Radio Interview, ABC AM

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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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28 April 2023

SUBJECTS: AUKUS; Defence Strategic Review.

DAVID LIPSON, HOST:  For more, I spoke with Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles. Deputy Prime Minister, thanks for your time. Normally, these contingencies are in the range of 10%. Really uncertain programmes might be up to 25%. This is 50%. What does that tell us about our capacity to actually deliver this project when you're factoring in $123 billion worth of unexpected cost overruns?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we're very confident that we can do this. This is over a very long period of time. But it is also a massive challenge for the country. To get to a point where we are building a nuclear-powered submarine in this country, which we anticipate we will be doing by the early 2040s, represents one of the great industrial endeavours that our country has ever sought to pursue.

LIPSON: Is it appropriate to have so much risk and uncertainty in such an important and expensive project?

MARLES: Well, what we're doing is prudently budgeting here for the unexpected. That's what contingency budgeting involves. Hopefully that we don't have that amount of issue. But we have been very upfront and very consistent with the Australian people, both about the challenges involved here but also about the cost. The most accurate way to think about the cost of this programme is that over the life of it, it represents about a 0.15% spend of GDP in the context of a defence budget which is currently at 2% and growing to 2.2% of GDP by the end of the decade. And we've sought to be as upfront and as transparent as we possibly can be.

LIPSON: Today you're also putting a dollar figure on your plan to deliver advanced technologies through the Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator. $3.4 billion over ten years, $591 million of that is new money. Will there be any opportunity for commercialisation of new technology, as you see with the US version of this programme, DARPA, which has invented things like the internet, GPS and the like.

MARLES: I absolutely think there’ll be opportunity for commercialisation. And what's really important is that there is opportunity for Australian companies and Australian innovation to form part of the development of the newest technologies that are used in warfare and human contest that we will working on with both the United States and the United Kingdom. This is the other part of the AUKUS program, to be focusing on these new technologies. It's really important in terms of the capability that our defence Force has in the future but as you rightly say, I think there is huge opportunities for Australian industry to be on this leading edge technology which can have a whole lot of applications beyond the defence realm.

LIPSON: All of your announcements this week are being funded by reprioritisation of funds. That is cuts to other elements of the defence portfolio, certainly in the first four years, the forward estimates. If the dangers outlined in your Defence Strategic Review are so urgent and so important, why hasn't the Government put any additional money into it over the next four years?

MARLES: Well, we believe that we can pursue the six priorities that we have identified in our response to the Defence Strategic Review over the short term, over the next four years, through reprioritisation of programs. And at one level that oughtn't to be a surprise, in that what we always imagine the Defence Strategic Review would do would be looking at reshaping our Defence Force, focusing on those capabilities which we would need more of in the future, but also looking at those capabilities which may not be as relevant going forward. And so that reshaping is what you see. But we've also made clear that over the medium term, over the decade, we do expect defence spending to rise and to rise beyond the trajectory of growth that we inherited from the former government. So we expect that we will be spending and plan to spend more money over the medium term than what the former government did in relation to defence. But over the next four years we do believe that we can get the focus on these priorities by reprioritising those areas which we don't see as being as significant in terms of the future of what we need to have.

LIPSON: I think people are broadly supportive of defence spending, if it is indeed to defend ourselves. There seems to be far less support for sending our troops to far away wars that don't place Australia under any direct threat. What assurances can you give people listening that all this money, all this war machinery, is directly for our safety, for our defence, rather than helping fight conflicts involving other nations?

MARLES: Well, I'd be careful about the way that you've characterised that but, I mean, the point I would fundamentally make is that– and certainly as far as the Albanese government is concerned, our Defence Force is 100% about advancing Australia's national interest. And part of the way in which we have retasked our Defence Force in the light of the Defence Strategic Review is to have a very focused task which is based on looking at what the defence of Australia looks like in a modern context. And it's important to understand that given our increased connection to the world through trade, but there's a physical dimension to that, the sea lanes that we have which carries that trade, that is an important part of our national interest. And that really and fundamentally the defence of Australia lies in the collective security of our region and the maintenance of the global rules-based order. And so protecting our connection with the world, maintaining the global rules-based order, making our contribution to the collective security of the region, is all part of how we have described the task of the Australian Defence Force going forward. And that's where our national interest lies.

LIPSON: Richard Marles we'll have to leave it there. Thanks for joining.

MARLES: Thanks David.


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