29 May 2023
TOM CONNELL, HOST: Pacific leaders have descended on South Korea for high level defence talks in the first Korea-Pacific Islands Summit. Top of the agenda: security threats posed by China and North Korea. Joining me live from Seoul is Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Defence Minister Marles. Thanks very much for your time. I guess just first of all you're talking about seeking to bolster military cooperation. Is there anything concrete you can announce or you're set to announce?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we see that there is a huge strategic alignment between ourselves and South Korea. They've just gone through the process of their own review of their defence force, not unlike the Defence Strategic Review that we undertook. It's the Indo-Pacific Strategy which they have announced earlier this year. And it's remarkably similar in terms of the way in which South Korea sees the world to the kind of observations that we've made in the Defence Strategic Review. So, we see that there is a huge amount of alignment at the moment.
I've met with my counterpart, Minister Lee, on a number of occasions over the course of the last twelve months. We're moving into a period where we will be meeting a number of times over the next few months and we really hope to be able to take the relationship to a new level in terms of the tempo of exercises, access to each other's facilities, looking at ways in which we can do more exchanges between our two defence forces, looking at how we can increase what is already a very significant defence science exchange that happens now, and of course, defence industry. So, across the board there's opportunity here and this is really one of the key relationships in the region that we want to take forward.
CONNELL: I guess, is it interesting to note one of the plus sides of Chinese aggression, Australia was willing to stand up to that - particularly on those sort of economic grounds and taking a moral stance, if you like? That we've never been more relevant in the world than we are right now?
MARLES: I think over the last twelve months we've demonstrated to the region, to the world that we are a serious Government which is putting Australia in a position where we seek to try and build peace, obviously within our world and within our region. The front line of our engagement within our region and the world is diplomacy. But we are really being seen in a very serious light now. The best reflection of that, in a way, is the fact that the Prime Minister was invited to the meeting of the G7 in Hiroshima. And I think that the sense that countries have of wanting to do more with us and wanting to work with us is a reflection of that. And that's really good in terms of our national interest because it opens up a whole lot of opportunities for us to advance our national interest through much greater cooperation. And ultimately, what that cooperation is about is working with like minded countries to provide for the security– the collective security of the Indo-Pacific region and the maintenance of the global rules-based order within our region. And we are very invested in that. South Korea is very invested in that.
CONNELL: In terms of another big issue in the world, obviously Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine assistance that we're providing: so 2022 we sent Bushmasters, armoured personnel carriers, weapons as well, other military material. 2023 so far just one small consignment of drones. Why has there been a scaling down of assistance this year?
MARLES: Well, I wouldn't characterise it like that, Tom. I mean, we've continued to deliver the assistance that we've already announced on the schedule that we announced it. And that's obviously not public for a whole lot of important national security reasons. But we are standing shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine. We're providing training assistance to Ukraine. And I was there earlier in the year in England where that training is taking place. And again, that's been ramped up, really from the beginning of this year. And we're working very closely with the Ukrainian government. I spoke with my counterpart in the last few weeks about ways in which we can continue that support. We stand, Tom, as the second largest non-NATO contributor to supporting Ukraine. We’re just about the largest contributor from our region in supporting Ukraine. That is not lost on the government of Ukraine nor is it lost on the governments of Europe and we will continue to be there–
CONNELL: No, but a lot of that makes up the previous contributions. What Ukraine is saying very specifically through the Ambassador here in Australia is there's an offensive pending, they want to take back territory and they need Hawkei fighting vehicles. Will we provide them?
MARLES: Again, I'm not going to go into the specifics of what we will provide. That'll be a conversation that we have and are having with Ukraine itself, and we're speaking with the ambassador as well. But as I said, I spoke with my counterpart in the last few weeks and Ukraine has provided us with a menu of options if you like, which would– the kind of support of material which would make a difference for them. We're working through with the government of Ukraine about how we can best do that in an ongoing way. But they absolutely understand that we are committed to their cause and that we are going to stand with them shoulder to shoulder for as long as it takes so that they can resolve this conflict on their terms. And they are very grateful for that. And they understand the extent to which we are providing assistance, and we'll continue to do that.
CONNELL: Okay, so will there be something for this offensive they say is urgent? The window is now. Is there something that will be provided, you just can't announce that just yet?
MARLES: Well, again, we're working through all the details of that with the government of Ukraine. I'm not about to announce it now–
CONNELL: But you can say ‘yes something's coming in this window’. We get that we can't announce it yet, details to come. But is that the message you have for people who are saying ‘hey, the Ambassador is calling for this, why aren't we helping out?’
MARLES: Well, details are to come. But also, to be clear, we're in a really transparent process with Ukraine itself. So, the government of Ukraine is really aware of all that we are looking at doing and we're working with them, and I might say with other countries who are providing support, about how we can best lend assistance and coordinate in with that broader effort. And that's what we've been doing up until now and that's what we'll do going forward.
CONNELL: Can I ask, have you got 30 seconds or so because I know you've got a meeting to get to and I promised your office you wouldn't be late. Is it true that we do have supply if we wanted to give Hawkeis or Bushmasters, there's no supply issue or there's no capability issue on our side, it's just working through other logistics?
MARLES: Well, again, we're working through the proposal with the government of Ukraine. We don't have infinite resources, clearly, and we have our own needs. And we, as every country in providing support to Ukraine, is balancing that against the needs that we have. And we obviously have very significant needs within our own region and within our own Defence Force and that's been highlighted in all the difficult decisions that we've had to make within the Defence Strategic Review and the Government's response to it. But in the midst of it all, the need to be there to support Ukraine for as long as it takes is absolutely front and centre in terms of how our Government is thinking about the world and Ukraine knows that, they're grateful for it. We are very much punching above our weight. That's a point that they absolutely acknowledge and continually acknowledge. And we'll continue to provide that support.
CONNELL: We've just gone 45 seconds over. I'm sure you can make the next meeting. Got a bit of fitness from the golf course and some of those hilly par-5s. Richard Marles, appreciate your time today.
MARLES: Thanks Tom.