Doorstop Interview, Parliament House, Wellington, New Zealand

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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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6 April 2023

SUBJECTS: Ministers’ meeting; AUKUS; Voice; defence personnel; the region

NEW ZEALAND MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, THE HON. ANDREW LITTLE: Good afternoon, I’d like to introduce The Honourable Richard Marles, Deputy Prime of Australia and Minister for Defence. For those who don’t know, I am Andrew Little, Minister for Defence. Fire away your questions.

JOURNALIST: What did you guys have a chat about?

LITTLE: A number of things. We talked about the full breadth of our defence relationship and our defence issues. And a long personal catch up. We go back- we first met in 1989, as respective student leaders in our countries. And so we had a long catch up about what we have got done since then. We’ve both been to law school, we’ve both been lawyers, we’ve both gone into the union movement, and we’ve both gone into Parliament.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: It worries both of our bureaucracies deeply that we actually know each other much more than the people who are advising us. So we're scaring everyone half to death.

JOURNALIST: Was there any further discussion about working groups, or New Zealand's potential involvement in AUKUS and the Pillar Two work?

LITTLE: No, obviously AUKUS is a commitment and decision that Australia has made with the US and the UK. We didn't talk specifically about that. It is a backdrop to the relationship at the moment. But as we await our Defence Policy Review, and the early reports that come out of that, then we have to be thinking about the implications of that for our decisions about the future.

MARLES: I mean, AUKUS Pillar Two- AUKUS, actually is fundamentally a capability, technology-sharing arrangement. I mean, it's important to understand it's not an alliance relationship. We have an alliance with the United States, obviously, we have a long history with Great Britain. But AUKUS is about the sharing of technology. We are open to expanding that in the future. I think in terms of AUKUS Pillar Two, which is, you know, those technologies beyond submarines, we need to get runs on the board, really, so that this is an arrangement that is attractive to others.

JOURNALIST: How important are these kind if developments, or arrangements given the geopolitical situation. And how- did you discuss China? And I suppose the ANZAC position on what's happening in the region?

MARLES: Well, we talked about the strategic landscape that both of our countries face, and one of the really important points to understand is that in terms of the strategic circumstances that we have, there is obviously a greater alignment between Australia and New Zealand than Australia has with any other country on the planet. We are kind of in whatever we're in; together. And so in that sense, I think we both felt that this is a time where it's really important that we are working as closely together as possible. The whole is actually much greater than the sum of our parts when we are working together. And we looked at ways in which we can expand that relationship.

JOURNALIST: Mr Marles, what can New Zealand, what can Australia learn from New Zealand, in particular, from Mr. Little when it comes to the Voice? Treaty negotiations, the like, are you taking lessons from New Zealand in terms of the path that Australia could take should the Voice referendum be successful?

MARLES: I think the Voice referendum in Australia is profoundly important. I mean, the opportunity to recognize our First Nations people through a Voice to Parliament, will be one of the great days in our nation's history, if we're able to achieve that through a referendum. When I look at relationships with First Nations peoples around the world, New Zealand stands at the forefront of that. This is the place of global best practice. From where we sit, the relationship that New Zealand has with its First Nations people with the Maori people, stands as an example, not just for us, but I actually think for the whole world. And so, we certainly look to New Zealand to learn lessons in terms of how those relationships can be better. And when we look here, at the way in which that relationship is given expression, making sure that our First Nations people are recognized in our constitution is profoundly important.

JOURNALIST: One of the issues that our defence force is facing is attrition. What kind of incentives is Australia using to keep soldiers in the force?

MARLES: Well, look, it's a challenge that we're facing, as well. And we're facing that challenge in the context of our defence force, but you can talk to any company in the private sector, and they're trying to meet that challenge as well. In the aftermath of the pandemic, making sure that you have the people you need to perform the tasks that are required, is a huge global challenge. And so, you know, we are looking at ways in which we can incentivize people to continue their service within the Australian Defence Force. And I think, you know, there's a lot of sharing and comparing of notes that we can do.

JOURNALIST: Are you poaching kiwis for your defence force?

MARLES: No. But, I think the closer that we can work together, the better. And I go back to the point that I made earlier; the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts when it comes to ANZAC cooperation.

JOURNALIST: Do you agree with recent commentary in Australia that conflict with China is imminent and becoming closer?

MARLES: Look, since we were elected in May of last year, we have been working very carefully to try and stabilize our relationship with China. China is Australia's largest trading partner, it is New Zealand’s largest trading partner. We want a better and more cooperative relationship and more productive relationship with China. And indeed, I conducted the first ministerial level meeting with my Chinese counterpart last June, within weeks of us coming into power. And we see that the frontline of our engagement with the world is our diplomacy. And through our diplomacy, we seek to create pathways for peace.

JOURNALIST: But do you think the risk is greater than, for example, this time last year or even six months ago?

MARLES: I think we live in a complex, strategic environment. And we live in a strategic environment of greater threat than we’ve had in a very long period of time. But all of that is why it's so important that we do our diplomacy well, in fact that we do it excellently. And that means that we are using our diplomacy in every way possible to create pathways for peace. And as a defence minister, that's how, you know, we see it. The work of our Foreign Minister Penny Wong has been at the forefront of that. We want to build more cooperative relationships with China, we want to provide for a more stable and peaceful region.

JOURNALIST: If peace wasn’t achieved overall and, you know, a conflict was entered between Australia and China, would you expect New Zealand to come to the party?

MARLES: Look, I really don't think it helps to speculate on hypotheticals. I think what matters here is that we are focused on providing for the collective security of our region, for the maintenance of the global rules-based order. That we are doing everything we can to provide for pathways to peace, and that we're building the best relationships we can with countries around the world, including China.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Australia's acquisition of nuclear-propelled submarines benefits collective security in the region? And do you understand New Zealand's concerns about it?

MARLES: Well, we definitely think that acquisition of this capability contributes to regional security. That's really at the heart of why we've taken the step that we have. I mean, the point we've made a lot is that the defence of Australia doesn't really mean that much unless we have the collective security of our region. And that's because any country who wants to do Australia harm can do a whole lot of harm to us before ever setting foot upon the Australian continent. Our national security lies in a strong regional security, on the maintenance of the global rules-based order, and what we're doing is our contribution to that.

JOURNALIST: Just back on the Voice. Can I ask, obviously you consider it a matter for Australians, I'm sure, but what is what is your role particularly to Australia in providing advice, a sounding board, anything like that? Does it come up in discussions regularly?

LITTLE: Yeah, probably more at the state level. So I went to Queensland, Victoria last year to talk to state officials and state politicians. I hosted a group of Queensland state politicians yesterday to talk about their journey and the legislation they've got in their state parliament on recognising their First Nations peoples and what they do about it, how they start the journey of reconciliation. I've invited the relevant minister from Queensland to come to the Whakatōhea deed signing at the end of May this year. So I think Australians are paying close attention to what we do here. I think- I don't for one moment say we got it perfect and we still have a long way to go. But I think there are things that we're doing here that could be of use to Australia.

JOURNALIST: What is your response to China's criticisms about Australia trying to get around aspects of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty through AUKUS?

MARLES: Well, we've been working very closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency to make sure that we are establishing the bar at its highest in terms of one country providing this technology to another. We are making it completely clear that a precondition for us walking down this path as a government is that we meet every one of our obligations under the Non Proliferation Treaty, and we are very confident that we're doing that.


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