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The Hon Richard Marles MP
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for Defence
8 December 2022
SABRA LANE: Australia's quest to acquire nuclear-powered submarines has been discussed at a meeting in Washington between the Defence Ministers from Australia, the US, and the UK. It's the first face to face AUKUS meeting, and comes a day after Australia's Defence and Foreign Ministers met their US counterparts for the annual AUSMIN talks. The Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Richard Marles, joined me earlier.
Richard Marles, thanks for joining AM.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Pleasure, Sabra.
LANE: What progress have you made in sorting out which nuclear-powered submarines Australia will acquire and when they'll be delivered?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, the optimal pathway is now crystallising. That's really what's come out of the meeting with the United States and the United Kingdom today in our first AUKUS Defence Ministers’ Meeting. And we've been forecasting that we will make an announcement in the first part of next year, we're certainly on track to do that and so there's really good progress. But there's still more to be done. Obviously, the specifics of this needs to go through the decision making processes of all the countries, it needs to go through our own in Australia, and that’s, sort of, some water to go under the bridge here. But the optimal pathway is now crystallising and we're pretty excited about it.
LANE: Have you made a decision yet on whether it'll be a UK or a US submarine?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: We'll announce all of that when we make the announcement. But I would say this: whereas perhaps earlier on in the process one might have imagined that this could turn into some competitive process, what's really been clear as this has evolved is that it's been a genuine collaboration, between the United States and the United Kingdom first of all, and with the two of them with us to provide Australia with a capability of operating a nuclear-powered submarine, and speaks, I think, to a shared mission to achieve this in what is a pretty precarious and complex world.
LANE: US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has said that Australia won't be left with a capability gap while we wait for nuclear submarines. Can you explain what other types of weapons the US might supply?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, a lot of this will form part of the announcement that we ultimately make next year. But I am pleased that he said what he said, because I've been articulating for some time now that dealing with questions of a capability gap would need to be part of the work that we're undertaking right now. And that really emanates from the fact that we effectively had a lost decade in relation to the successor submarine class after Collins. And given that lost decade, there has been the real potential for there to be a capability gap. And so, first of all, we need to be looking at ways in which we can get our first nuclear-powered submarine as soon as possible.
But to the extent that there is a capability gap which arises, we need to have answers as to how to plug that. Now, I feel confident we will be able to have those answers. I think that's what Secretary Austin was speaking to when he made those comments. But we've been saying for some time now that that needs to and will form part of the announcements that we make when we announce the optimal pathway next year.
LANE: So in talking about things being crystallised as well, are you any closer to knowing if a so called son of Collins submarine will be needed to bridge that capability gap between the existing Collins class subs and the nuclear propelled subs?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well I suppose the answer to that question is we are, in saying that the optimal pathway is now crystallising. As the three countries have worked together, we can now see the pathway forward. We've all gone into this in good faith. The three countries are very much committed to the outcome of this AUKUS process. But there is still some water to go under the bridge here. But I feel confident that we're going to be able to land this and we'll be able to land this in the first part of next year, which is what our plan was. This will represent a complete transformation in terms of Australia's capabilities and our strategic posture.
LANE: The US has agreed to step up its rotations of American forces in Australia. Is that going to mean more US submarines and ships on top of troops?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: We want to do more force posture cooperation across all domains – not just army, but army, air force and Navy. And we have talked about having more visits of American navy vessels, including submarines, into Australia. And indeed, the USS Mississippi has been in Australia over the last week or two. This is not new, but we do want to step up the tempo. And again, I think what that really reflects is seeking to build Australian capability, knowing that one of the key assets that we have with our capability is the alliances and the partnerships that we have around the world, and obviously particularly with the United States. But from here, the Foreign Minister and I will be going to Japan tonight. We're meeting Japan on Friday and seeking to get greater Japanese involvement in force posture cooperation really will be an important outcome we will be seeking from that meeting.
LANE: And finally, are you disappointed that the chief Bali bomber, Umar Patek, has been released from jail after serving just over half of his sentence?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I think this is going to be a very difficult day for many Australians – all Australians – to hear about the release of Umar Patek. I'm particularly thinking right now of the families of those who were killed and injured in the Bali bombings. And we've made repeated representations to the Indonesian Government about the early release of Umar Patek, and we will continue to make repeated representations to the Indonesian Government about making sure that there is constant surveillance of Umar Patek. But this is, I think, a very difficult day for the country and it's a particularly difficult day for the families of those, as I said, who were killed and injured in the Bali bombings.
LANE: Richard Marles, thanks for joining AM this morning.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Sabra.