Television Interview, ABC Afternoon Briefing

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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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27 April 2023

SUBJECTS: Acquisition of CEA Technologies; Defence Strategic Review; Defence Consultants.

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Deputy Prime Minister, welcome back to Afternoon Briefing. We might kick off with some breaking news from the Government this afternoon. It's moving to purchase the homegrown, Canberra based CEA Technologies. Now, this always seemed like a viable, innovative operation in the realm of sort of radar systems. Why does it need government ownership?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, CEA is one of the great products of Australian defence industry and they make, really, the best phased array radar in the world. And it's really because of that that we've taken this step. What we want to make sure of is that as the founder of CEA, who's been so pivotal in its creation, we want to make sure that beyond his involvement in CEA, this is a company that exists or resides in Australian hands. And the best way of doing that is making sure that the Government is able to purchase it. And so that's the announcement that we've made today. And what it really means is that the technology and the capability of CEA remains a national sovereign asset.

JENNETT: Sure. And how much of taxpayers money will be invested?

MARLES: Well, we're not putting that out there for a range of commercial reasons, but we are making sure that we're in a position where we are able to have CEA in Australian hands. And not just Australian hands, actually, government hands.

JENNETT: All right, let's move on to your primary purpose today, which is announcing almost $4 billion to harden, as they say in the military, bare bases; Scherger, Cocos Islands, Learmonth, Curtin among them. Will the US be making a contribution to any of the upgrades at those places, since you've outlined at AUSMIN and elsewhere, they'll be taking a very high rotational presence there?

MARLES: Well, we work very closely with the United States and the United States has made investments in Australia. But this announcement really is about ensuring that the Government is investing in the bare bases that you've described, but not just the bare bases. Here, for example, at RAAF Base Townsville we’ll be investing here. And in the air bases, in the RAAF bases, but also across land and the maritime domains as well. And it's a very significant contribution to hardening our bases across the north and better enabling the Defence Force to be able to operate from them. But I would also say that really, this is a start. I mean, what comes from the Defence Strategic Review on Monday and the Government's response to it and making an investment in our northern base as one of the six priorities that we're focusing on, is seeing an increased effort in planning around the future of these bases, which in turn will see more investment in them as we go forward.

JENNETT: Yes, understood. We are talking about more than the bare bases, but they are quite interesting because they fulfil a very specific role. I wonder about expectations, particularly from visiting rotational forces. Will they be expecting to stay in permanent accommodation or in tents when this process is completed?

MARLES: In terms of the bare bases?


MARLES: Well, the bare bases have facilities there, but the idea of the bare bases is for them to be able to be stood up as highly functioning bases in times of need very quickly. And what you have there is enough of an infrastructure which can enable us to operate there at very short notice. Learmonth, for example, is an example of one of the bare bases which is in Exmouth. It is a really important capability that we have. In terms of accommodation there are facilities there to make sure that you can operate from there. But it forms part of the suite of announcements that we're making today across the north. I mean, critical bases like here in Townsville, we were in Darwin earlier today, Tindal which is at Katherine. These are places which have a more permanent presence and it really matters that we're able to operate from them as well and that there is an investment in those.

JENNETT: Sure. And fuel delivery and storage will be a big part of this. In fact, the Strategic Review calls for a sort of whole-of-government national approach to this, including deep defence engagement with the fuel industry. Do you contemplate a specific and separate defence fuel strategic reserve, separate to the national one going forward?

MARLES: Well, we talk about– or the Defence Strategic Review talks about fuel reserves in quite a lot of detail. To be clear, a lot of that is in the classified version of the Defence Strategic Review. But it's very important that we are thinking about fuel reserves, that we're thinking about them in the context of our national security and that this is an important part. And that is both having fuel reserves for the country, but it goes down to the micro, as you've described, in making sure that we have an ability to have appropriate fuel, like actual fuel storage at the bare bases and the bases in the north. So it's really across the full gamut of that which would allow the Defence Force to operate in a circumstance where we were in some kind of contest. And getting the fuel equation right is fundamentally important.

JENNETT: Yeah, it does sound like a large body of work, among many others within the Strategic Review. Can I also take you back to another story of the day, which is kind of where we started, Richard Marles. This is the ABC's reporting about the use of well paid former US top brass as consultants.

This afternoon, I think another name has been added to that list, perusing it, General John F. Kelly. At the time retired Marines commander, later goes on to become Donald Trump's chief of staff. Will you be ordering any review or restraint in the use of these relatively high paid foreign consultancies now that you're in the chair?

MARLES: Yeah. Look, I'm not going to go into specific individuals and we're not about to have a review into this. But I would make clear, I mean, whenever we engage this kind of expertise we do so with restraint and with a sense of responsibility about the dollars that we're spending. But at the same time, when we are thinking about really critical questions about the future of our Defence Force, we look to expertise on a global level to provide us with assistance in making those decisions. We make no apology for looking beyond our own borders to find the expertise we need to really think about very difficult questions that we have to consider in going forward. And I’ve personally found that expertise to be really invaluable. But whenever we make a decision about engaging people, we do so carefully.

JENNETT: We might be talking to your old colleague Christopher Pyne a little later in the program today. We'll ask him about some of those as well. But for your comments on that and everything else this afternoon, Richard Marles, thanks for joining us and safe travels from here.

MARLES: Thanks, Greg.


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