Interview with Peter Stefanovic, Sky News First Edition

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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; Economy.

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Thank you. Well, let's go live to Canberra now. Joining us is the Defence Minister, Richard Marles. Minister, good to see you. Thanks for your time, as always. So, Simon Birmingham, just on the program a short time ago, gave you a shot. He said your offer yesterday was too slow, too little sending old equipment and it was a token aid contribution. Pretty damning, your response to that?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, obviously we don't accept that. I mean, we've been working very closely with the government of Ukraine who have responded to this package very positively. This is another $110 million in support to Ukraine. It takes the total of military support that we've provided to Ukraine up to $610 million most of which has been provided since Labor came to power. And this places us as one of the largest non-NATO contributors in support of Ukraine. And we're doing that because we understand that what's at stake in the war in Ukraine is the global rules-based order. Australia's national interest is invested in that and we will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes to see Ukraine resolve this conflict on their terms.

STEFANOVIC: Some of the equipment that you're sending, though, is from the Vietnam era. Why so old? I mean, are you reluctant to send modern equipment?

MARLES: Well, it's equipment that we've been using and it's equipment which is useful for Ukraine. Ukraine came to us on this occasion with a menu of items which they thought would be helpful for them. Armoured transport was central amongst that. We've been working through that, working at what we can do and looking at ways in which we can make a difference to them on the battlefield. And that's what's led to the package that we've ultimately provided. And there are already the 113s that are in Ukraine. They're providing significant service to Ukraine's effort. This will assist in that.

STEFANOVIC: I mean, presumably, even though we might not need it in the short term, you want to keep your best stuff, your most modern stuff here, would you not?

MARLES: Well, we are providing modern equipment as well to Ukraine. I mean, there's a range of equipment that we're providing in terms of the age of that equipment. For example, in this package alone, the armoured trucks that we're providing, we've acquired relatively recently into the Australian Army, the Special Operations Vehicles as well. But it's not really about its age, it's about its utility and that's what we've been looking at with Ukraine in terms of what can make a difference for them.

STEFANOVIC: So, even though that you indicated that there would be problems with sending your Hawkeis yesterday, again back to Simon Birmingham, he said that would still be good enough on the battlefield. Would you consider another opinion to get them over there or is it just a blanket ban on sending the Hawkeis to Ukraine? You want to keep them here?

MARLES: Well, look, with the greatest of respect to Simon and his abilities in defence strategy, the issues with Hawkeis really are such that the difference that they would make on the battlefield, we felt, and talking with Ukraine through the issues with Hawkeis, would not make the difference that they would want. We want to make sure that what we're doing for Ukraine supports Ukraine, and that the equipment that we can give can make a difference in the context in which that war is being fought. And all of this we've talked through with Ukraine, including the situation in relation to Hawkeis –

STEFANOVIC: Were they disappointed not to get them?

MARLES: I think they understood the points that we were making in respect of how the Hawkeis would operate in that context – I mean, what they're designed for and how they would operate in that context. And that what we are now talking about. The 113s which we've been talking about are a more armoured vehicle and are better suited to the fight that's happening in Ukraine.

STEFANOVIC: When will they be in country, Minister? When will they be there and ready to go?

MARLES: Well, again, we don't go through the detail of that for obvious reasons, in respect of all of the commitments that we've made to Ukraine, what we have done is, with Ukraine work through a delivery schedule and from the early Bushmasters through to these vehicles, that schedule has been on track.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, let's go to your observations now, the events overnight. Vladimir Putin, he's called it criminal activity which has weakened the country. Prigozhin has said that it was just a protest, it wasn't a coup. What's the government's response to where things are at as we speak?

MARLES: Well, these are difficult things to assess but I think at the end of the day, this is a crack in the Russian edifice and that's obvious. I mean, Vladimir Putin is obviously still in control of Russia, and there is still a war being waged in Ukraine, and we are therefore very much focussed on supporting Ukraine for as long as that takes, as I've said. But this is a crack in the edifice. And I think the other point to make, Pete, is that it says something about the status of the morale on the Russian side of this in respect of the war in Ukraine. That this has happened obviously gives rise to a real question about the morale and, I guess the authority that exists behind what was always an illegal invasion of Ukraine in the first place. So, all of that is hugely significant going forward. But there remains a conflict in place which we anticipate will still be protracted and will require us and the world to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, just a final one here, Minister. S&P Global has found Australia's economy will be one of the worst performing in the Asia Pacific over the next two years. That's because of the hiking interest rates, the expectation that we'll top out at 4.6 per cent now over the next couple of months. Is that in line with your expectations?

MARLES: Well, we expect the economy to continue to grow. We've been very focussed on getting wages going and that's been an important part of our economic landscape over the last twelve months, as has employment itself and those numbers have been strong. We know the inflationary environment around the world is creating real challenges for people at home and that's why from day one, cost of living has been central in terms of the decisions that we've been making around the Budget. And commencing next week will be a more affordable childcare package that we've been working on now for a long time. And of course we're doing something that Liberals never did and that's deliver a surplus. And that is a really important recognition of the prudent way in which we've been engaging in our economic management. The bottom line here is we've got tough global circumstances in which to govern our economy, but we're doing it and we're doing it in a way which is keeping our economy strong.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. Defence Minister Richard Marles, thanks for your time.


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