Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News Afternoon Agenda

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

Media contact

02 6277 7800

Release content

26 June 2023

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Joining me now live in the studio is the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Richard Marles. Thanks for your time, as always.


GILBERT: Peter Dutton says you should have gone bigger in the support package. And why no Hawkeis?

MARLES: Well, first, in terms of the size of the package, we are now and have been the largest non-NATO – one of the largest non NATO contributors – to supporting Ukraine. Ukraine certainly now understand that we're punching above our weight in that respect. We're one of the largest contributors in the Indo-Pacific. So, there is a balancing act here in terms of what are our own needs with our capability, but also making sure that we stand with Ukraine in the defence of their country, but also in the defence of the global rules-based order in which our national interest is so significantly engaged. And so this is a significant package. We've been essentially doing packages every three or four months since we've come to office. In respect of Hawkeis, we've spoken with Ukraine. Ukraine came to us on this occasion with a menu of items that they thought could help in terms of assisting them. We've worked with them in relation to that. We had real concerns about how Hawkei would operate in their environment and we've obviously been talking through that with them, and the package is what we've come up with.

GILBERT: The Hawkei is an armoured vehicle like the Bushmaster. They clearly believe that the Bushmaster has worked very effectively for them and they wanted Bushmasters, Hawkeis, or Abrams tanks. It doesn't look like you've delivered on any of those in this package.

MARLES: Well, the 113s, of which we're providing 28, is an infantry fighting vehicle and it is much more suited to the environment that they're in right now. The Hawkeis are not really like Bushmasters, they're a much lighter vehicle. In fact, they're really designed to be carried around by helicopters, which is not the context in which we see this fight here. And there are other issues that we think mean the Hawkeis were not particularly suitable for Ukraine. I mean, we want to come up with assistance which is practical and which is going to make a difference. We've talked that through with Ukraine. They understand that and they understand the issues that we've raised around Hawkeis. But I mean, they're pretty happy with the package that we've announced. And it does include infantry fighting vehicles, which is very much at the core of what they were seeking, along with special operation vehicles, armoured trucks, it's a significant package which will make a difference. We're very proud to be able to make the announcement.

GILBERT: Okay, well, I'll put you another critique. This was from Michael Shoebridge, former ASPI now independent defence strategist. He says the Australian Government’s Ukraine support fails to meet the lowest expectations, he said on his social media post, 70 military vehicles includes 28 trucks, 28 obsolete Vietnam era M113s that were destined for the boneyard. And he said, if that's it, Mr. Albanese should stay away from the NATO meeting in July.

MARLES: Well, again, we'll take our cues from the government of Ukraine rather than Michael Shoebridge. And the government of Ukraine have made really clear their support for it. They've made that publicly. They put out a public message since we've made the announcement earlier this morning. It is a very significant package. It's in addition to the 28 113s that we've sent previously, which are currently being used in Ukraine and which are suitable to the environment in which this conflict is happening, and it represents a very significant package. The point I would make is that Ukraine understand we are punching above our weight here, and I've been very clear about that, as have NATO and Europe. And so this will be very well received. As I say, we are one of the largest non-NATO contributors to this conflict. The largest is Sweden and they're about to join NATO. So, that phrase may change in the next month. And I think the fact that we are giving this support from this side of the world is something that is very well understood. And Minister Reznikov, my counterpart in Ukraine, has been publicly thanking us just in the last couple of hours.

GILBERT: With the Hawkei, it's not because of some issue with the brakes or some mechanical problem that you haven't offered them?

MARLES: Look, I'm not going to go through the specifics of that in public. We have talked through these issues with Ukraine. We want to make a difference in terms of the contribution that we are making. We do not believe the Hawkeis would be suitable and would be of assistance and that was something that Ukraine understood.

GILBERT: Is there a chance the Prime Minister might go further when he gets to NATO or is this the package he's taking?

