29 May 2023
GREG JENNETT, HOST: All right, let's go overseas now. And Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles is in Korea today. He's there for a meeting hosted by the Republic with members of Pacific nations. Now, in addition, Australia's Defence Minister has his own one-on-one talks with the Korean leadership over an expansion of defence industry links. This is despite some recent frustrations caused by Australia's Defence Strategic Review. The Deputy Prime Minister joined us a little earlier from Seoul.
Deputy Prime Minister, welcome back to Afternoon Briefing. Now, in your bilateral talks with Korean counterparts while you're there, how will you seek to convince them that firms, especially Hanwha, are not being duded by your Defence Strategic Review process?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well firstly, Hanwha has a really significant role to play within Australia's defence industry and the Korean government understands that and welcomes that. I think in terms of the priorities that have been outlined in the Defence Strategic Review and the difficult decisions that we've had to make, Korea understands that as well. I mean, they're going through their own process with the Indo-Pacific Strategy that they have put in place. It's remarkably similar in terms of how they see the world and the sorts of decisions that they're needing to make. So, I think they completely understand that governments need to prioritise and that we've had to make some difficult decisions. But within the context of that, we still see that Hanwha particularly is going to be a company with a big role to play in the Australian defence industry.
JENNETT: I will ask you about Korea's Indo-Pacific Strategy in just a moment, but on infantry fighting vehicles in particular, will you seek to assure your Korean counterparts that it is still Australia's plan to have those which are being built, built in Australia?
MARLES: Well, you may know that I've actually recused myself from the process of determining how the build is done and who does the build. And that's because there are various equities in my electorate in Corio that are at play here, not least of which Hanwha has a facility in my electorate. So the Korean government understands that. But again, we'll just be clear with the Korean government that we've had difficult decisions to make and obviously we need to make them. They really do understand that. But that we see that Hanwha is a really good company that has a big role to play in the future of Australia's defence industry.
JENNETT: All right, more broadly, after Prime Minister Albanese’s meetings on the sidelines of the G7, the Korean presidential spokesman said that you, Richard Marles, would work on, quote “detailed measures to increase arms cooperation”. What more broadly do you have in mind that you'll be proposing in your talks there?
MARLES: Well, I think what's really stark when you look at the Indo-Pacific Strategy of Korea, when you talk to Korean government officials about how they see the world, and you compare that with our own experience: there is huge alignment. There's as big an alignment between our two countries now as there has ever been. Defence Minister Lee and I have met a number of occasions now over the course of the last twelve months, and I look forward to catching up with him tomorrow. And we both feel like there is enormous opportunity to build the relationship between the two countries, but specifically the defence relationship between the two countries. And we see that in the context of a greater tempo of exercises, looking at ways in which we can have greater access to our facilities, looking at ways in which we can do more exchanges between our defence forces. There are some at the moment, but I think there's room to do much more. Defence industry has a role to play here and there's actually a very good level of cooperation between our two defence science establishments. So across the breadth of all of that, there is just a really big opportunity to take this relationship to a different level. And I think there's certainly the motivation from the Australian side, but I think from the Korean side as well, to do just that.
JENNETT: As you say, these talks are very much founded on Korea's relatively new Indo-Pacific Strategy, which for the time being, is aligned with the US in a way that it probably wasn't under the previous president. How do you seek to harness that, or to lock it in, if you like? Would you, for instance, be open to their admission into the Quad?
MARLES: Well, I think working more closely with Korea is the first step. I mean, Korea has looked at the Quad, but I think the Quad has its own focus at the moment and it's important to understand the Quad is not a construct which engages in security conversations – it's really about those four countries looking at how we can work together in the region and in the world beyond the question of security. But I think that there is huge scope for us to do more with Korea. And again, what's really clear when you look at the direction that they have, they are wanting to play a bigger part in East Asia, in the region, in the world. And that's reflected, of course, in today's summit, which is the first summit that Korea has held with Pacific leaders at a leader level here in Seoul, which is a really wonderful step forward on the part of Korea and one that we're all looking forward to this afternoon. But it speaks to the fact that Korea wants to be more active in the region and of course we do too. And I think both of us have a desire to provide for the collective security of the Indo-Pacific region and to maintain the rules based order within our region. That's at the heart of where we get to with our response to our own Defence Strategic Review and that's where they're at with their Indo-Pacific Strategy.
