Television Interview, Insiders

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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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30 April 2023

SUBJECTS: Defence Strategic Review, Support for Ukraine, Sudan

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Richard Marles, welcome to the program.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Thanks, David. Good to be here.

SPEERS: So, the Defence Strategic Review says we can no longer rely on a ten year warning period for any conflict. It says defence planning needs to focus on a three year period. What risks do we face in the next three years?

MARLES: Well, David, I think the risks that we are facing around the world right now is a global rules based order, which is under as much threat or stress that's been at any point. We obviously see that in Ukraine, but we also see it in our own region, in places like the South China Sea. This is being accompanied by the biggest conventional military buildup that the world has seen since the end of the Second World War. That obviously has an implication for our strategic landscape, but we've also changed. We are much more reliant upon our economic connection with the world. In the early 1990s, our trade as a percentage of our GDP was around 32 per cent. It's now in 2020, was up to 45 per cent. And there's a physical dimension to that economic connection. Most of our liquid fuels now almost all come from overseas. Back in the nineties, we used to do it all onshore. In fact, most comes now from just one country, and that's Singapore. So, the threat is not that we're about to be invaded, but our exposure to economic coercion, and to coercion from an adversary is greater and the potential for that coercion going forward is much more significant. And that's where the threat lies and that's why we need to reposture for that.

SPEERS: So, in the next three years, the worry is our trade routes, our fuel supplies could be blocked by China?

MARLES: Well, first, it's not just the three years- it is that, but I think it's beyond that. So, we are thinking about this over the next three, the next ten years and beyond. But the point that we're really making is that when you look at the way in which great power contest is playing out, and particularly in our region, you look at that military build up and you look at our exposure to that through a much greater economic connection to the world, we are much more vulnerable to coercion than we've ever been before. And we need to be thinking about the way in which we posture our defence force to deal with that. And what that means is we need a defence force which has a much greater power or ability to engage in projection, because so much of what we need to do is beyond our shores. So, to have a Defence Force with the capacity for impactful projection across the full spectrum of proportionate response is now what we are seeking to achieve. And that's really- as I said- the first re-tasking of our Defence Force in 35 years. And we're now seeking to put in place as quickly as we can the equipment which postures us for that.

SPEERS: Well, given what you've just said there about meaning to do all this as quickly as you can, and given the review says defence is not fit for purpose, why aren't you increasing defence spending over the next four years?

MARLES: Well, we're repurposing $7.8 billion worth of expenditure. That's not tweaking or fiddling on the edges. That's a significant amount of money. We announced that there would be six priorities that we would pursue in response to the Defence Strategic Review, and we believe that we can do that with that $7.8 billion, which means that in total, over the course of the next four years, we'll spend $19 billion on our response to the defence-

SPEERS: No additional funds to deal with this threat that you're talking about.

MARLES: But this is an exercise of reshaping our Defence Force. I mean, the very notion of that is that there are some capabilities that we need more of, like long range strike missiles. There are some capabilities we don't need as much of going forward-

SPEERS: What are those? Just quickly on that, we know the reduction in the number of Infantry Fighting Vehicles. Are there any programs being cut?

MARLES: Well, we've mentioned Infantry Fighting Vehicles. We've actually put out a long list of projects that we will not be proceeding with-

SPEERS: And what are some of those? Just give us one or two examples.

MARLES: Well there's a lot in there, but a lot of them go to various base upgrades which were being planned over the next few years -

SPEERS: Any equipment? Is there any actual military equipment being cut, any projects?

MARLES: Well, we've put the two critical ones out there, which are the self-propelled howitzers and the second tranche of them and the Infantry Fighting Vehicles. And I've listened to the commentary about the Infantry Fighting Vehicles. I mean, the point here is that we need to be thinking about projection, we need to be thinking about how we can have a more nimble Defence Force which can operate beyond our shores. We don't have the transport craft which would enable the 450 planned Infantry Fighting Vehicles to leave our shores. And so, unless you're talking about an invasion of Australia, the vast bulk of those numbers would have been stranded here. And that's an exact example of why we need to be thinking about what is the threat; what do we need to have a Defence Force for? Thinking about from first principles and working out how we prioritise. And we're doing a lot of prioritisation in terms of that, and we're doing that over the next four years. Over the decade, we are saying that there's going to need to be more money. And let me be clear about that; there is more money in the four years- defence funding was planned to grow by the former government- we accepted that- we committed to that-

SPEERS: But you're not going-

MARLES: This time last year and that commitment is being met. But beyond that trajectory, we see that there will be a need for greater expenditure even beyond that.

