgive me in the sense that it's probably not my place to make that announcement, but this is an idea which is definitely in the mix and we are talking with Ukraine right now, with the Ukrainian Ambassador, and indeed, Prime Minister Albanese spoke with President Zelenskyy yesterday about the ways in which we can continue to provide Ukraine support over what we consider is going to be a period of time. This is a conflict which is turning into a protracted one and we need to stand with Ukraine so that ultimately they are able to resolve this conflict on their own terms, and that means thinking about support in a long-term way and that's where our heads are at.

FORDHAM: You said yesterday the unprovoked aggression from Russia cannot be allowed to stand, but isn't that what we've done, haven't we stood by? And I'm not suggesting that we should be going into Ukraine, but I'm just, as an armchair observer, noting that when you said the unprovoked aggression from Russia cannot be allowed to stand, hasn't the world stood by and watched that unprovoked aggression play out for nearly a year now?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I don't think that's fair. I think that the Ukrainian Government would be the first to say that their ability to provide an inspirational resistance which first and foremost comes from Ukrainian servicemen and women – and it has been an inspiration, I don't think any of us would have imagined that Ukraine would have done so well since February, as they have, but I think they would acknowledge that a large part of that is by virtue of the support that they have been provided by countries around the world, and that very much includes Australia. And in all the conversations I've had with my counterpart in Ukraine, with the Ukrainian Ambassador, there is a sense of enormous gratitude for the particular role that Australia has played. We've been the largest non-NATO contributor to the effort in Ukraine. Our Bushmasters are doing great work there and that's been a matter which has been given some profile. And I think the support that we are providing to Ukraine is a large part of why they've been able to continue in the way they have. But the point we're really making is that what Russia did in invading Ukraine was a complete affront to the global rules-based order, the international rule of law, and it can't be allowed to stand, which is why countries need to support Ukraine over the long-term, to put them in a position where they are able to resolve this dispute – this conflict – on their own terms.

FORDHAM: We're talking to the Defence Minister Richard Marles. Mr Marles, you've provided a scathing update this week on the state of our defence projects. Billions of dollars over budget, a mile behind schedule. And I won't run through them all here and now, but I'm keen to get your take on something that has been raised by Greg Sheridan in The Australian newspaper. You know that Greg Sheridan is very passionate about defence matters and he points to the $30 billion investment into heavy armour for the Australian Army. He says “this is an insane program, we have not deployed a tank outside of Australia in more than 50 years. We're planning to acquire 450 of the heaviest combat vehicles in the world. We cannot transport them effectively inside Australia as it is”. I'm guessing you're looking at all of these things at the moment and working out what is the best use of our money?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Defence Strategic Review which we announced back in August was really about trying to think about what sort of Defence Force we need going into the future where we face a very different set of strategic circumstances in a much more complex and, to be frank, threatening set of strategic circumstances than we have faced in a long time, really at any point since the end of the Second World War. And it really does demand that we think about this in a new way, in a different way. I think inevitably, we imagine that defence spending is going to increase. In a rational world, defence spending is a function of strategic threat. We're rational people. And so the Defence Strategic Review is going to look at what should be the shape of our Defence Force – what gear, what equipment, what people do we need. But over and above that, it's really important then, that in terms of the management of every project, every program that we're doing that in a way which is really effective, really efficient, which is delivering value for money for the taxpayer and which is building capability that makes Australians safe. So, on both fronts, it's really important that we are excellent. And as you mentioned, the truth is that what we've inherited is 28 projects which are running a combined 97 years overtime. That is a mess by any description and it presents part of the challenge that we have to face in terms of preparing ourselves for the future.

FORDHAM: It's going to be a difficult balance. I appreciate your time this morning. We'll catch up again soon.




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