Interview with Gareth Parker, 6PR Breakfast

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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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18 November 2022

GARETH PARKER, HOST: He is in Western Australia today, he has a lot on the Government’s agenda. There is the decision overnight of the Dutch court on the MH17 trial. There are mining companies, resources companies nervous about the Government’s planned changes to industrial relations and tax. There is also the question of what happens next, with our relationship with China. The Acting Prime Minister and the Defence Minister is Richard Marles. He joins me on 6PR Breakfast. Good morning Minister.

RICHARD MARLES, ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Good morning Gareth, how are you?

PARKER: Well. Welcome to the West. What are you up to today?

MARLES: Well today, I'm actually going to go to a defence facility this morning, Campbell Barracks, and then off to Exmouth later in the day to see the Harold E. Holt facility up there. And it's a really good opportunity to see part of the defence establishment, which is obviously a big part of what happens in Perth and very, very important facilities. Yesterday I was down at Henderson, which is obviously really important in terms of the sustainment of our Navy, was seeing both submarines and the new patrol vessels that are being built down there, and seeing Western Australian industry at its best.

PARKER: Are you any closer to deciding whether that multi-billion dollar dry dock facility will go in at Henderson?

MARLES: Well, I think the point to make here is that whichever way you look at it, the Henderson-Fremantle-Perth area, is a really important part of our defence posture. I mean, in many ways, when you when you think about the Indo-Pacific from an Australian point of view, the geographic heart of that is right here. And so making sure that we've got the right infrastructure at Henderson is going to be really important.

The specifics of the dry dock is really an issue which is being considered as part of the Defence Strategic Review and in that sense, that process is on track, and we're looking forward to getting the report of that in the first part of next year. But I think as you look forward –

PARKER: But are you committed to that facility in particular? Because it’s something that the Premier Mark McGowan, the Defence Industries Minister Paul Papalia are red-hot on. They say that it’s essential.

MARLES: They are red-hot on it, that’s true, and I’ve spoken with Minister Papalia about this. We want the Defence Strategic Review to play out, but as I say whichever way you look at it, there is an increased role for this part of the world and for Henderson, for Fremantle in the defence of our nation, and we will be looking very closely at what the infrastructure needs are that are associated with that.

PARKER: Do you want nuclear powered submarines based here, under the AUKUS deal, at HMAS Sterling?

MARLES: Not based, no, and we won't see that. Sorry, in terms of Australian submarines, we will see Australian submarines based at Sterling. Sterling is currently the home of our submarine fleet and that that will be the case going forward. I should make that clear. But in respect of foreign vessels coming to Australia, I think you'll see more visits, but you'll never say foreign vessels based in Australia.

PARKER: Sorry, my question was more about the future of nuclear powered submarines under AUKUS. So Australian boats. Will they be nuclear powered submarines at HMAS Stirling?

MARLES: Sorry, yes, indeed. So in terms of Australian submarines, Stirling is the principal submarine base in this country –

PARKER: And will remain so?

MARLES: And I see that remaining so, yeah.

PARKER: Ok. Your reaction, Acting Prime Minister, to the news overnight that three men have been found guilty over the MH17 attack. It must be some measure of relief for the families, but what does the Australian Government think about these verdicts handed down in the Netherlands?

MARLES: Well, I think it's an important step in the right direction. It's important that there is accountability here and that accountability lies with these three individuals and with Russia. There's also though, a sense of unfinished business, I think, in that whilst there is justice in the issue having been prosecuted and there being a result, and people are now being held to account, of course, those people were tried in absentia, they remain at large.

And so I think this is probably a day of mixed feelings for the families. I suspect that there will be some comfort in the verdict, but there's also going to be a lot of pain associated with the memories of that appalling day being brought back. But I think there is also a sense of unfinished business and it is right to be holding them accountable and Russia accountable and we now have this verdict which is really important but there is still a way to go here.

