Radio interview, Ben Fordham Breakfast Show

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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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25 April 2023

SUBJECTS: Anzac Day, Defence Strategic Review.

BEN FORDHAM, HOST: We want to check in with the Minister for Defence, Richard Marles, who's in Geelong this morning. He's taking part in Anzac Day services there. And like many families, it's a special day for him. His grandfather, Percy Pearce, fought in World War I. He was a soldier in the Battle of Pozieres in France and he was in charge of a brigade advancing on the Germans. He was awarded a Military Cross and he passed away in 1982. And Richard Marles, the Minister for Defence, is on the line right now. Minister, good morning to you.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ben. How are you?

FORDHAM: Good. What a classic old name, Percy Pearce.

MARLES: Percy, yes, it is a name from the past, isn't it? But he's a man I knew, which I find remarkable to this day. I mean, he was an old man when I knew him, but I can remember sitting with Grandpa watching the cricket. He retired to the Gold Coast, so we used to drive up there. He is a person who lives in my memory and it's extraordinary to think that he was also there at Pozieres in the First World War, which was the really big first battle that Australians fought in on the Western Front, and he won a Military Cross, which, to be honest, I didn't appreciate for most of my life. And it's really not until I've been doing what I'm doing now that I've come to understand how significant that achievement is.

FORDHAM: And Richard, like a lot of World War I veterans, he didn't talk about the war too much, but he had some scars?

MARLES: I think that's right. Well, he definitely didn't talk about the war, and I think he did have scars and certainly my mother felt that growing up, that this was not something that he spoke about. And obviously he came back with lots of demons and you've got to imagine that that's what it was like for a lot returning then, at a time when our understanding of PTSD and how to help people through that was not what it is today. He certainly spent a lot of his adult life with those he had served with. And I think that as life went on, when they came back, the people you served with were probably the only people you could talk to about – or talk to with about – what the experiences that you'd had because they were so gruesome, so horrific, that probably no one else did understand. And I think that's how Grandpa saw it.

FORDHAM: I want to ask you a little bit about the defence review that has been handed down in the last 24 hours, but I'm sure you'd also like the opportunity to say thank you to everyone who served, everyone who's serving today as well.

MARLES: Absolutely. And this is a really important day where we remember those who have worn our uniform in the past but are wearing it now. There are 1,200 Australians who are on deployment as we speak. I had the great privilege of meeting a number of them earlier in the year who are in England training people who are about to go and fight for their country, for Ukraine, in that terrible conflict. A conflict which actually is looking a lot more like World War I than World War II. And to see people putting on the uniform of their nation, knowing full well that this might be a moment of personal ultimate sacrifice, is an extremely poignant and very inspiring thing to see. And the Australians who are training them are just doing incredible work and they know they're doing incredible work as well. And it is a moment where we remember them and all of those who've served and particularly those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

FORDHAM: Minister, we are looking at cutting the number of infantry fighting vehicles from 450 to 129, which is a noticeable change. I see that the Shadow Defence Minister, Andrew Hastie, who you've acknowledged many times in the Parliament for his own service, he says that the Army will be diminished by the Review. He says without infantry fighting vehicles, we go back to a light infantry Army. Do you have any feedback on that feedback?

MARLES: Well, firstly, I definitely do acknowledge Andrew's service. He has been a very brave soldier in his time in the Defence Force. And I'm also, Ben, obviously, mindful of the day and the dignity of the day –


MARLES: So I'm keen not to get into a contest. I'd simply say it's only one category of fighting vehicle. What we are seeking to do is to reshape the Army so that we have a greater power – a greater ability to project. What we announced yesterday involved not just providing the Army with longer range strike capability missiles, but also a greater capability to operate in a littoral environment – that is around coasts – which means we are trying to reimagine an Army which is more mobile and can project. And that's really in the context of a set of very challenging circumstances which we see in the world today. And it's in that context that we are thinking about a Defence Force which is more able to project than we have in the past.

FORDHAM: We know about the nuclear submarines through the AUKUS pact, but you're also looking at the Hunter frigate program. It's a $45 billion plan and there's a likelihood that you will opt for smaller and faster warships?

MARLES: Well, the Defence Strategic Review talks about that being a direction that a number of navies are going in the world. The most important point we've made here is that we're very committed to a continuous shipbuilding capability in Australia, which is principally in Adelaide and Perth, and so we're going to make ships in Australia, there's no question of that. And we've announced a very short review about what the shape of our surface fleet looks like going into the long-term. I mean, this is thinking not just about the next ten years, but really the next three decades. Now, obviously, there is work that's already been done on the Hunter and that's important to be bearing in mind as we think about exactly how we shape things going forward. But as we're looking about what kind of ships we might construct in the 2030s and 2040s, it is important to think about the direction that the world is going in, as well as thinking about what it means now that we have a nuclear-powered submarine – or at least we will be acquiring a nuclear-powered submarine capability for our own Navy.

FORDHAM: We're also thinking about the role of the Defence Force outside wartime, because we've had the Defence Force help out in fires and floods and cyclones in the past. But the report says defence should be the last resort for domestic aid to the civil community, except in extreme circumstances.

MARLES: And actually, that's what it has traditionally been when there's been natural disasters. I mean, what I want to say to people is that if there are Australians who are in an emergency situation and Defence can provide assistance, it's always going to do that. But the way in which we have always seen the role of Defence in the context of natural disasters – fires, floods – is that they are the last call that is made, and that call will continue to be made. But I think what we've seen in recent times, with a growing frequency of both flood and fire, is the Defence Force being called out on a more regular basis and it is having an impact on the readiness of the Defence Force to do its primary job, and that is to defend the nation. So we need to be working with states and territories to make sure that they are as resilient as they can be, looking at other mechanisms for doing some of those other recovery work that Defence does not have a unique capacity to provide. Others have that capacity as well. But when it comes to an emergency and Defence is the one with the asset which can make a difference, it's always going to do that and that won't change.

FORDHAM: And how's recruitment going at the moment? I noticed a lot of ads popping up on Facebook and Instagram trying to lure people into the Defence Force. How's it going?

MARLES: It's a challenge, is the honest answer to that question. I mean, we're leaking people in the Defence Force right now at a time when we actually need to be growing our Defence Force. And the point I really want to make to people who are listening today is that I feel incredibly privileged to see up close what our servicemen and women do. It is an incredible career, but I actually think it's an incredible culture. You and I both like sport and I see the expression of teamwork in professional sporting teams like the Geelong Football Club, but I have never seen an expression of team quite the same as that which you see in the Defence Force. People are working together selflessly with a generosity of spirit and it is actually inspiring to see not just in operations, but in the routine daily work that Defence does. And it's a great place to work, it's a great career to pursue and we need more Australians to make that choice here.

FORDHAM: Hear hear. Thanks so much for sparing your time on a busy day. We'll talk to you soon.


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