Television interview, ABC News Breakfast

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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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26 April 2023

SUBJECTS: Defence Strategic Review, US Presidential election, PBS changes, AFL stadium for Tasmania.

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Big news day; so much talk about, and we go back to that Defence Strategic Review announcement, and in the wake of that, the Federal Government is this morning announcing $4 billion in funding to buy more long‑range strike systems and invest in local missile manufacturing. The Strategic Review found that Australia is entering the missile age and our current defence posture is no longer fit for purpose. The Government says the investment will boost the Army's artillery range from 40 kilometres to more than 500 kilometres.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Richard Marles, joins us now. Minister, good morning.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Michael, how are you? 

ROWLAND: Very well, thank you. So how many of these missiles will be manufactured in Australia? 

MARLES: Well, we need to develop a manufacturing capability in Australia, that's the first step here. And up until now there really hasn't been the money put forward by the former government to meaningfully get a local manufacturing capability off the ground. This is going to make a huge difference to that. Up until now we've had about $1 billion dollars provision for over the course of the Forward Estimates to do manufacturing in Australia, it's just not enough. As a result of what we are announcing today, that will increase to $2.5 billion, along with another $1.6 billion for the purchase of other long‑range strike capabilities for our Army and for our broader Defence Force. And this is what we need to do because the war in Ukraine has made clear that the global stocks of long‑range missiles are not what we would want them to be, and that if Australia is going to have this capability going forward, we're simply going to have to develop an industrial base in this country.

ROWLAND: Reports this morning that even though you've allocated this $4 billion, this missile procurement program is about to be the subject of yet another review; is that the case? 

MARLES: I don't think that's fair. I mean we're making the decision right now to spend the money on increased manufacture in Australia. We've obviously got to go through a process of working with the major manufacturers in the world, that's Raytheon, Lockheed, Kongsberg from Norway, to work out the means by which that manufacture happens in Australia. But whereas prior to this announcement there was a target date of getting some manufacturing in this country in 2027, we really believe that by virtue of the decision that we've made today we can bring that well forward and have manufacturing commence in this country within the next couple of years.

ROWLAND: Some of these missiles could have ranges of 500 kilometres and beyond. Why do we need such missiles? 

MARLES: Well, ultimately, the whole focus of the Defence Strategic Review was to think about the need for our projection – to be able to hold an adversary at risk further from our shores, and that is about making sure that we can deter through denial any country which wants to project power against Australia through our northern approaches. That has to be the job now of our Defence Force, and the range that you have, be it Army or be it Navy or Air Force, in terms of your strike, goes completely to the heart of your ability to project. Right now we are able to throw ordnance at about a range of 40 kilometres, that is not a huge strike capability for our Army. This in time will take that to hundreds of kilometres, which is a radical shift in the capacity of our Defence Force, and particularly our Army, to do what it needs to do.

ROWLAND: It certainly changes the equation. Now, US President Joe Biden, has repeatedly said that if China attacks Taiwan there will be US boots on the ground. So does this projection – could this projection see Australian soldiers going to Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack? 

MARLES: Look, I'm not going to speculate about anything in the future in respect of Taiwan. I mean our position on Taiwan is very clear now, and that is that we don't want to see any alteration to the status quo across the Taiwan Strait, but if you look at –  

ROWLAND: But the environment is changing very quickly and that wasn't a no though Minister.

MARLES: What I'm not going to do is speculate about a future decision of government. I mean, firstly, I don't think it helps to speculate about future conflict, but what governments do is make their assessments in respect of conflict at the time based on all the circumstances that are in front of them, and that's the right thing to do. And it's not the right thing to speculate.

What we decided on Monday was a re-tasking of the Australian Defence Force for the first time in 35 years, to restate its mission. And at the heart of its mission is actually working with our partners to provide for the collective security of the Indo‑Pacific, of our region, and to provide for the maintenance of the global rules-based order. So our intent, our strategic intent, is very clear, and that is about contributing to the security of our region, because we understand that the defence of Australia doesn't really mean that much unless we live within a secure region.

ROWLAND: Okay. I want to get to a couple of domestic issues, but before that, speaking of Joe Biden, I know, Richard Marles, you have known Joe Biden for many, many years night. Overnight, as you know, he's announced he's running for a second term. What do you think of that? 

MARLES: Oh, well, I think that's what you would expect of a sitting American President, and obviously we will – I'll let the American process speak for itself; we'll watch it with a keen interest, but I think there is nothing at all remarkable about a sitting American President in their first term announcing that they're going to seek re‑election.

ROWLAND: Even an 80‑year‑old sitting President? 

MARLES: Well, it would be remarkable, I would have thought, to have a situation where you had a first‑term President who did not seek re‑election. That would have actually been the unprecedented call. I think that is exactly what you would have expected.

ROWLAND: Okay. Going to our top story now, the announcement by the Government overnight that 6 million Australians will now be able to get two months' worth of medicines on a single script. Why has the Government done this? 

MARLES: Because our focus is on consumers, and easing the cost‑of‑living pressures, but making it easier for consumers to obtain the medical support that they need. And for people who are users of a particular medication who get scripts over a considerable period of time, to be able to get a script over a two‑month period represents the potential for a massive saving in their households. I mean for some people that will be up to $180 a year, and that's a significant saving for them. This is something that doctors have advised; it makes sense, and so we are very much focussed on consumers in the way in which they engage with the health system, and it backs up the decision that we took from 1 January this year to make medicines cheaper. This combined represents a massive saving for households.

ROWLAND: And finally, I saw you were lucky enough to watch that epic match at the MCG yesterday between Collingwood and Essendon. I saw a photo of you with Gil McLachlan, the AFL boss. He looked very happy. Did you just tell him that Tasmania was about to get the money to build a new stadium? 

MARLES: I did not tell him that, but he was very happy because it was a very full MCG. While I don't care for either of the teams that were playing yesterday, I was sort of hoping they'd both lose, but fact that we had 100,000 people ‑‑

ROWLAND: Has the Government decided to give Tasmania the money for an AFL stadium that will result in a Tasmanian team? 

MARLES: Look, again, I'm not about to speculate on that. We work with the Tasmanian Government about their infrastructure priorities, and we'll announce them in the normal course of events. But I just would want to say about yesterday, that match on Anzac Day is a wonderful commemoration of those who have served. It is – I'd use the word celebration of those who serve today and the work that they do, and from a Defence Minister's point of view, it really did gladden the heart to see the Defence Force put on display in the way that it was yesterday.

ROWLAND: It was a wonderful spectacle indeed. Richard Marles, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

MARLES: Thanks Michael.


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