Interview with Natalie Barr, Seven, 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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23 March 2023

NATALIE BARR, HOST: Joining me now is Defence Minister Richard Marles. Good morning to you. Do we know what caused the chopper to go down?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: No, we don't yet, Nat. There is an investigation as you indicated, which is underway, and that's obviously the key question as to why the engine stopped. It was the main rotor which did stop. But as you've reported at about 9 o’clock last night, this is when the incident occurred, and the crew, in a moment where the rotor did stop, were able to react in the most professional way, were able to shut the motor down in having the helicopter ditch in Jervis Bay itself. And really, all ten have walked away. There are two minor injuries. Someone's hit their head, someone else has taken on some seawater. Other than that, the crew have been able to walk away and this is just another example, really, of the incredible professionalism of our servicemen and women and their ability to stay cool and calm in the midst of a crisis.

BARR: So, yeah, they're very lucky, aren't they? So the whole fleet of the Taipans is grounded while the investigation happens. How many do we have and how long will that be?

MARLES: Well, I can't answer the precise number of how many we have, but it will be some time as we've got an operational pause now in relation to all the MRH-90s. I mean, this is what needs to happen, obviously, in this circumstance, to understand exactly what has happened.

BARR: Is there something wrong with them?

MARLES: Well, again, let's work out– let's see the investigation and find out exactly what's occurred here. I mean, this class of helicopter we are actually replacing with Blackhawks in the coming years and so it is due for retirement. But having said that, it is a modern airframe. I've flown aboard one of these and it's a helicopter which has given good service to our Defence Force over a significant period of time.

BARR: Okay. In other news, defence officials from China and Australia have held talks in Canberra, the first formal get together since 2019. Can you tell us what the purpose of that meeting was?

MARLES: I met with my Chinese counterpart a couple of times last year as we've sought to stabilise our relationship with China. And really, the first step that I was keen for us to take is to reinstate the formal defence dialogue between our two countries. I mean, this is important because what it means is that there can be some communication between our defence forces. It reduces the scope for misunderstandings, for miscalculations, when there is an ability to talk to each other. And indeed, we've had a formal defence dialogue with China right up until the point at which our relationship started to become much colder. And this was really one of the last forms of the relationship which stopped. And so we were keen to get this back up and running. I wouldn't want to overstate– I mean, this is a relatively low level engagement now, but it is a step down this path. And we do want to put in place that formal defence dialogue.

BARR: Yeah, because for some of us, it feels like last week it was almost World War Three. We're in an arms race, according to the Chinese. Now we're sitting down with them. Is that a bit weird?

MARLES: Well, I think often things get amplified in the way in which they end up being projected through the media. I mean, the point that we were making during the course of last week with the announcement around our future nuclear-powered submarine capability is that we can walk down that path, get our hard power equation right, make sure that we have safety for our country in the decades ahead while at the same time seeing our engagement with the world through the prism of diplomacy being our front line and stabilising our relationship with China. And you can do all of that at once, and we have been doing that at once. And making sure that we have a formal defence dialogue with China is really important. What matters is that we engage with China in a professional way and that we are taken seriously and having serious capability, actually, I think, ultimately helps in respect of that. But this is also doing the sensible thing to make sure that we have communication in place so that we both understand exactly what we're doing.

BARR: And the subs are our insurance policy, maybe. Richard Marles, thank you very much.

MARLES: Thank you.


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