Doorstop Interview, Parliament House

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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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15 February 2023

SUBJECTS: Recruitment of ex-ADF personnel; Defence Strategic Review; Defence budget

REPORTER: I might just start with the pilots if that's okay? Your Home Affairs Minister came out said we're going to call out foreign interference, and the Shadow Defence Minister said calling out and being transparent about foreign interference can help pilots being approached. So, are you able to say how many people have been approached? Or will you eventually reveal how many people have been approached now that you've got the review?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I'm not going to speculate on that. We asked Defence to do a review into this question because, obviously what was raised coming out of the United Kingdom was very serious. And it is serious. And it's an issue that this country needs to address. The thing I would want to give people a sense of comfort about is that the policies and law that we do have in place now is robust. I mean, any person who comes into knowledge of an Australian secret by virtue of their work with the Commonwealth, including our Defence Force, who reveals that secret is breaking the law. That is the law right now. But what I have said today is that we will be developing legislation as soon as we can, to just make sure that the full breadth of that leaves no doubt about any of the information, which is an ancillary to the secret, also forming part of it.

REPORTER: Just to clarify, you said, speculate. It's not speculation, the review either said there has been pilots that have been approached in Australia or it hasn't. So –

MARLES: I'm not going to go into that on the public record. The –

REPORTER: Can I ask why?

MARLES: Because I don't want to reveal that on the public record. And I think it's important I don't. We sought the report, the report is important for our nation, and the steps that it has asked us to do, we are doing.

REPORTER: Are these people traitors if they support information to foreign governments?

MARLES: Any person who reveals a secret that they have acquired by working with the Australian Government is committing a crime. That's what it is. And they should be, and under this government will be, prosecuted to the fullest extent. And what we want to make sure is that there is no doubt that any information which is ancillary to that core confidential information forms part of it. And so we're going to make sure that we are legislating to the full breadth of this issue to remove any doubts.

REPORTER: Greg Moriarty said this morning in estimates that the Defence budget was already under significant strain. You've got the Strategic Review. There's more than 100 recommendations. Does Defence have the budget to implement those recommendations?

MARLES: Well, we've made this point a number of times. If you look over the period of time that the Defence Strategic Review is considering – and we need to be thinking about our strategic circumstances, obviously, not over the course of the month or even the forward estimates, but over the course of the next couple of decades. You know, in a rational world, defence spending is a function of strategic threat, there is strategic threat, and we're rational people. And we've said on a number of occasions we would expect to see the Defence budget rise as a result. Now, the Defence Strategic Review is not a budget paper. That's something which is done through Treasury and Finance. And in the immediacy of this budget and these forward estimates, we'll work through all of the specific here and now issues with Treasury and Finance. But as we look forward there, you know, we do find ourselves in a strategically complex environment, which I think is going to have an increasing call on the federal budget.


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