SPEERS: But right now, the Review is very clear. It says, and I quote, defence funding should be increased to meet our strategic circumstances. Where does it say that that should not happen now?

MARLES: Well, we accept that recommendation.-

SPEERS: But you are not increasing funding now.

MARLES: Funding is increasing over the next four years in line with what had been projected.

SPEERS: What you inherited.

MARLES: We've repurposed $7.8 billion worth of expenditure and we are increasing defence expenditure over the decade and beyond.


MARLES: And that meets the recommendation that was made by the Defence Strategic Review.

SPEERS: Does the classified version say you’ve got to increase funding now?

MARLES: No, the classified version of this recommendation is the same as what's in the public domain and we're confident that we're meeting that in word and spirit.

SPEERS: Okay. On missiles, is Australia going to buy Tomahawk cruise missiles? That was a little unclear in this report.

MARLES: The focus is not on that in the immediate term. And in terms of how we have responded to this with- and long range strike missiles, again, is one of the other six priorities. What the war in Ukraine has shown is that the stocks of long range missiles amongst our friends and allies is just not what we would want. It's actually quite difficult to go out there right now and procure long range missiles and we need more of them.

SPEERS: But on Tomahawks, I mean, the US gave the green light about a month ago, didn't it, for Australia to buy them. There was much excitement in the government. So, are we not buying them just yet?

MARLES: Well, again, that's a question that we will consider and pursue. Right now in terms of the response that we have made. That's not what we are focusing on. But we are focusing on-

SPEERS: Why not? These are long range missiles.

MARLES: Yeah, because it's the priority of what we need to do is to get what stocks we can get right now and to get into the manufacture of long range missiles so that we can have what we will need-

SPEERS: Sorry, just on the Tomahawks, though, are you saying- I'm just a little unclear as to why you're not buying them now, if the US says you can buy them? Is it because you don't have the funding agreement from your cabinet colleagues to spend some more money?

MARLES: Well, it's not that, David. The priority is where we place the priority, which is right now buying more of the HIMARS system and getting into the purchase of precision strike as well as getting into manufacturing so that we can have the stocks of those missiles. And that is the focus right now. I mean, Tomahawk, is something that we will consider over the journey. But right now what we need is to get war stocks up in relation to- and platforms in relation to HIMARS and war stocks up in relation to them. And that is what we are pursuing.

SPEERS: So, as far as making missiles here, there'll be another review into exactly how this will work. Just tell us what you envisage here. Is Australia going to make the entire missile or just the rocket motor or different parts of it? And on what scale, will this provide all the missiles we need?

MARLES: Well, firstly, again, I hear all the commentary about reviews. What we've been really clear about is the processes that government goes through in the ordinary course. There's not reviews here. We're making a decision right now and we're committing money right now in the Budget in nine days time so that we can get into manufacture in a realistic way. The former government left very little money to actually do manufacturing of guided weapons and they had a time frame of not beginning manufacturing until 2027-

SPEERS: Okay. So what are you planning now?

MARLES: We have taken that commitment from $1 billion over the forwards to 2.5 a more than doubling right now. And what that will mean is that we are confident that we can see the beginnings of manufacturing in the next couple of years. And ultimately, our ambition is to establish a production line with companies in this country which would provide for the manufacturer of those long range missiles and doing as much of that as possible in the next couple of years. We hope that we can begin with the assembly of the strike missiles that go in the HIMARS system. But we want to build on that so that we're actually manufacturing the full suite of these weapons in Australia.

SPEERS: And could we see separate facilities for separate companies? Raytheon and Lockheed Martin each have a production facility in Australia.

MARLES: Well, we're speaking with both of those companies and we're hopeful that we can get to that and not just those two. We're talking with Kongsberg as well, which is based out of Norway- 

SPEERS: Would the government own part of the facilities? Or would these be foreign owned missile production facilities?

MARLES: Well, again, we'll work through that in terms of what the answer to that looks like. But we will obviously be investing in it because we need to get to a point where we can get this manufacturing capability in Australia. And to be clear about the point of it, we're not going to get the war stocks of these over the journey unless we're manufacturing in Australia. That's really the lesson that's come out of Ukraine, that the industrial base in the United States and amongst our friends alone is not going to satisfy the kind of war stocks that we will need in the future. And so if we want them, we have to be involved in manufacturing in Australia. So, it is about purchasing what we can right now from overseas. And we do believe that we will get a potent capability in a relatively short period of time. Not the whole capability, but over the next couple of years in terms of these longer range strike missiles. Again, to put this in some context, David, right now we can throw ordinance about 40 miles [kilometres]. This will have us being in a position of being able to, in the next couple of years, project more than 300 kilometres. And that's a massive step change on the navy.