JENNETT: And are you certain that Korea harbours no plans domestically for tactical nuclear weapons? There seems in opinion polling there strong support for it and I think initially, at least, some ambiguous statements that may have proposed it by the President. Have you established exactly where they stand before you seek to broaden and develop this relationship further?
MARLES: Well, I think the consistent position of governments of both persuasions in Korea has been to not walk down that path. Obviously we are signatories to the Non-proliferation Treaty and completely committed to that. And it's obviously important that Korea plays its part in respect of that as well. But that has been a consistent position of governments of both persuasions. And Korea is in a really difficult situation given North Korea on its border. But it is very important that we are not seeing nuclear proliferation within our region and we're confident about where Korea stands in relation to that.
JENNETT: Yeah, fair enough. Let's move on to something slightly more related to domestic matters here. CDF Angus Campbell is pushing on with the cancellation– proposed anyway, of service medals of certain officers from Afghanistan. Jacqui Lambie is angling to ask General Campbell why he himself doesn't hand back his own medals from a period where he had Special Forces command. Why, in your view, should General Campbell retain his medals?
MARLES: Well, look, I'm mindful that I'm overseas at the moment and I normally have a rule of not commenting on domestic issues when I am overseas. But let me simply say this: General Campbell, as the CDF, has gone through a process which has been consistent with the recommendations of the Brereton Review. And when we came into government a year ago, we were completely adamant that we would implement the recommendations of the Brereton Review to the fullest extent that we can. And that's why General Campbell, as the Chief of the Defence Force, has taken the steps that he has. In fact, I end up being the decision maker here as the Minister of Defence, and he has gone through that process, provided a set of recommendations. That's now with me and I'll be taking appropriate advice in relation to that, and then taking the next steps from there. And really, that's as much as it is possible to say about all of that.
JENNETT: All right, understood. There's more I would like to ask on that, but I do respect your role as decision make looming. Final one, Richard Marles, the Wagner Group as war intensifies, with the changing of the seasons in Ukraine. Should it be prescribed by Australia as a terrorist group?
MARLES: Well, again, I think I'll leave those issues to the relevant authorities in Australia who go through that process. Our focus in relation to Ukraine is to make sure that we are there for the journey and that this conflict is able to be resolved on Ukraine's terms. Next weekend, in fact, is the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore and I'm hopefully going to be able to have some interactions with Ukrainian counterparts there. Certainly– I'm sure Ukraine will be a big topic of conversation at Shangri-La. And from our point of view, we just want to make clear to our region and indeed to the world that those countries which stand in support of a global rules-based order in this moment in time really need to be standing up side by side with Ukraine. That's what we're going to do and that's what we're going to encourage others to do.
JENNETT: Will you take a package of additional arms donations to those talks?
MARLES: Well, we've been talking with the government of Ukraine about how we can provide support going forward. We've made clear that we want to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine for as long as this takes and that does imply further support. Certainly not committing to when we will make that announcement, but we're in a very open and transparent process with Ukraine about how best we can lend support to them, knowing that to this point in time, we've been, I think, the second largest non-NATO contributor to supporting Ukraine. One of the largest, if not the largest, contributor in our region to the support of Ukraine. That's greatly appreciated by the government of Ukraine and we'll continue to work with them to make sure that we are standing with them as this conflict proceeds.
JENNETT: Sounds like one for all of us to keep an eye on. Deputy Prime Minister, really appreciate your time on a busy agenda there in Seoul. Thanks again for joining us on the program.
MARLES: Thanks Greg.