18 January 2023
PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Okay, let's bring in the Defence Minister, Richard Marles, live from Melbourne. Minister, good morning, good to see you, thanks for your time as always. So we've got 70 ADF troops heading off from Darwin this week. So when do they go? What day?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Look, firstly happy New Year Pete and great to be back. We will see them going off to UK tomorrow and this is a really important deployment because what we are seeing in Ukraine now is really a reservist force, it's a citizen army, it's people who are giving up their everyday jobs to defend their country and they very much have the heart. But the skills that will be provided by these Australian personnel are going to be really important to equip them for the battlefield, to help keep them safe, to keep Ukraine in the fight and that's what we need to see so that Ukraine can ultimately resolve this conflict on its own terms.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, so where will our troops be based? How will it work?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: So they'll be in the UK, so they're not going to Ukraine, that's an important point to make, they will be in the UK. And it's part of a UK-led initiative to provide training to tens of thousands of Ukraine troops who come to the United Kingdom for that training. And as I said, it is very much a citizen army, so this is really important basic infantry training which is provided to them, which is so important for the fight that they have in front of them.
STEFANOVIC: So how long will our men and women be there in the UK? And will there be rotations?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: So they will be there throughout the course of 2023. We’ll continue to assess this, obviously as the conflict with between Ukraine and Russia continues. There will be rotations, the exact length of those rotations is not a figure that we're making public, but there will be rotations as part of this. But this is very much a commitment throughout the course of this year.
STEFANOVIC: So there's 70 now and so there may well be, or you haven't worked it out yet, extra to come?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, to be clear, we know what is happening. We're not making public the timing of the rotations for a range of operational reasons, but this is a commitment of up to 70 personnel throughout the course of 2023 and beyond that, we'll continue to assess as the conflict evolves.
STEFANOVIC: Okay. Do you see any scenario in which our forces would be required to go and set foot in Ukraine?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I don't, and our forces are not going to Ukraine and I don't see that scenario. But this is really important training that's going to be provided. As I say, it’s being done in the United Kingdom. But giving these Ukrainian soldiers basic infantry training is fundamentally important to allow them to stay in the fight. And to be frank, the fight has been very bloody, it has been very costly to the Ukrainian people, it has been inspirational in terms of the resistance that Ukraine has provided and we need to make sure that we keep supporting Ukraine over the journey so that can continue.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, just a couple of other issues Minister while I’ve got you. Led by the gas crisis at the moment, household gas prices on the East Coast already as high as the Treasurer's worst case scenario. Are the price caps a dud?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, the price caps have been in place for just a couple of weeks, so I think we've got to give them time to take effect. It was a very big step that we took at the end of last year to put in place a price cap and obviously we've empowered the ACCC to make sure that gets passed on to retail customers. But as the Prime Minister said on Sky yesterday, what we are dealing with here is a massive disruption to energy markets around the world by virtue of the conflict that has been brought on by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Australian households, Australian businesses shouldn't have to bear the burden of that, which is why we're very focused on their budget and why we took the steps that we did at the end of last year. And we do expect that they will have a downward pressure on energy prices. But I think we've got to give this step some time to take effect -
STEFANOVIC: How much time?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: It’s only been in place for a couple of weeks
STEFANOVIC: How much time will it take for people to see savings?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we expect this will place a downward pressure on energy prices. It's a big step that we've taken, it's only been in place for the last couple of weeks. It was a step that was taken with, obviously, the increases energy prices that were forecast in mind. Let's, let's give it time to take effect.
STEFANOVIC: Okay. But retailers expect to hike prices another 20% next month, 27% in your state of Victoria, Minister. So how much further or how much higher do you expect that to go?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, we're very mindful of the shock to the energy market that the war in Ukraine has given rise to and the impact that that's having on Australian households and Australian businesses, and that's why we took the step that we did at the end of last year. I would emphasise again that we are empowering the ACCC to make sure that this price cap is passed on through the retailers to any consumers and that's very important and the ACCC, you can be assured, will do its work here. We will continue to be a government which fights for people's household budgets, for business budgets and that's the commitment that Australians can see from this government.
STEFANOVIC: And Minister, just to end on a sad note. You are of course our Defence Minister. One of our top military men, Jim Molan, passed away on Monday. What are your reflections on him and his legacy?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Look, it's very sad, obviously. Jim had been engaged in a long health battle, but when I heard the news yesterday morning, I felt very sad. We're on the opposite sides of the fence, but Jim has been very generous in the time he'd given me, we both share an interest in national security, we spoke a lot about it and he was a fierce advocate for the people of New South Wales in the Senate. But I think what he brought to politics was a very clear voice and that's what we all strive or aspire to do.
I think the other point to make is that before we saw Senator Jim Molan, there was Major General Jim Molan, and he gave four decades of service to the Australian Army, deployed in many places, including PNG, East Timor, Iraq and his is a very big life, and he is really mourned by a very deeply grateful nation.
STEFANOVIC: You are right. Defence Minister Richard Marles. Thanks as always for your time and happy New Year to you.
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