Television interview, Sunrise

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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 March 2023

SUBJECTS: Downing of US drone; AUKUS.

DAVID KOCH, HOST: Alright, let's get more from our Defence Defence Minister Marles. Richard, good morning to you.

Before we get onto the subs, can I quickly ask you about this breaking news this morning, that Russian fighter jet colliding with a US drone in international airspace, the impact causing the unmanned aircraft to crash into the Black Sea. What do we know so far? And will this spark a cold war, or further spark controversy between the US and Russia?

RICHARD MARLES, ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, good morning, David. Look, I've seen those reports, I'm not privy to any information that's not in the public domain. But what is clear is that the American drone was operating in international airspace. These sorts of intercepts sometimes happen in international airspace, but there's an expectation that militaries will engage with each other in a professional way. And what's really clear from the reports is that what Russia has done is not professional and has led to the downing of this drone. And I think this is another example of the fact that Russia doesn't play by the rules of the road, which is ultimately what the war in Ukraine is about. This is a war where Russia has completely flouted the global rules-based order. And that's what's at stake, that's the important principle, that's why we need to be there. But I think this is just another example of that.

KOCH: Yes. Certainly won't ease tensions. Let's get on to the subs. Did you offer China a briefing before the announcement, and was it accepted?

MARLES: Look, we did offer a briefing. As of now, my understanding is that it hasn't been accepted. I'm unaware of China taking up the offer to this point in speaking to you this morning, but we certainly did make that offer. And we've obviously been speaking to countries in the region, around the world about the decision that we've taken. And we've done that because it really matters that you have transparency when you're making a decision of this kind so that countries know what you're on about.

KOCH: Okay, interesting. So you offered it to China, you've briefed Indonesia, you've briefed Malaysia, you've briefed Philippines. How's that gone down? What's been the response from our neighbours?

MARLES: Yeah, I kind of leave it to them to give their reaction. But in terms of the conversations that I've had, that Foreign Minister Penny Wong has had, Pat Conroy, our Minister for the Pacific, and indeed the Prime Minister himself has made a number of calls. We made more than 60 calls over the course of the last week to leaders around the world. I've been very gratified by the response, is the answer to that –

KOCH: Okay, so it’s been a good response?

MARLES: I feel like there is an understanding – I'll let those countries speak for themselves. But I think what I want the Australian public to know is we have made every effort possible to explain to the world what we're doing and why we're doing it. And that's what's really important here.

KOCH: Good to know. A couple of quick things from me, this has got to pass through Congress in the US. If there's a change of government, say the Republicans get in, say Donald Trump gets in in a year or two's time, are they on board as well? Because they could overturn it.

MARLES: You work with the landscape that you've got. But it's a reasonable question, given that what we're talking about is a program that's going to go over decades. And so, in truth, we need bi-partisan support for this in Australia, in Britain, in the United States. Look, the answer to your question is there is support across the broad spectrum in the US, and the current administration is busily talking to members of Congress, again, across the full spectrum of the political life in the US. And the response has been really positive, both to Australia and the Australian Alliance, and that should not be a surprise because Republicans and Democrats alike have supported the alliance, but also specifically in relation to AUKUS and this arrangement. So we go forward with a sense of confidence about that.

KOCH: Alright, good news. Okay. And the other thing is, they're nuclear powered, so we're going to have uranium waste. Where is that going to go? Are we responsible for burying that and storing it?

MARLES: We are, but again, to put this in context, we're talking about a sealed nuclear reactor. So that reactor will need to be disposed of by Australia and we've accepted the responsibility of that. The first of the reactors that we will need to deal with will come offline in about the mid-2050s. So that's when we're talking, about 30 years from now. But I don't want to understate this. This will be a very significant thing that we will be doing. We will need to build a facility to do this. It's obviously going to have to be in a place which is remote from populations. We've made it clear this will happen on Defence land, be it current or future. But we do have time to get this right. And again, what we've said here is that within the year, we will announce a process by which that facility will be identified and what it will look like.

KOCH: Okay, Richard Marles. Appreciate your time. Thank you.


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