SPEERS: So, a further review, albeit a quick one, to look at the surface fleet and what sort of ships we need. Why couldn't the Defence Strategic Review provide some answers on this?

MARLES: Well, to be honest, the Defence Strategic Review made some observations, but I can understand this. I mean, they were considering a lot of issues over a short period of time. And what they've said here, it's a pretty-

SPEERS: It’s a big part of Defence though. They've made very detailed, these are the vehicles army should have, these are the missiles, but they couldn't touch the navy?

MARLES: Well, they did touch the navy and they made a couple of really important observations about the navy. But the point they then made, precisely because of the tenor of your question, which is our surface fleet next to the submarines, is the biggest platforms that we have, it really did deserve a short review, but a period of time where we are thinking just about that. And I think that's not unreasonable in terms of bandwidth here. I mean, the two observations that it makes in relation to our surface fleet is, firstly that the current structure of our surface fleet was imagined when we were purchasing a diesel electric powered submarine- now we are going to be acquiring a nuclear-powered submarine capability. They ask the question, does that have an implication in relation to the shape of our surface fleet? And the second observation they make is that modern navies are going down the path of having a larger number of smaller vessels.

SPEERS: Well just on that of that, where does that leave the frigates? I think the work on the first of the new frigates is meant to start next week. Should they pause for a bit while this review is underway?

MARLES: No, and we're not pausing on that. And, in fact, work on Hunter has been underway for quite a while and we're a fair way down the track in relation to Hunter. And that's an important observation that you've just made, because we're not starting from scratch here. We inherit the world as we found it as we were elected back in May.

SPEERS: We just might not get as many.

MARLES: The current structure of our surface fleet build goes not just over the next couple of years, it goes over the next few decades. It's thinking about what we're building in the late 2030s into the 2040s. So in that context, we've got the time, not a lot of time, but we do have the time to think just about what our surface fleet should look like and we're going to take that time. And I get that there's going to be the criticism that we've seen over the last week. I'm happy to wear that criticism if what it means is we get the right answer to these questions.

SPEERS: Just a couple of quick ones, if I can, Minister. Ukraine, is Australia going to continue supporting Ukraine with military supplies?

MARLES: Yeah, we are. And Ukraine- well, the resistance in Ukraine has been completely inspirational and heroic, as the Ukrainian defence forces have been defending their own country. But they have been really defending something more than that, because when Russia crossed into Ukraine, that was a complete breach of the UN Charter. And so, in many respects, the fight in Ukraine is also a defence of the global rules based order and that engages Australia's national interest.

SPEERS: So what further support will you provide?

MARLES: Well, I think the answer to that question is that we're very proud to be one of the largest non-NATO contributors to Ukraine, punching well above our weight.

SPEERS: Not the largest contributor. They want the Hawkei vehicles and a few other things. Are the Hawkei vehicles- why can't they be sent?

MARLES: Well, I'm not about to speculate on specific platforms, but if I can just finish that question or that answer, David. I mean, we are one of the largest non-NATO contributors. We intend to continue to be that and we're working really closely with the Ukrainian government about how we can best make a contribution, knowing that this is going to be a protracted conflict and we need to be there with Ukraine for the duration. And so, we will continue to do that and we will work with them about how that contribution can be best provided. And, yes, that's a kind of high level principled answer. It's not specific, but you can look at our record since coming to office in May and you can see that that in principled statement has been backed up by action and it will continue to be so.

SPEERS: So, just finally, on the situation in Sudan, Australians wanting to leave were told to try and get on that final evacuation flight last night, our time. Do you know how many Australians made it and how many didn't?

MARLES: Well, an additional 17 Australians overnight have been evacuated from Sudan and that takes the total to 155. And we've been working very closely with our like minded countries and friends to provide opportunities for those who want to leave Sudan to do so. And there have been seats available on those flights. That's not the end of the options. There are still options out of Port Sudan, which is on the Red Sea, which is, I think it's about 800 kilometres from Khartoum. But there are opportunities there going forward for people to leave Sudan in what is obviously a deteriorating-

SPEERS: British Navy ship or something.

MARLES: Well, there are ferries there and there may be other options coming out of that. I mean, the important thing is this; Australians in Sudan, and there do remain a number of Australians in Sudan really need to make sure that they register. We will continue to work with friends and allies and do everything within our power to provide options for Australians who want to leave to leave because we understand how difficult this situation is now.

SPEERS: All right, Deputy Prime Minister, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

MARLES: Thanks, David.


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