Interview with Karl Stefanovic and Sarah Abo, Today

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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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1 February 2023

KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: What may have once been a fractured relationship between Australia and France appears, now, to have been repaired. The two countries shaking hands this week for a new defence deal.

SARAH ABO, HOST: The agreement, worth millions of dollars, will provide ammunition to Ukraine in its ongoing fight against Russia’s invasion. Joining us now in London is Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles. Good morning Richard, so have you fixed our relationship with the French, oui?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Good evening from the UK. Well, I think there is a warmth in the relationship with France now, I think it’s returned to the relationship. And certainly between myself and my counterpart, Sébastien Lecornu, there’s a real warmth, as there is between our respective foreign ministers and I think that characterises the bilateral relationship. It does feel like it’s on track, and that’s important, because France is a very close neighbour of Australia and it matters. And it really matters that we have the best relationship we can with a country which is a liberal democracy, which shares values around the rule of law, which is in our region. And it's for those reasons, of course, that we’re working together in supporting Ukraine.

STEFANOVIC: Ok, that’s the good news. You are heading to the US now, or after London. Let's face it, the AUKUS submarines are never going to happen, are they?

MARLES: Well that’s good news as well, Karl. And we're getting close to the finishing line in respect of the submarine announcement. There's a lot of work which is going on. I’ll obviously be raising that and it will be very central in our discussions here in the UK and with my counterpart, Ben Wallace, who, after I’ve finished this interview with you now, I will be going out to dinner with. And I will be catching up with Lloyd Austin towards the end of the week as well, as part of that. And we're on track to be able to make the announcement, as we said, in the first part of this year and it is going to be a huge step in terms of Australia's military capability to be able to operate a nuclear-powered submarine. And the US and the UK working together to provide that capability for Australia in turn, is a very historic step indeed.

ABO: Interesting that you would refer to that as good news because we know the US is struggling to make one a year for themselves. There are forecasts that we won't get these until 2040, but now it’s looking like it may not even be until 2050.

MARLES: Well, I wouldn't read much into those forecasts. You will be hearing an announcement from us in the not too distant future. And we are confident about our ability to develop quickly, in these terms, a capacity to build nuclear-powered submarines in Australia. And while, you know, that will still be some time in the future, we also feel confident that the pathway that we will be announcing will deal with any question of a capability gap. Now I don't want to pre-empt all of that now but a lot of work has been done and this does represent a genuinely trilateral agreement that's been reached between the three countries and it's a very significant step-up in capability for our country and that is very good news.

STEFANOVIC: It sounds like you are sitting on some fairly sizeable news. Look, we don't have many viewers at this hour of the morning. Why don't you just tell us?

MARLES: What is the hour of the morning? I am so – you’ve got half the country viewing. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

ABO: That’s right. Everyone’s tuning in.

STEFANOVIC: Normally it’s the whole country.

MARLES: And just because I've got jet lag, you are not going to get a scoop out of me now. I remain focused and disciplined.

STEFANOVIC: Alright, looks like it’s going to be exciting news. I mean, there's lots of speculation about the AUKUS deal and the submarines not coming through at all, but it looks like you're pretty close so we’ll wish you the best of luck on your travels and looking forward to talking to you in the United States soon.

MARLES: Look forward to it. Thanks, Karl. Thanks, Sarah.


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