Television Interview, Today 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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19 May 2023

Subjects: G7, jobs, economy, Ipswich Show, Angus Houston, NCIS

SARAH ABO, HOST: Well, Anthony Albanese will attend today's G7 summit in Japan, with special meetings scheduled with the leaders of the world's top liberal democracies. Let's bring in Deputy Prime Defence Minister Richard Marles and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton. Good morning, gents. Thanks so much for your time today. Now, Richard, he might still be feeling a little bit bruised after that Biden snub cancelling his Australian visit, but the PM will still get some face time with the US President.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Yeah, well, I obviously wouldn't describe what's happened in those terms, Sarah. I mean, you've got a leader of a country who is dealing with an urgent issue in terms of their domestic politics. It's unfortunate, but it happens and it's nothing more than that. And the Prime Minister will be able to catch up with President Biden, as of course, he's done on numerous occasions, and we'll be able to meet him in Japan, and I know he's looking forward to that.

ABO: How do we take this from a talk fest to something tangible?

MARLES: Well, firstly, the gathering of the G7 and Australia's participation in that is a really important gathering in the world. And it says a lot about Australia's standing in the world right now. And it says a lot, I think, particularly about our relationship with Japan, actually, given that they're the host of this. In terms of the Quad countries, this is one of the most important pieces of architecture that we have within our region, working with India, Japan and America. And it's far from just talking there's a whole lot of action which is going on in terms of integrating our economies, working far more closer on issues around national security, doing joint projects in relation to development in our region. And I think it's one of the most important developments that we've seen.

ABO: Peter, these are, of course, vital talks, especially for our region. What would you like to see Australia walk away with here?

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION, PETER DUTTON: Well, Sarah, obviously we're very proud to reestablish the Quad having been lost in Kevin Rudd's time, and it was important to bring like minded countries together. As Richard pointed out in the Parliament the other day, we live in perhaps the most precarious time since the Second World War. And it's important that, likeminded countries come together to express our commitment to freedom of speech, to freedom of navigation, to all of the values that have stood us well over a long time. And I think it's an important optic for the world as well to see all of the leaders there. Obviously disappointing that President Biden couldn't make it to Australia, but completely understandable in the circumstances, given what he's facing domestically at home. And I think the relationship between all of us is on a good footing and we should continue to strengthen it.

ABO: All right, well, the latest unemployment numbers are out and the rate has climbed to 3.7 per cent in April. It was around the holiday period. But, Richard, a slightly weaker labour market. Is this a sign the rate hikes are starting to slow the economy?

MARLES: Well, we were anticipating that we would see the unemployment number go in this direction, but having said that, it's still an unemployment number which is at historic lows. And as a government, we've created more jobs in the first year of our government than we've seen in the first year of any new government. So, employment remains a really important part of what the Albanese government is doing, making sure that people have those opportunities and making sure that we see wages moving again. But we've had unemployment at very low levels over a very long period of time. This is a small rise in the number, not unexpected, but we're still at very low levels.

ABO: I mean, it is really tough out there for families at the moment. Peter, do you think this might mean the RBA will hold at their next meeting? There has been speculation about increasing rates again, mortgage holders, of course, don't want to hear that.

DUTTON: Well, Sarah, in the Budget, the Government predicts that 175,000 Australians will lose their jobs over the next four years. So, even a small increase in the unemployment rate has a very negative impact on that person, their family. And since the Budget, we've now heard the NAB and others talking about interest rates maybe going up again. But most likely outcome is that interest rates will stay higher for longer because of what is an inflationary budget. It's going to make it harder for families because in the Budget were measures which will keep interest rates higher for longer. And that's going to make it very hard for not just families, but small businesses as well, because they're facing many other costs. It's your electricity bill, it's the price you're paying when you go to the supermarket now- all of the energy costs are being passed on in the form of higher food prices by the manufacturers and the producers, and that's really crunching a lot of families at the moment. And I think in the budget for middle Australia, we have that whole class of people now that Labor is creating, who are essentially a working poor, working their guts out, but not getting ahead, barely keeping their heads above water.

ABO: Gee, that paints a bleak picture, doesn't it, Peter. Any happiness around the corner?

DUTTON: Well, lots of happiness. So, it'll be in two years time, I hope, Sarah, we can vote a bad government out. Richard can find a full time job at the show there, we can help him out.

ABO: Come on, Richard Marles, the carney, I don’t know about that. Hey, look, there's a bit of fire around this morning-

MARLES: I don't see my future at the show as fantastic as the show is. But can I just say, while there's a lot around here, right now Peter is completely full of it in terms of what Pete is saying. The Budget saw assistance with rent, saw assistance with power bills that actually puts a downward pressure on inflation. And we've done something the Liberals never did in ten years; we've got a forecast surplus in this financial year. This has been a responsible budget and it's a hallmark of what we're about.

ABO: All right, well, there's a bit of Friday fire. Now, the former Defence Force chief has also fired up. Sir Angus Houston has sounded the alarm about our Navy, saying it lacks the necessary weaponry and firepower to combat China. Some really strong language from him, including that the Review was off the back of the worst strategic circumstances in his lifetime. Richard, is he right?

MARLES: Well, certainly, and Peter referred to this earlier, and we've all been making this really clear across both sides of politics, that the strategic landscape that we face today is as complex, is as difficult and threatening as we've had since the end of the Second World War. And Sir Angus Houston really is reflecting that in his comments. And it is very important that we bring a lot more potency to our Defence Force in general. But he was talking specifically about our Navy and that's very much in the forefront of our minds in terms of how we respond to the Defence Strategic Review, which is why we're looking at our surface fleet right now. But of course, also why we're moving down the path of acquiring a nuclear-powered submarine capability. It's really important that we are doing everything we can to meet this challenge, because we do face a very complex time in which we've come to government.

ABO: Yeah. Peter, in comparison to China, Sir Angus Houston says that we don't actually know just how much we're up against because there's such a lack of transparency. Do you think our Navy really can combat that?

DUTTON: Well, I think a couple of points. One is that I agree with Richard's analysis, and obviously we started AUKUS and the government signed or inked that deal, which is important for us, because we know that from a position of weakness, you can't maintain peace. And all of us want peace and stability in our region. We want the status quo in Taiwan, we want trading partner in China to continue to go from strength to strength in that relationship. But we have to be realistic about the militarisation within the region. Under the AUKUS deal that Labor Party signed up to, there'll be four nuclear powered submarines from the US and one from the UK, essentially based in our waters from 2027. So, that tells you a lot about what the Americans see, what NATO sees. They don't start moving their assets, significant assets, like submarines, and relocating them from other theatres or other seas and locations into our part of the world, unless they're very concerned about what the next few years might hold.

ABO: Yeah. Well, look, NCIS is filming here in Sydney at the moment, so maybe they can lend us some of their prop subs in the meantime, while we're waiting. What do you reckon, guys?

DUTTON: Well, we could all be extras on that show. Richard, what do you think?

MARLES: Yeah, a cameo role for Peter was actually the condition of them being able to use our Navy. Look forward to that.

ABO: All right, guys, thanks so much for your time. Have a great weekend.

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