PARKER: It’s been an interesting week on the global stage. The Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of course has had that very highly publicised meeting with Xi Jinping. And I think he was quite clear eyed, and realistic about the – where the significance of that and what we should expect from that goes forward.

But for West Australian rock lobster fisherman, for West Australian grain growers, for West Australian wine growers who have seen markets in China evaporate. What realistic timeline do you think that we should be putting on – that they should be putting on, the possibility of getting their products back into the Chinese market?

MARLES: Yeah, look, I think there's still a bit of water to go under the bridge here is really the answer to that question. I mean, this is obviously a step in the right direction. We do want to stabilise the relationship with China, we are obviously seeking a return of that trade, and we do value a productive relationship with China. It's our largest trading partner. But you know, the relationship is difficult and complex and that, I might say, is precisely why we need to have communication in the relationship, which is why I think this step of the first meeting between our two leaders in six years is such an important step. But I feel that there is a way to go.

Obviously, from the Government's point of view, we'll continue to advocate for getting that trade back in place. But it has to be said that with all the challenges that are in the relationship with China, it's still very important that we speak up for our national interest and that we do that even when that differs from Chinese action. And we will continue to do that.

PARKER: Peter Dutton says that your government is reaping the benefits of his government’s hard-line stance on China. By holding the line they’ve seen that Australia won’t be bullied and intimidated and that’s why President Xi is now prepared to have a meeting. How do you respond to that?

MARLES: I think there's some hyperbole there from the Leader of the Opposition, I mean, the truth is that there needed to be a change of tone here in the relationship, we want to get the relationship to a place which is better. I mean, under the former government, really, we saw a government which did little in terms of getting the hard power equation right for our nation, and spent the better part of a decade yelling at the world. And I don't think that advanced our national interests much at all.

What we're trying to do is, understanding the very difficult issues at play in our relationship, make sure that we get the hard power equation right. That's actually what builds strategic space; making sure we've got the right defence equipment and posture and personnel, and of course, that's what the Defence Strategic Review is about. But at the same time in the way in which we do our relations with foreign countries, do that in a way where our diplomacy is as good as it can be. We seek to be excellent at diplomacy, because that is how you actually advance the national interest, and really that is nothing more than being serious, mature players and that’s what we have tried to be.

PARKER: Richard Marles you know, as well as anyone, that the resources industry is central to Western Australia’s economy, and central to Australia’s export economy. The miners and the gas companies are, I think, unhappy with your government’s proposal on industrial relations – particularly sector-wide bargaining.

There is also persistent speculation about a tax on gas exports to address east coast energy prices. Can you give the sector some reassurance on either of those fronts?

MARLES: Well, I mean the fundamental reassurance is that we'll continue to work with the sector on all of these issues, so no one's going to be taken by any surprise here. And we, you know, we're very keen to talk with the sector and to get their views on all of these issues. But, you know, we are facing a situation where energy prices are going up very significantly, and that is putting enormous –

PARKER: Not so much here though in the West, because we’ve got a reservation policy?

MARLES: No, sure, but around the country and that is putting pressure on households and businesses. When it comes to industrial relations, look, all we want is a fair industrial relations system, which encourages people to get around the table, to talk about ways in which they can get more productive workplaces, and in that way, get workplaces where we get wages going again. And that's really at the heart of our industrial relations reforms. But we will continue to talk with the resources sector, it's a profoundly important sector for our country. It really is one of our great national strengths and it's obviously a source of huge employment and huge national income and we will continue to make sure that all the steps that we take as a government are done in consultation with them.

PARKER: Defence Minister, Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles, appreciate your time on 6PR Breakfast this morning. Thank you.

MARLES: Thank you Gareth, and good luck for your future, it's very good to be speaking to you on your last day.

PARKER: Good on you.

MARLES: And I think that your listeners will have enjoyed the contribution that you've made here in Perth over many years now and we really wish you the best for your future.

PARKER: Good on you. That’s very nice of you to say, I appreciate it. Thank you.

MARLES: Thanks Gareth.


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