Related ministers and contacts
The Hon Richard Marles MP
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for Defence
15 February 2023
SUBJECTS: Recruiting of ex-ADF personnel; Australian-American relationship; Estimates; Defence Strategic Review; AUKUS; Port of Darwin
GREG JENNETT, HOST: Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Richard Marles is in the final stages of shaping the biggest strategic review of Australian forces since World War II. Pleased to say he's made it to the studio. A lot to get through today, Deputy PM, and not enough time, I'm sure. Why don't we start with the training secrets of former defence personnel. You have confirmed publicly today there will be new legislation to be written to remove any doubt about the nature of secrets that need to be kept. So, to bring this to life, if I were a former Super Hornet pilot and I've retired, and I'm asked to train Saudis or even a more friendly nation, like Kiwis, in how to fly such planes should they buy them, what's your law going to do to stop me from involving myself in those activities?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Perhaps the starting point is to say what the law right now does and that is that if you are in possession of classified information by virtue of your time working for the Commonwealth, you are obliged by law to maintain the confidentiality of that classified information for as long as it's classified, and that extends beyond your employment. That will include a kind of an actual national secret but it does include, for example, the way in which our planes fly. What we are seeking to do now, though, to remove any doubt is to just make sure that everything which is ancillary to that, the sort of things one might do around having those secrets, which includes how we fly planes, that the full breadth of that is covered by that law and the people who reveal anything about it are subject to prosecution.
JENNETT: This is what Defence calls tactics, techniques and procedures. So, if I was to say you'd move your joystick this way in order to evade incoming fire, are they the sort of gaps we're talking about that aren't covered by the existing law?
MARLES: Well again, I am careful in my language; it's to remove any doubt, but this will remove doubt, to make sure that something which you've just described then and a whole range of other things that are ancillary to what is the central piece of confidentiality here forms part of it. And revealing anything about it is breaking the law and is subject to prosecution.
JENNETT: Alright, why don’t we move on to your strategic review. AUSMIN talks have cleared the way for more US forces to come to Australia more often. Will this be on what they call bare bases in the north, even extending out to Cocos and Keeling Island- are they due for an upgrade?
MARLES: Well, in terms of our conversations with the United States, through our AUSMIN discussions what we talked about was a greater tempo of American activity, using Australian facilities which would involve joint exercises for example and this really evolves out of the Marine rotation that we've seen in Darwin. But there's a range of other areas where the United States visit Australia, use our facilities. And we want to continue the tempo of that-
JENNETT: Continue or increase?
MARLES: Increase I should say increase. And that was definitely an announcement that came out of the AUSMIN talks in Washington last December. In terms of the bare bases, they are really important assets for our nation. They were certainly the subject of the last posture review that was done under the Rudd-Gillard Government. All of our assets have been considered by the Defence Strategic Review and we'll see what it has to say in due course.
JENNETT: That invites questions, and these were asked, in Estimates today around themes you visited yourself in an address to Parliament last week; sovereignty and the doctrine of full knowledge and concurrence on the activities of our partners. This inevitably brought the greens today to ask questions about neither confirming or denying strategic ambiguity when we are visited by B-52s, B-1s, or perhaps B-21s in the future. Are Australians more entitled now to know what's on board those planes because there will be, as you've explained to us, an increase in the number and frequency of visits?
MARLES: Well, the point I'd make here, is despite all the noise that has been made in respect of this, nothing has changed now, relative to former governments over the last few decades of both Liberal and Labor persuasions. America maintains a policy of ambiguity in terms of the nature of assets that are on their platforms and they do that so as to amplify their extended nuclear deterrence. That is an American policy. Knowing that, American platforms- submarines, ships and planes have been visiting Australia since the 1980s and in fact, earlier than that. And nothing has changed. So a lot of noise has been made here and there is no change in policy relative to the last government or indeed the governments prior to that.
JENNETT: Sure, but it can’t be called full knowledge and concurrence if it's don't ask, don't tell- or strategic ambiguity- call it what you will.
MARLES: No, that's not right. And the point I made with full knowledge and concurrence is what that means is that we have knowledge of the objectives which are sought to be achieved from the capabilities which are being employed on Australian soil. And there is that knowledge. And it's not about the specifics of any given task but it is a complete understanding of what is sought to be achieved by whatever is the capability that is using Australia. And that is absolutely in place. I mean, I should say full knowledge and concurrence is a doctrine which was really first evolved in terms of intelligence and intelligence sharing-
JENNETT: And fixed bases as opposed to mobile platforms.
MARLES: Pine Gap was central to this. But the principles of that, around being really clear as to what the capabilities that are present and the objectives that they seek to pursue- that absolutely is maintained.
JENNETT: You can't mitigate against the risk of something going wrong by accident with a visiting warhead, if you didn't know it was there.
MARLES: As I say, the American position is the American position. We understand it. And Australian governments have had American platforms come to Australia on those terms for decades and we are prepared on that basis, and continue to be so.
JENNETT: A couple of quick ones. Release of the Defence Strategic Review, it's a matter of record that dates are being looked at by President Biden and Prime Minister Sunak and Albanese- that's to deal with AUKUS and nuclear submarines but your own document, how is it likely to play out?
MARLES: Well, in terms of AUKUS, the AUKUS announcement is imminent, as you say. We're in conversation with both the UK and the US around the manner in which that is ultimately announced and we expect that in the very near future. The Defence Strategic Review, as we said from the outset, was a process that we wanted to have concurrent with the AUKUS process because it's important that one informs the other. Now that we have received the Defence Strategic Review, we will take some weeks to work through it, to produce an unclassified version of it as well as the Government's response to it. That's an important point to make. The Defence Strategic Review is a document which we asked Sir Angus Houston and Steven Smith to write- it's not government policy which will be the government's response to it. That will come after the AUKUS announcement-
JENNETT: Days or weeks?
MARLES: I think weeks but not many.
JENNETT: Port of Darwin review, will that be dealt with? Addressed in some way within the Strategic Review?
MARLES: Look, you'll have to wait until the Strategic Review is ultimately announced in relation to that.
JENNETT: Doesn't sound like that's a no?
MARLES: Well, again I don't want to pre-empt the Defence Strategic Review. Again, we have talked about the Port of Darwin-
JENNETT: You've said there's a review. We actually don't know anything about it.
MARLES: That review is happening. Our position in relation to the sale of the Port of Darwin by the former government is obviously no secret. That review is under way, we'll see it play out.
JENNETT: Well, there will be no shortage of questions from us I promise, Richard Marles. We'll get you back at regular intervals, I am sure, through the first quarter of this year.