Television interview, ABC 7.30

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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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24 April 2023

SUBJECT: Defence Strategic Review.

SARAH FERGUSON, HOST: I spoke to Defence Minister Richard Marles earlier. Richard Marles, welcome to 730.


FERGUSON: China has been identified as a strategic threat in this Review. Is there a message to Beijing in Australia's new defence posture?

MARLES: Our posture is about the collective security of our region. And as we have retasked the mission of the Australian Defence Force for the first time in 35 years, central to that task is about, with our partners, providing for the collective security of our region and the maintenance of the global rules-based order. And we say that because the defence of Australia doesn't really mean much unless we have the collective security of the region in which we live, because so much harm can be done to Australia before you ever put a foot upon our shores.

FERGUSON: What about the fact that we are preparing to meet a threat far beyond the Australian mainland? That's a clear message, isn't it?

MARLES: But it's as much, Sarah, as anything to do with the change in who we are. We are a trading nation who is engaged in much more trade now than we were doing 30 years ago when Paul Dibb did his exercise in articulating our nation's strategic posture and therefore the connection with the world, which has been really good for Australia's prosperity and our standard of living, obviously, though, has a strategic implication. Now, we do observe that we are witnessing the biggest conventional military build up that we've seen in the world since the end of the Second World War. It's true that that is China. And that is part of the landscape in which we live and it forms part of the assessment that we make about what we need to do to make ourselves self reliant in our strategic posture. But it's far from the only factor here. And fundamentally, what we're about is providing for the collective security of our region.

FERGUSON: Let's talk about some of the changes being proposed. The role of the Army in particular is being reimagined, including more landing craft, fewer armoured infantry vehicles. What kind of scenarios are you preparing for?

MARLES: I think reimagining is a good word. We are looking at reshaping the Army, indeed the whole Defence Force, but particularly the Army, and thinking much more in terms of projection, impactful projection. And that means that we are giving the Army a much greater ability to engage in longer range strike, you know missiles that go further, as well as being able, as you've described, to enable Army to operate in a more littoral environment. And that means having landing craft that can move our Army around.

FERGUSON: The review recommends accelerating the acquisition of landing craft. Now, these transport troops to conflict zones beyond the Australian mainland. Where would they be deployed?

MARLES: Well, again, it's about being able to have an ability to project in order to provide for the collective security of our region. And having transport that goes with the armoured vehicles that you possess is really important. And that's why we're talking about accelerating, as you've said, those landing craft, but at the same time looking at reducing in scope the number of armoured vehicles that we are producing for our Army, because we're thinking about it in the context of making sure that we have an army which is much more mobile.

FERGUSON: Let's just talk a little bit more about deployment in the region. I mean, how far could this newly mobile army be sent?

MARLES: Well, again, the way in which we are thinking about it is the collective security of the Indo Pacific. That's the stated mission of the ADF as it's now being recast in the defence statement that we have released today. And so the Indo Pacific is the broadest answer to the question that you've asked. We need to have a capability of making sure that we have an ability to provide for the collective security of our region and therefore an ability to project throughout the entirety of that region.

FERGUSON: What about Taiwan, then? Can you say categorically that Australian troops would not be put on the ground in Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion?

MARLES: Well, look, there's a lot of conjecture about Taiwan, and I'm not about to add to that conjecture now. I mean, any future scenario in Taiwan is going to be a matter for a future government to consider on its own terms. Right now, in 2023, our position in respect of Taiwan is very clear–

FERGUSON: Hold on. What makes you think that a question over Taiwan would necessarily fall into the decision making capacity of another government?

MARLES: Well, all I'm saying is that it would be for the government of the time in the future, whichever government that is. And if it's our government, then it's our government. But my point really is that it's for a government at that moment in time to assess the circumstances of any conflict that Australia may or may not get involved with. But what I'm really pointing out is I'm not about to engage in conjecture now about hypothetical scenarios in the future. Right now, in 2023, our position on Taiwan is really clear, and that is that we don't support any unilateral change in the status quo which exists across the Taiwan Straits.

FERGUSON: The Review recommends acquiring a new suite of long range missiles. How far would the reach of these missiles be?

MARLES: Well, right now we have an ability to send ordinance about 40 kilometres in distance. What we're now talking about is acquiring a capability in the medium term, being able to do that, to project over 300 kilometres, and potentially over 500 and beyond going into the future. But the real point here is that we need to extend that projection. We need to extend the range of strike that we have. That's fundamental to the idea of projection.

FERGUSON: Now it's American companies who will build the assembly plants. Do you have a commitment from Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, the big US defence contractors, that they will transfer the IP, that they will transfer their technology to Australia?

MARLES: Look, it's a good question and obviously we're working closely with both Raytheon and Lockheed. At the heart of your question, also, is the importance of being able to develop a manufacturing capability in Australia for these missiles and for these munitions. And that forms part of the focus of– one of the focus priorities that we are pursuing in response to the DSR–

FERGUSON: That’s the Defence Strategic Review.

MARLES: Sorry, the Defence Strategic Review. You're right to pick me up on that. The question of export controls coming out of the United States in relation to defence technology, one can understand why those controls exist. But if we are going to move forward in a way which sees a much quicker development of this, then we really do need to be working with the United States to lower those barriers and have a much more seamless defence industrial base between our two countries. In other words, a situation where we are much more willing to share information and technology between our two industrial bases.

Now, I think at at the highest level there is an acceptance of that idea in the United States. Not for a moment am I suggesting that all the work's done in getting to a point where there is that seamless defence industrial base, but we desperately need to get there and this is a real priority in terms of the work that we'll be doing with the US government around defence policy.

FERGUSON: And just briefly on this, America hasn't fought a war against a comparable power for an extremely long time. They don't have the stockpiles currently for such a conflict. Are you concerned that Australia would become a secondary supply source for the US military in the event of war?

MARLES: Well, I think the wide answer to that is that what we've seen with the war in Ukraine is that the stockpiles of munitions and ordinance and missiles amongst our friends and allies is not where we need it to be. This has an impact on Australia in terms of our own war stocks. And so in that sense, in order for us to be able to get the supplies that we need, we are clearly going to need to make a contribution to the net industrial base of both countries and indeed other friends and allies. And that's why it's so important that we are engaging in the manufacture of munitions here in Australia and we will obviously be doing that very closely with the United States. We are working to be close enough to have an interchangeability of missiles between our two defence forces and that's what will give rise to the maximising of Australian capability.

FERGUSON: Richard Marles thank you very much indeed for joining us.

MARLES: Thanks Sarah.




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