Television Interview, ABC Breakfast News

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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 support to Ukraine; Voice referendum.

EMMA REBELLATO, HOST: We're joined now by Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles. Minister good morning and thank you for joining us this morning.


REBELLATO: What do you make of Vladimir Putin's address to the nation?

MARLES: What we've seen over the course of the weekend and through last night is an event which has weakened Russia. It has weakened the authority of Vladimir Putin. He remains in charge of Russia, but this is a crack in the edifice. And I think in that sense what has occurred is very significant. To me, what it really reflects is the authority which underpinned the Russian side of what was always an illegal invasion of Ukraine is being diminished, and that's not surprising. And the morale on the front-line, on the Russian side, must be poor. That can be the only conclusion we can draw from the events of the last few days. Again, that's not surprising because what Russia has done is an illegal and immoral invasion, which must be very difficult for those troops on the front-line to continue to maintain.

REBELLATO: What is your Government expecting what will happen as a result of this? I mean we're saying there's cracks in the Russian leadership, demoralised troops, how do you think this will play out now?

MARLES: Well I think firstly we still anticipate the conflict in Ukraine will be protracted and that Australia along with the international community will need to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes for Ukraine to resolve this conflict on their terms and that's very important and so, in that sense we continue business as usual and we have made our announcement yesterday in terms of an additional package of support for Ukraine. But we will continue business as usual in supporting Ukraine and that's very important that there's a focus on Ukrainian effort. It's clearly hard to know exactly what will play out in Russia. But this is definitely a crack in the edifice and I think in that sense it's very significant.

REBELLATO: Ukraine has been in the past very specific about its wish list. In particular, the Hawkei vehicles. The Government's $110m package didn't include them. Why didn't it? And will it in future?

MARLES: Well Ukraine came to us on this occasion with a menu of items they thought could provide assistance for their effort. Armoured vehicles were central in that and the package we put together is focused on armoured vehicles, 70 in fact. We talked through what we see as being issues with the Hawkei and its practical utility for Ukraine in this context. Ukraine understand that. It's difficult to go into that in the public space. We want to make a difference for Ukraine, to make sure we're giving Ukraine equipment that will help their effort. The 113s, we have provided another 28 on top of 28 we have previously provided, are a much more armoured vehicle, they're tracked, they're able to go into much greater, more varied group of environments. And so, are more suited to the conflict that Ukraine is in.

REBELLATO: Defence analysts have described this latest package as incredibly disappointing and underwhelming. How do you respond to that?

MARLES: Well we don't accept that and nor does Ukraine accept that. Ukraine has been very welcoming and fulsome in its praise in light of the package we announced yesterday. We are looking at, as I say, the equipment that can make a difference and this goes to the requests that Ukraine were asking of us. In terms of the magnitude of what we're doing, this takes our commitment to $610 million, most of it has been committed since Labor came to power.

It places us as one of the largest non-NATO contributors to the support of Ukraine. I think Ukraine and Europe and NATO understands that Australia is punching above our weight. We want to do that because we get that what is at stake in Ukraine is not just the defence of Ukrainian territory but the sanctity of the global rules-based order and our national interest is very much engaged in that. That we're punching above our weight is something that's acknowledged throughout Europe and around the world and we're very proud of that.

REBELLATO: The Prime Minister said this is a prolonged conflict, as we've seen, it's been going for 16 months now. And Australia will stand by Ukraine. But how much longer can we continue contributing? Will we see the packages every few months of this extra support for Ukraine?

MARLES: I think you can expect that. That's what - that's been our form since coming to power. We made an announcement last July, in October and February this year and now in June. So we've been making announcements around iterative packages every four months or so. We've been making really clear that we'll be standing with Ukraine for as long as it takes. I get there will be people on the sidelines who will make criticism. But if you look at what we've been doing since we've come to office, there's been a steady and consistent level of support for Ukraine working with the Ukrainian government about equipment that they actually need and in that context, it places us amongst, as I say, one of the largest non-NATO contributors to Ukraine and a situation where Australia is well and truly punching above our weight in the contributions we're making and we’re very proud of that.

REBELLATO: Turning to an issue closer to home now, and that's the Voice referendum. We've seen some results saying the no vote is increasing. How much more work does the Government and the Yes camp need to do, and how can they do it to sway that public opinion?

MARLES: Well, I think in terms of the campaign around the Voice, the Voice referendum is still months away. And the campaign will get into full gear and I'm confident that will happen and I'm confident the issues will be placed before the Australian people in the way which gives them the opportunity to decide. But ultimately from our point of view this is simple – the Uluru Statement from the Heart is an opportunity for our country to make right in a significant way the relationship with First Nations Australians. It happens through recognition in our constitution and recognition in a practical way by a Voice to Parliament, which enables us to really look at the means by which we can close the persistent gap in social indicators between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. You will get polls in the newspapers but what I said doesn't change. The Government is completely focused on making sure we'll have this referendum, obviously putting the case before the Australian people, I'm confident come the day, Australians will take the opportunity to grab what will be a really unifying moment for our nation.

REBELLATO: Richard Marles, thank you very much for joining us today.

MARLES: Thanks for having me.


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