Interview with Greg Jennett, ABC Afternoon Briefing

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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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26 June 2023

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Richard Marles, welcome back to the program right here in the studio, which is always pleasant. Now, I know the Government says that it's responded to Ukraine's requests for vehicles and ammunition. Just to clarify, did you reply only to the things they requested? Did they request items they're not getting?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've been having an ongoing dialogue with Ukraine about what support we can provide and that's really been the case since we came to government. More recently, Ukraine did come to us with a menu of items that they thought could make a difference for them. We've been having a conversation with them around that menu in terms of what we've been able to provide. And the announcement today is the result of that. And vehicles were very much at the centre of it. So, being able to provide an additional 28 infantry fighting vehicles through the 113s, Special Operations Vehicles, that's squarely in the frame of what they were seeking, along with, as you've just said, more ammunition.

JENNETT: And so as a proportion or percentage of that menu, how much does today's package satisfy?

MARLES: Well, I think the way to look at it is that today's package adds to all the contributions that we have been making to Ukraine. It takes our military contributions up to $610 million since the war began. Most of that has occurred since the last federal election. And that places us as one of the largest non-NATO contributors in support of Ukraine. Indeed, the largest is Sweden, and they're about to join Ukraine – they're about to join NATO, I should say. And so Australia has been punching above its weight from day one. We continue to do that, and that's very much recognised by Ukraine.

JENNETT: Now, Ukraine hasn't been backwards in advocating their requests for Hawkei vehicles, social media ads have proliferated. Why know Hawkeis up to this point and is that going to hold into the future?

MARLES: Look, I think it will hold into the future and there's a limit to what I can say here, but in essence, and we've talked this through with Ukraine I should say, in essence, we want to make a difference for Ukraine on the battlefield. We want to give them gear which is going to help for a range of reasons which are difficult to go into, our view is that Hawkeis would not provide the kind of service to Ukraine that would assist them in the context of this battle. We've taken them through that. I think there's an understanding around that –

JENNETT: So they'll cease and desist this public campaign for want of a better word?

MARLES: Well, look, all of that's obviously a matter for Ukraine, and I completely accept the fact Ukraine's at war, so they're doing what I think anyone would do in their situation, which is to encourage as much support as possible. But I'd also note that today, since the announcement that we've made, we've had a tweet from my counterpart in Ukraine, Oleksii Reznikov, the Defence Minister, thanking Australia for its contribution. And so there is very much gratitude from the government of Ukraine for what we're doing and it is acknowledged by them, as it is throughout Europe, that Australia is punching above its weight and that's where we want to be.

JENNETT: Did you ask the Ukrainian Defence Minister – because I think you met up in Singapore – to show a bit more restraint in the dealings they have with you?

MARLES: Not at all. Look, I think Oleksii Reznikov and President Zelenskyy and all those in Ukraine have been heroes in the way in which they've gone about their resistance. The last thing I would do is ask them to do anything other than pursue their national interest in in the fullest possible way because that's that's actually consistent with our national interest. It's a point I've made on numerous occasions. The Ukrainian defence forces are obviously out there each and every day fighting for their country. But in another sense, what's at issue here is the sanctity of the global rules-based order. Our national interest is engaged in that. That's why we are there supporting Ukraine. And so in that sense, when Ukraine is fighting for its own nation, it's fighting on our behalf as well. And I have nothing but the highest degree of admiration for my counterpart, Minister Reznikov, and indeed everyone in Ukraine.

JENNETT: No, I understand that. The only reason I ask was I detected a bit of a change in their own conduct and their own advocacy around Hawkeis, in particular. F-18 classic Hornets. Are they still under active consideration for, I suppose, a two step donation process?

MARLES: Again, difficult to go into details around specific platforms and specific capabilities that might be out there in terms of what support we can provide. The point I'd make there more generally is the announcement that we've made today is the fourth that we've made since we've come to power. We made an announcement last July, last October and February, and now in June we are making announcements of support kind of every four months and we've made it clear to Ukraine that we will be there for as long as it takes to see Ukraine resolve this conflict on their terms. Now, the specifics of what the future might hold is difficult to go into, but we'll have an ongoing conversation with Ukraine about how we can stand shoulder to shoulder with them, which is what our intention is to do.

JENNETT: I understand, but you've never corrected and I don't think anyone in the government or Defence has any of the reporting about some of the vehicles, some of the entities involved in these negotiations, you can confirm that they're underway around the F 18 Hornets?

MARLES: I'm not going to go there. As I say, in terms of our conversations with Ukraine about anything in the future, we'll keep them between ourselves and Ukraine, and just as we've done today, future announcements you'll see in due course.

JENNETT: And the US, I think, would have to be, even if we speak in the abstract about these F-18 classic Hornets, the US, I'm sorry, would have to be a part of that process?

MARLES: Well, it's true that the F-18s involve US technology in that sense, but again, I'm not going to go down the track of looking at specific capabilities in the future. We will keep our negotiations with Ukraine between ourselves.

JENNETT: I understand. Do you expect events over the weekend involving the Wagner mutiny to accelerate the pace of Ukrainian offensive action, if not actions by the Russians themselves, but certainly Ukrainians?

MARLES: Look, it's hard to tell what the impact of the weekend might be both on Russia and on the conflict in Ukraine, but I think there are a couple of points to make. Firstly, Vladimir Putin is still very much in control of Russia, and there is still a very significant conflict playing out in Ukraine, which we expect to take time to play out –

JENNETT: You don’t think his authority has been weakened?

MARLES: I think it's been a very bad day for Russia. And I think the answer to that question is, yes, it has been. But he is still in charge and there is still a fight being waged in Ukraine. And so I think it would be wrong to draw from this that this is a moment where everyone can take a deep breath. There is still a conflict engaged here, and we stand very much shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine, but there's no doubt that there's a crack in the edifice. And the other point I would make is that I think it does bring into question the whole kind of moral support that existed previously for the appalling invasion by Russia of Ukraine. I mean, that's what I take from this. There's a breaking down of the morale which underpins that, and that is obviously good news. But there's still a long way to go.

JENNETT: And not for the first time, Belarus has become an intermediary in all of this. Is it now incumbent on Australia to take another look at sanctions as applied to that nation state?

MARLES: Again, we'll work with the international community around what sanctions regime should be put in place in respect of the whole of the conflict and how best to do that. I mean, look, the events on the weekend were very significant. They were dramatic. The way I would describe it is that it is a crack in the edifice, but I still think there's a long way to go.

JENNETT: Yeah, momentous no matter which way they play from here. Richard Marles, great to catch up.


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