Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM

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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

SABRA LANE, HOST: Minister, you’ve just had a meeting with the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, what did you discuss and did it include the possibility of Australia acquiring British built nuclear submarines?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, Prime Minister Sunak commented on just how full the agenda is between our two countries and how much that is making perhaps our oldest and most historic relationship, one which is deeply relevant in the contemporary moment, and certainly AUKUS is central to that. And we're close to an announcement, and I'm not about to preempt that now, but I think what you'll see is when we ultimately do announce the optimal pathway that we've been working on with both the United States and the United Kingdom, that what it really is, is a genuinely trilateral effort to see both the UK and the US provide Australia with a nuclear-powered submarine capability.

LANE: In the US, they're having to do repair work on the dry docks that service nuclear submarines. And there's concern in some American defence circles about the timing of delivering subs. Are you worried about America's capability in getting any potential submarines to Australia?

MARLES: Look, we're confident that what we will be announcing in the coming weeks is a pathway that will be able to be delivered by all partners on time. And obviously, we are talking about a program which is not measured in weeks or months, but is actually going to take place over years and decades. And it's a very significant capability that is being provided to Australia. But not for a second do we underestimate the challenge that's involved in that. From an Australian point of view, of course, in terms of us building our own capacity to build a nuclear-powered submarine in Australia, but also what America and Britain will be required to do. But in saying that, we're confident that we will be able to meet those challenges.

LANE: You are also with the new High Commissioner to the UK, Stephen Smith, and he's just finished co-authoring the Defence Strategic Review. Have you got it?

MARLES: Well, we've been very much talking with the DSR leads, and Steven has been one of those, and that in turn is near its completion. But, yeah, that's all on track and we will be in a position to announce that in the time frame that we announced back in August.

LANE: Yesterday, you announced that Australia and France would jointly produce 155mm artillery for Ukraine. I'm just curious to know when will the first batch of that be delivered?

MARLES: Well, as my counterpart, Minister Sébastien Lecornu in France, said yesterday, the intention is to have the first batch of those delivered to Ukraine within the first quarter of this year. We're being coy about the specifics of this and that's for obvious reasons in terms of protecting that information from the benefit of Ukraine. But we're talking about thousands of rounds and this represents a commitment on the part of both France and Australia worth millions of dollars. And it's a very significant commitment which will help support Ukraine. I think it's a very significant statement of shared intent on the part of both France and Australia to make sure that we are there with Ukraine through the duration of this conflict so that Ukraine is in a position to resolve this conflict on their own terms.

LANE: And this commitment, is it a gift or a commercial contract?

MARLES: No, we are providing this to Ukraine and we’re not seeking payment from Ukraine. This is us being there to provide that support to Ukraine so that we can make sure that Ukraine is sustained in its effort to resist the unprovoked aggression from Russia. And it's really important that they are able to do that, because what Russia has done cannot be allowed to stand and that's why we are there with Ukraine.

LANE: Later this week you're also making a lightning visit to the United States for a meeting with the American Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin. Is the AUKUS deal in trouble because of concerns about the US and its submarine building capability?

MARLES: No. This is - the AUKUS process is very much on track. We're at the business end of the season, and that's why I'm taking the opportunity to visit Secretary Austin at the end of this week after I will be talking with my counterpart here in the United Kingdom, Ben Wallace. There is a lot of work which we are transacting right now to make sure that we're in a position to announce this on track, which we are.

LANE: A US general has written a memo warning about a possible war between the US and China in 2025. How alarmed are you by that?

MARLES: The first point to make here is what we seek to do is, through our diplomacy and through our action, reduce tensions within our region and provide for peace. Specifically in respect of Taiwan, what that means is that we stand for the proposition that there should be no alteration to the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. We talk about the fact that we face the most complex set of strategic circumstances that we have since the end of the Second World War. And what that speaks to is an international environment which is becoming more difficult. So we're not sanguine about it. We're very prudent in what we're doing and we are making sure that we can do everything we can to contribute to peace and stability in this moment. Now, the starting point of that, we think, is to make sure that we are active in our diplomacy and that's what we've been doing. But it's also about making sure that we get the hard power equation right from an Australian point of view, and we're doing that as well.

LANE: Richard Marles, thanks for joining the program.

MARLES: Thanks Sabra.


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