Interview with Patricia Karvelas, RN Breakfast

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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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27 June 2023

SUBJECTS: Albanese Government’s Assistance to Ukraine; Russian Embassy High Court case; Taiwan; Voice Referendum.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Australia has just announced $110m in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, including 70 vehicles and ammunition. So, far, the response from Ukraine has been positive, but there are questions over how effective the support will be. Richard Marles is the Deputy Prime Minister and the Defence Minister and our guest this morning. Richard Marles, welcome.


KARVELAS: Good. The Ukrainians have been asking for Bushmasters and Hawkeis. Why haven't you given them either of those?

MARLES: Well, the Ukrainians came to us in this instance with a menu of items which they felt could make a difference for them. We worked through that with them. That was a useful step for them to take because it enabled us to think about more deeply the ways in which we could provide assistance which could make a difference. Central to that were armoured vehicles, which is obviously at the core of the announcement that we made yesterday. We do feel that there were issues around Hawkeis which is hard to go into publicly, but we took the Ukrainians through what we believed were the issues there and what we wanted to do was make sure that the equipment that we were giving to Ukraine would make a difference for them on the battlefield in their context. And that's how we've ended up with the package that we've provided.

KARVELAS: Last month your government announced a big contract to build more Bushmasters for the Army. So the Bushmasters are being built. Why not send those over?

MARLES: Well, we've already supplied a significant number of Bushmasters to Ukraine, so there are 90 Bushmasters that have been provided. The equipment that we have been able to provide in this package does go to the areas where Ukraine need assistance. We're confident that it will make a difference and we're able to provide that. All of this, ultimately, is a balance between what we're able to provide, we want to make sure that we are one of the most generous providers to Ukraine and the package that we've put in place has us as one of the largest non-NATO contributors to Ukraine. So, I think Ukraine, Europe –

KARVELAS: Let me pick you up on that –

MARLES: Well, can I just say – all understand that we're punching above our weight in respect of that and the equipment that we've provided is squarely what they were seeking.

KARVELAS: But you say ‘punching above our weight’. We actually, according to the Opposition, are not punching above our weight like we were. We are actually declining in our support by comparison to the previous government, aren't we?

MARLES: No, that's just not true at all.

KARVELAS: Well they say you haven't given them what they've asked for. You talk about a menu, but a lot of the menu items aren't there.

MARLES: Well, firstly, we provided $610 million worth of military assistance to Ukraine. Most of that has come since Labor came to power. That's a fact. And this is not to criticise the former government. The former government did a good job in making their provision but most of what has been provided has actually been provided by Labor and we've done this in a context where we remain right now, we're the second largest non-NATO contributor. The largest is Sweden and they're going to join NATO within the next month. And we've made clear to Ukraine that we will be standing with them for as long as it takes. And this is the fourth package that the Labor Government has put in place. We've been doing it on a drumbeat of about once every four months. Taking a step back, there's been consistent, solid, reliable support from Australia under this Government in areas which Ukraine needs.

KARVELAS: You've said this funding is being covered by the Defence Department. The Defence Strategic Review cut their budget for infantry fighting vehicles. If the ADF is determining which vehicles to send over, isn't it in their best interest to send over the oldest vehicles if they don't have enough money to build new ones?

MARLES: Well, it's the Government which is making these decisions.

KARVELAS: Yeah, but it's based on their recommendation, right?

MARLES: Well, sure, but it is the Government which is making these decisions, and our Government is doing what every government around the world is doing and that is balancing our own needs. And we clearly have needs in our region. We talk often about the fact that we face the most complex set of strategic circumstances since the end of the Second World War. That remains true. It means that there are needs right here and our first obligation is to meeting those. But we also get that what's at stake in Ukraine is the global rules-based order itself, that our national interest is engaged there and that we need to be doing what we can for Ukraine, and that's what we're doing. And it's obviously a balancing act here for us, as it is for every country around the world. But if you look at the level of support that we're ultimately providing to Ukraine, we stand right up there as one of the largest non-NATO contributors. And Ukraine recognises that they're grateful for it, as is Europe, and as is NATO.

KARVELAS: Yesterday, the Russian Embassy lost its bid in the High Court to overturn a law removing them from a block of land near Parliament, where they were planning on building an embassy. What will the government do with the land now?

MARLES: Well, I think that's to be determined, but what is clear is that was not an appropriate place for the Russian embassy, or an embassy actually. The block of land is literally right next to the Parliament and so that obviously informs whatever its future use will be. But one thing is clear is that we will be thinking about its use in the context of our obvious national security needs.

KARVELAS: To another diplomatic issue. Taiwan's Foreign Minister wants Australia to station a military officer in Australia's office in Taiwan. Would the Government be prepared to do that?

MARLES: Well, we have a cooperative relationship with Taipei in the context of our ongoing One China policy, which has been consistent across governments of both persuasions in this country, and we cooperate across the full spectrum of our interests on the economy, people to people links, but including regional security, and we'll maintain that cooperation.

KARVELAS: I have to ask, there's a story out today and it's in your home state, which is why I'm asking, people of African and Middle Eastern appearance being four times more likely to receive fines for breaching Victoria's lockdown rules. Does that worry you?

MARLES: Look, I'm not aware of that story, but obviously, if those facts are right, that would worry me. And I think it's obviously important that the law is applied equally.

KARVELAS: Yeah. Do you understand why people from minority groups feel that they are given different treatment at the hands of, well police, but authorities generally?

MARLES: I can understand that, and I think it's incumbent on authorities to really focus on the way in which they relate to various segments of the community. And I know, and to be fair to the police, I know that they do that and there is a large effort to make sure that all sections of the community are engaged and that there is outreach from the police in the work that they do. So, I would want to acknowledge that the Victorian Police do that, but I think it's also I guess what a report like this does highlight is the ongoing need for that effort.

KARVELAS: I just want to move to The Voice before I let you go, Deputy Prime Minister. How are you feeling about the level of support for the Voice and a potential yes vote? I mean, you must be concerned about waning support?

MARLES: Well, firstly, the referendum is a few months away. We always understood that the referendum would be a contest. There's no guarantee in the outcome and we've never imagined that there would be. And we've always thought that there is going to need to be a significant campaign to see the voice carried, and I'm confident that that campaign will be done in an expert way. But ultimately, this goes to what underpins it. If not now, when? And we need to be responding to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. That's the commitment that our Government has made, we're very proud to be doing that, and we need to see our First Nations people recognised in the Constitution and done so in a practical way through a Voice to Parliament.

KARVELAS: But is it worth doing if it's going to go down?

MARLES: We're committed to doing it.

KARVELAS: Regardless?

MARLES: The Indigenous leadership of this country, through the Uluru Statement of the Heart, has come to government seeking this. That's a very solemn, but also generous step that the Indigenous leadership of this country have taken. And we made clear that we would take this question to a referendum, and there's risk in that, clearly, but we believe that we can make this case and we're committed to making this case. And there are going to be polls that come and go, PK, over the next few months that will happen. But our focus on making sure that what is a really important referendum, which represents a hugely unifying moment for our nation, happens, and that we put the best possible case before the Australian people to see this carried.

KARVELAS: We're out of time. Thank you so much for your time.

MARLES: Thanks, PK.


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