23 May 2023
DANICA DEGIORGIO, HOST: Returning now to one of our top stories. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has landed in Sydney as he begins an official visit. Joining me now live is Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. What will be on the agenda for these bilateral talks?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well Danica, India and Australia have never been more strategically aligned than we are right now. We very much see the world in the same terms and we're a country – or two countries which share values. And so working together is very natural. And as Prime Minister Modi has said, he wants to take the relationship to the next level and so do we. And so I think when you look at the area of trade, but when you look at the area of national security, there are real steps that we can take upon what is already a relationship which is growing very significantly in defence: we are doing more exercises together; we are concentrating on how we can build interoperability between our defence forces, enabling us to have greater access to each other's facilities. And obviously we want to see the trade relationship between our countries grow even further than it has already.
DEGIORGIO: The visit has attracted criticism from some within the Indian Australia community. They want Anthony Albanese to press Mr Modi on human rights violations in India. Should Australia take a firm line in its dealings with the Indian Prime Minister?
MARLES: Well, look, what I would say is that again, we're two countries which share values. India is a democracy. We have a very deep relationship with India and the Prime Minister Albanese has a very good relationship with Prime Minister Modi. I have no doubt that they will have a full conversation when they meet tomorrow. I'm not about to go into what is or isn't going to be said in relation to that now, but it is a very strong relationship. But the point to make is that it's a relationship which is based on shared values. India is a democracy.
DEGIORGIO: All right, let's move on now. I want to ask you about China. Will Anthony Albanese travel to Beijing before trade sanctions are lifted?
MARLES: We're not about to put conditionality on a visit of that kind. China is a very complex relationship. We've been making that point. And it doesn't lend itself to the kind of simplistic platitudes that we heard from the former government when it came to China. We've made clear that we value a productive relationship with China, that we want to work with China where we can, but we will disagree with China where we must. And in that context we're seeking to stabilise the relationship with China. And I think you've seen that happen over the course of the last twelve months there have now been numerous meetings at a Ministerial level between our two countries. Our Foreign Minister visited China in December, our Trade Minister was there in the last couple of weeks and that is yielding practical outcomes. The defence dialogue between our two countries has been resumed and we're seeing trade be put back in place. So all of this is walking down that path of stabilising the relationship between our two countries. Obviously, in the past, we've seen Australian Prime Ministers visit China. We want to continue walking down this path of stabilising.
DEGIORGIO: Ok, but are formal plans are underway for the Prime Minister to visit Beijing?
MARLES: Well, again, prime ministerial visits to Beijing have, in the past been a very normal part of the relationship between our two countries and we want to get our relationship back to a better place of normality. That's what we are seeking to do, and we're seeking to do that in the context of all that I've just said around the complexity in the relationship, but our desire to stabilise it and the fact that we make clear that we do value a more productive relationship with China. And so we'll keep walking down that path and the future will contain what it does.
DEGIORGIO: You told a News Corp Defending Australia dinner last night that Australia must confront "inconvenient truths about China but also counter Beijing's military expansion. How do you do that while also trying to improve relationships?
MARLES: Well, it's difficult, and that's the other point I made last night. It's a difficult relationship – it's difficult to manage the relationship, I should say. And it's a relationship which has within it a lot of complexity. And so this is not done by having simplistic attitudes, which is what we saw under the former government. I think you've got to do this in a kind of rational, sensible and adult way where you do see the entirety of the picture. And it's a picture which does, on the one hand, acknowledge that China is our largest trading partner – and we've all been the beneficiaries of that – on the other hand, we are seeing the most significant conventional build-up, military build-up of any country in the world since the end of the Second World War with China and it's not being accompanied by a sense of strategic reassurance for the region or the world about its purpose. And that does give rise to anxiety. And all of this is what we need to work with and what we need to work through. But if you are rational and you are adult and you take it step by step, it can be done. And that's what we're doing.
DEGIORGIO: We're almost out of time. But just very quickly, the US and Papua New Guinea have signed a new bilateral defence agreement. Do you welcome this deal?
MARLES: I do. I think it's really good that we are seeing America becoming more and more engaged in the Pacific region and specifically with Papua New Guinea. And I think a growth in the PNG-American relationship is only good from an Australian point of view. And obviously PNG is very important to us and we're building our own relationship from PNG off a very significant history and a very close relationship that we have with that country. But I think a greater American involvement in the region and in its relationship with PNG is good news for us.
DEGIORGIO: We have to leave it there. Richard Marles, thank you so much for joining us this morning.
MARLES: Thanks Danica.