MARLES: Well, I think – look, what I would say is look at our form. I mean, the point that we've been making is that we want to support Ukraine for as long as it takes for Ukraine to resolve this conflict on its terms. And we see this as a protracted conflict which is going to go for a significant amount of time. Since we've been in government, we've been making iterative announcements of support for Ukraine every four months or so. July, October and February and now in June. Most of the military support that has been provided by the Australian government to Ukraine has happened since the last election. And that's an important point to understand. We will stay with Ukraine for as long as it takes. And in terms of what we announce in the future, I think you can look at the way in which we've been conducting ourselves in the past to get a sense of that.

GILBERT: All right. So on Russia more broadly, is Russia weaker today than it was last week after the aborted uprising?

MARLES: I think the answer to that question is yes. I mean, it's hard to get a very clear sense of what's happening in Russia, obviously, but this is a significant set of events which has occurred over the weekend, I think they are unquestionably weaker when you look at that. And to me what it brings in to light really is the whole immorality of the invasion by Russia of Ukraine last year, and the kind of morale which underpins that I think we can see that that is breaking down in the context of what has happened with the Wagner Group. But there's still a long way to go here and President Putin is still very much in charge of Russia and there is still very much a conflict which is going to take time to conclude between Ukraine and Russia.

GILBERT: And with Putin himself, do you think it's a matter of time? Is this a vulnerability now for him that he'll eventually meet his demise?

MARLES: Look, I'm not going to speculate about things as kind of firmly as that. It's obviously I mean there's a crack in the edifice is the way I suppose I would describe it, but how big that is and its significance, I think time will tell. Vladimir Putin is still very much in control of Russia and there is still very much a conflict taking place in Ukraine right now. And from our point of view, we are going to continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine for as long as it takes.

GILBERT: I want to ask you about Simon Crean. One thing I didn't ask you, but I want to get on before we move on is the costs of this latest deployment and offering, is that going to be paid by Defence by making other cuts?

MARLES: Well, Defence is able to absorb this, so it is going to be covered by Defence. The one point I'd make is that there is an operational deployment in place right now of Australian personnel, which is the trainers in Britain who are as part of Operation Kudu, who are helping train the Ukrainian armed forces and kind of funding rules around operations apply to that. But this is being funded by Defence. We understand that in the sense that this is going to be a balancing act as we go forward. It's a matter of making sure that we are able to play the part that we can for Ukraine. They are in a serious conflict which it does engage our national interests. At the same time, we obviously have to be thinking about our own capabilities and that's part of the considerations that we've been thinking about as every country who has been supporting Ukraine has been thinking about.

GILBERT: And as I mentioned, Simon Crean came as a great shock to many in Labor and beyond who knew him, and really warm praise for him across the political aisle as well.

MARLES: Yeah, I think well, that reflects the nature of who Simon was as a person. I mean, Simon was a warm, generous person who, certainly for me, was always there to provide advice, to give support throughout my career, really, and before I entered Parliament, when I was at the ACTU. He at that point was a former president of the ACTU, but maintained an ongoing contact with the ACTU. And I think my experience would reflect that of most in the Labor Caucus. He was somebody who was there to dispense wisdom when we asked for it. He's a former leader of our party. He really is a giant of our movement and he was well liked across the spectrum of politics, across the aisle. And I think you can see that in the warmth of the reaction to the very shocking news that we've heard in the last 24 hours.

GILBERT: Indeed. And vindicated, do you think in terms of that position on the Iraq War?

MARLES: Well, I think history is on his side and it continues to be so as every day goes by. And that was a very courageous decision that he took when he was Leader of the Opposition. Not easy to oppose Australia's involvement in that conflict at that time, but I think history is on his side going forward and it demonstrates, I think, the character of Simon Crean that he was willing to take a very strong stance at that point based on his beliefs and his wisdom and experience, which has been borne out.

GILBERT: Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, thank you as always, appreciate it.

MARLES: Thanks Kieran.


Other related releases