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The Hon Richard Marles MP
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for Defence
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
02 6277 7800
Senator the Hon Penny Wong
Minister for Foreign Affairs
2 February 2023
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: It is very poignant to be here with the Foreign Minister and to see the work that our Australian trainers are doing in training Ukrainian soldiers. It's really important to understand that this is a citizen army which is in place now in Ukraine. The people that we're seeing, who are being trained, have come from normal jobs throughout their country, have volunteered in order to defend their country. And what they face is intense danger when they go home. The training that Australians are providing, are going to help make them safer. It will save lives, and it will make an incredible contribution to enabling Ukraine to stay in this fight for as long as possible, so that they are able to resolve this conflict on Ukraine's terms, which is so important for the world. It really is. And it very much goes to Australia's national interest. I think Penny and I have an intense sense of pride about what our Australian servicemen and women are doing here. They are making a real difference to what's happening in Ukraine.
PENNY WONG, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thanks, Richard. Look, we've spoken a lot in Australia about what Ukraine means to us, in Australia, and means to the world community. It is a fight that is about protecting the rules that have protected us for many decades. And it is a fight against an illegal and immoral war being waged by Mr. Putin. I've had moving moments before talking about this issue, and I've met with members of the Australian Ukrainian community. But to be here, and to speak with those brave Ukrainians who have come here in order to learn better how to defend their country is profoundly humbling. And I want to acknowledge them, and I want to acknowledge, as Richard has, the Australians who are here, working with others, to better prepare and train these brave men and women. Thank you.
REPORTER: Deputy PM, since your last big announcement on military aid back in October, your counterpart here in the UK has made four big announcements, including sending tanks to Ukraine. Is Australia dragging the chain on military aid?
MARLES: I don't think anyone would say that of the contribution that Australia has made. And there's an ongoing question of balancing the support that we provide Ukraine and ensuring that we maintain our own capabilities in Australia for our own national purposes. But it's worth remembering that Australia is one of the largest non-NATO contributors to the effort in Ukraine. And in all the meetings that we've had, wherever we go, there is an incredible sense of gratitude from countries in Europe, but from Ukraine itself, for the contributions that Australia is making. Now we know this is going to be a prolonged conflict. We will continue to assess what we need to do to make sure that we stand with Ukraine, but be sure that, that is what we will do. And obviously the training efforts that you're seeing today is part of that.
REPORTER: Ukraine’s asked for tanks, they've asked for tanks, we have 50 odd Abrams tanks that are due to be replaced next year, why can't we send any of them to Ukraine?
MARLES: Again, we will continually assess the contribution that we make. We’ll keep the dialogue going with Ukraine. But if you take a step back, and look at the overall contribution that we have made and have been making, and we'll continue to do it, we stand as one of the largest non-NATO contributors to supporting Ukraine and that should be a source of pride for all Australians.
REPORTER: Has Australia ruled out sending tanks?
MARLES: We will continue to have an assessment about how we can best support Ukraine. Now, right now, the support that's making a real difference is what you are seeing around us here. Think about the soldiers who are being trained, think about the environment that they're going to go into in the near future, think about the difference that has been made for them by the skills and the proficiency which has been passed on to them by the Australian trainers. That is a huge contribution and that is our focus right now.
REPORTER: Will the Australian trainers continue to be part of this for as long as it takes? (inauduble) a timeframe on it?
MARLES: We're not putting a timeframe on it. So it's a completely fair question. Obviously, we're not putting a timeframe on it, because you can't put a timeframe on the conflict. And to be frank, we're being coy about that for a whole lot of important reasons. But I think in the general sense, we will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes and we understand that this is going to be a protracted conflict.
REPORTER: And Minister, of the 90 Bushmasters that have been allocated, how many are actually in Ukraine? Are they still making their way there, those last 30?
MARLES: Yeah, well, again, we're not we're not talking about numbers publicly, again for operational reasons. But the point I would make about the delivery of the Bushmasters is that the schedule of delivery is on target.
REPORTER: Did you ever think that you would be in a position of sending Australian Army personnel to train people in World War One tactics, trench warfare?
MARLES: Well, tactics have evolved and I think one of the things we would want to point out, and you can see it with what we're witnessing today - the very sophisticated training which is underway - but I guess the kind of import of your question speaks to the brutality of the conflict that these people are about to go back to, and that's right. You know, it is brutal. And those who are being trained here now, in the very near future are going to find themselves in a very dangerous and brutal environment. And the answer to your question is no, I wouldn't have imagined that. And I think when you speak to the Australians who are doing this training, I'm not sure they would have either. But in speaking to them, what's really clear is the sense of moment that they have about what they're doing, about the seriousness of this and the difference that they're making, and it's impossible not to feel a real sense of pride about that.
REPORTER: For the Foreign Minister. When will Australia’s Ambassador to Ukraine be back in Kyiv? Every other major Western nation has functioning embassies now in Kyiv. Would it not help Australian-Ukrainian relations for him to be back?
WONG: Look, we considered this very carefully, looked at the range of security issues and the decision at the moment is that we will continue to provide assistance from, I think it’s Poland. Obviously we’ll continue to review that, but the safety of Australian personnel, obviously, is the priority we have to apply to that decision.