Interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News 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 January 2023

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Australian Defence Force soldiers will fly out of Darwin this week to provide training to Ukrainian troops in their ongoing battle against Russia's invasion. For more, the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Richard Marles joins us in the studio. Minister, very good morning to you and happy New Year.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER RICHARD MARLES: Happy New Year, Michael. Great to be here.

ROWLAND: Now, what will these Australian soldiers be doing over in the UK?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is part of a UK-led mission, but they will be providing training around basic infantry tactics to Ukrainian recruits. And the significance of this is that the Ukrainian Army right now is really a reservist army. These are citizen soldiers. It's people who are giving up their day jobs to help fight for their country, and the heart is very much there but the training that will be provided by the Australian troops will give these Ukrainian soldiers the skills they need to equip them on the battlefield. It will save lives and it will keep Ukraine in the fight, which is really important.

ROWLAND: What sort of training in particular will be offered?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Look, it's basic infantry training, which is what we're talking about, and we're talking about that to people whose day job is not being a soldier, whose day job is whatever else they've been doing. This is now a citizen Army that is forming in Ukraine. But I think the important point to make here is that we've really understood through the course of last year that this was evolving into a protracted conflict, that we – we, the international community, and Australia as part of it – need to do everything we can to keep Ukraine in this fight for the duration so that this can be resolved on Ukraine's terms. That's what really matters here. And that means that we've got to be there for the long term.

ROWLAND: Okay, we've got the training troops going over, we've already supplied a number of Bushmaster armoured vehicles to Ukraine. Do you foresee any further help down the track for Ukraine from the Australian Government?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Look, I think it's possible because I think we need to be there for the long term. And we've been saying that all along, that we'll continue to assess this as the conflict evolves, but we see this as a conflict which has been evolving into a protracted long-term dispute. And the way in which we serve our national interest, given that what we really stand for is the global rules-based order – and Russia's invasion of Ukraine is such an affront to that order – to make this conclude in the way that we would want we've got to be there for Ukraine over the long term. And that's what we intend to do.

ROWLAND: While we're speaking about Russia, do you back in the organisers of the Australian Open in banning Russian flags at the tournament?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Look, obviously this is a decision of Tennis Australia. We've not been talking to Tennis Australia about the decision that they've made. I can certainly understand the decision they've made.

ROWLAND: Do you support it?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's their decision.

ROWLAND: But do you support it?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I certainly understand the decision that they've made. I really do. Our focus, as I've just said in obviously the conversation that we just had, is to make sure that we stand with Ukraine. And there is no doubt that the international community needs to stand as one against the aggression of Russia. I mean, what Russia has done in invading Ukraine is to impose itself on a small neighbour, not by reference to the rule of law, but by reference to its own power and might. And in this day and age, that can't be allowed to stand. We have to live in a world where we're resolving conflicts based on the law, and based on sitting down and negotiating those matters through. And Russia has clearly not done that. And it's really important that the world stands against Russia.

ROWLAND: Okay, another big announcement in your area this morning that's the close to $3 billion the Federal Government is spending on 40 new Black Hawk military choppers from the US. Big announcement, lots of money. Why are the existing Taipan choppers so, I guess, not fit for purpose?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, look we've been struggling with the Taipans for many years now in terms of maintenance issues, getting spare parts. The short answer to your question, it is a good question, is we've just not got the flying hours out of the Taipan that we would need. We're confident that we can get that from the Black Hawks. It's a platform we're familiar with. We've operated in different contexts before. And so we think this is a really important decision to make sure that this capability, Army lift, is able to be achieved and that we can get the flying hours out of our Army helicopters that we need.

ROWLAND: Okay, you’re changing choppers much earlier than scheduled. Airbus makes the Taipans, part owned by the French government. We’re not walking into another diplomatic spat here are we, with the French?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: No, we're not. And again, I understand that question, but I think there's a couple of points to make about that in terms of the French. One is French industry is a huge part of Australian defence industry. You only need to look at Thales, for example, which makes the Bushmasters, which we've been talking about, which are a big part of our own Army, and we've obviously been sending to Ukraine. Thales, make those Bushmasters in Bendigo. Airbus is a big company still in Australia, Safran. So French defence industry remain a big part of Australian defence industry. But really, at the end of the day, the most important thing here is dealing with the French in an honest way. And I've been talking with my counterpart, Minister Sébastien Lecornu, about the Taipan issue. We've had many conversations about it. We've been trying to work through it. This is not a surprise to the French. Obviously, we've forecasted to them a long time ahead of this announcement where we're going here. So we're confident that this won't interrupt the relationship – the renewed relationship with France.

ROWLAND: Okay, just one other issue before you go. The increasingly, it seems to me, willing conflict between the Federal Government and the big gas producers. Your colleague, the Industry Minister, Ed Husic, yesterday accused some gas producers of wanting to keep making Putin's profits in resisting government intervention. Strong words. Do you back Ed Husic’s language and what do you think about the conduct of some of our big gas producers?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I certainly back our Industry Minister, but I think the point here and what I take from Ed's comments, is that our focus is on the budgets of Australian households and the budgets of Australian businesses. And we're focused there. I'm pretty confident that the budgets of the gas producers are going to be okay –

ROWLAND: But are they being greedy?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we're doing everything we can to try and put a downward pressure on energy prices. The war in Ukraine has had an extraordinary impact on energy markets around the world. Australian businesses and Australian households shouldn't have to bear the burden of that. That's why we have taken the steps that we have to put in place a price cap, and we expect that will put a downward pressure on energy prices. Our focus is on household budgets, and it will continue to be so.

ROWLAND: Richard Marles, really appreciate you coming in. Thanks for your time.



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