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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1 February 2023

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Richard Marles joins us from London. Minister, very good morning to you.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Good morning. How are you? Very good evening from here.

ROWLAND: Yes, good evening. Looks like a lovely evening there as well. Do you agree with your colleague that Britain has a narrow view of its past when it comes to the Asia Pacific region?

MARLES: Penny's comments are really important and she's making the critical point that acknowledging past allows us to do much more in terms of engaging in the future. And engagement going forward in the Indo-Pacific is going to be really important. But what we're also seeing with Britain is a desired tilt towards the Indo-Pacific, which we very much welcome. A greater presence of Great Britain in the Indo-Pacific. And that's going to be really important in terms of the stability of our region in the future.

ROWLAND: All that's welcome. But do you agree that Britain, obviously the Government wants Britain to be more engaged in the region, but should Britain do more to confront its colonial past? As you know, it is a deeply sensitive issue in many of our Pacific neighbouring countries.

MARLES: Sure, and I think this is a conversation which is happening in Britain right now. But I completely agree with what Penny has said, which is that it's really important for all countries to think about their past in terms of that providing a gateway for meaningful engagement in the future. And we want to see a Great Britain which is engaged in our region, and they certainly seek to be that. Because a Britain engaged in the Indo-Pacific will help provide stability in the Indo-Pacific, and that's really important.

ROWLAND: Okay, you and Penny Wong have just travelled from France, where it appears the Australian-French relationship is back on track. Broadly speaking, how would you describe the state of the Australia-UK relationship?

MARLES: The Australia-UK relationship is obviously a very deep relationship. There's a lot of people to people links. It's one which has incredible history, obviously, for our country. But the point I would make is that as we stand here at the beginning of 2023, there is much on our agenda which actually makes a really deep, historical relationship, one which is very contemporary as well. We've got the UK Free Trade Agreement close to finalisation. There is a very strong agenda between the UK and Australia now in terms of meaningful global action on climate change. And importantly in the defence sphere, what we're seeing with AUKUS, which is coming close to announcement, is the UK and the US working very closely together to help provide Australia with a nuclear-powered submarine capability, which is an incredible step forward, obviously, for Australia, but a really big step in the context of our relationship. And we've met this afternoon with Prime Minister Sunak and he made the point that there is an enormous amount on the bilateral agenda at the moment, which is making us as close now as we've ever been.

ROWLAND: Speaking of AUKUS, news from the last day or so that repair work has been needed on dry docks on the US West Coast, that repair US nuclear subs. Also concern within some defence circles about the timetable of Australia getting these nuclear subs under AUKUS. Are you worried at all about America's capabilities in serving up these submarines to Australia?

MARLES: We're confident that what we will be announcing in respect of AUKUS in the coming weeks is going to be something that can be delivered by all three countries. So we are very confident about that. But we certainly understand the size of the challenge for all three countries. And there is an ambitious timeline that we will be articulating when this announcement is made. And it really does involve all three countries making significant efforts to step up to the plate to make this occur. And so we don't take any of that for granted and we know the challenge involved, but we're confident that we'll be able to meet it.

ROWLAND: Just a domestic issue before we leave you. Our lead story is those gas prices going up from today. For some Victorians, your home state, they'll be facing increases of more than 25%. I know the Federal Government put this gas price cap in before Christmas. That will take some time to flow through. That's not going to stop householders from getting a very rude shock indeed around the country when they open their latest gas bills. What have you got to say to those Australians?

MARLES: Well, look, we we understand the pressure that exists in relation to energy prices and that's why we took the action that we did at the end of last year. It's really only come into effect in the last few weeks. It will need time to take effect, but it will have an effect. And we absolutely understand the pressures that households and businesses face in relation to this, which is why we are taking that action, because a focus on household budgets, on the budgets of businesses, is front of mind in terms of what the Albanese Government is doing.

ROWLAND: Okay, and just very finally, as the sirens go past you there. The new Central Australian commissioner will hand her report on what to do about Alice Springs to the government, the Federal Government and the Territory Government today. Would you, like your colleague Linda Burney, the Minister for Indigenous Australians, be open to a wider alcohol ban in Alice Springs to try to tackle this crime wave?

MARLES: Well, look, you'll appreciate I'm overseas at the moment, so I'm kind of reluctant to go into those domestic issues in detail and I think I'll leave those comments to Linda. But we obviously await the report from the Controller and that will be very important in terms of informing the way forward.

ROWLAND: Okay. Richard Marles, we’ll leave it there. Thank you so much for joining us from London this morning.

MARLES: Thanks Michael.


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