Interview with Sarah Abo, Today Show

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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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11 July 2023

SUBJECT/S: Additional support for Ukraine; Operation Kudu; NATO; Polls; Cost of living

SARAH ABO, HOST: One of our most sophisticated spy planes will be deployed to Europe to protect the delivery of key assets to Ukraine. Let's bring in Acting Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles. Thanks so much for your time, Richard. Now the Wedgetail aircraft won't actually be flying in Ukraine's airspace. What difference do you hope this will make to the war effort?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, it's going to make a really important difference in terms of enabling the effort in respect of the conflict of Ukraine, particularly around the logistics hubs and the supply of humanitarian assistance into Ukraine. As you rightly said, it won't actually fly over Ukrainian airspace, but it doesn't need to in terms of providing the function that it does. And it's not a unique capability to Australia, but we are actually one of the few countries in the world which operate the E-7 Wedgetail at this level. And so it's certainly been a capability that's been sought after by our partners, by Ukraine, the United States and the United Kingdom in supporting the effort in Ukraine. And we're really pleased to be able to provide this support. It will see, as has been announced overnight, a deployment of about 100 Australian personnel to Germany, which is where the aircraft will operate from. But it's going to make a massive difference in terms of the effort in Ukraine.

ABO: In terms of those personnel being deployed to Germany. I mean, is this including the aircraft, is this as close as we could get to putting booths on the ground? Will you rule out sending troops to the war?

MARLES: No one's talking about Australian troops going to the conflict. It is important to understand that this aircraft will not be operating over the airspace of Ukraine or Belarus or Russia, obviously. And so in that sense, it will be set back from where the conflict is actually happening. But it's important also to understand this is not the first deployment that's been made in respect of supporting Ukraine, because we have a deployment in the United Kingdom as well, right now, who are doing really important work, training those who are really civilians coming into the Ukrainian Armed Forces. And I had the opportunity to meet those people earlier in the year. So, both the deployment in Britain and now this deployment in Germany are going to make a significant contribution to the effort in Ukraine.

ABO: I mean, it's a safe bet that Russia, obviously, will be watching this and seeing how it unfolds. Is there a risk here that we are drawing too closely to this conflict?

MARLES: No, we don't believe so. And we're confident about the role that this aircraft will play and obviously the security of it. But we also make no bones about the fact that we support Ukraine in this conflict. And we have made really clear to the world, but to Russia specifically, that their invasion of Ukraine was illegal and immoral. And we will do everything within our power to provide assistance to Ukraine because it's absolutely essential that Ukraine prevails, that this conflict is resolved on Ukraine's terms. And we also understand that that is going to take some time to play out and we will stand with Ukraine for as long as that does take.

ABO: And we know, obviously, Ukraine will be a real focus when the global leaders meet at the NATO summit in Lithuania. It will be a main topic of discussion, should Ukraine be admitted into NATO?

MARLES: Well, that's ultimately a matter for NATO and we will let those conversations play out and you can see what commentary has come out of NATO in respect of Ukraine but we'll leave that issue to NATO. But what is really-

ABO: You must have a view on it though?

MARLES: Well, it is fundamentally a matter for NATO. Our view is rooted in our own national interest and where our national interest lies is the contravention of the rules based order that has been expressed in terms of Russia's actions in walking into Ukraine. I mean, that was a big country walking into a smaller neighbour, not by reference to international law, but by reference to power and might. And in 2023 that cannot be allowed to stand. And the offence that that creates to the global rules based order engages our national interest because we see the global rules based order not just being put under pressure in Eastern Europe, but also in our region as well. And that's why it's so important that we stand up for the global rules based order and why we are doing everything we can to support Ukraine.

ABO: And it's very welcome. We obviously spoke to an MP before, who welcomes it. Now on national interest there's a new poll obtained by The Australian today that shows that Australians believe the Albanese government isn't acting enough in the interests of Australians in terms of easing the pressure on households in this cost of living crisis. Have you got your priorities right?

MARLES: Well, we've been focused on cost of living questions really from the moment that we came to government. It's been central to what we've been about as of the beginning of this month we now see much more affordable childcare operating in Australia. We put in place cheaper medicines which have been operating since the beginning of this year. Last December we pushed through the Parliament against the opposition of the Liberal and National Parties measures which saw a downward pressure being placed on power bills. All of these steps have been taken because we understand the pressures on the cost of living which people are facing. At the heart of that is really an internationally inflationary environment which we're not immune from but we know the pressure that households and businesses are experiencing, which is why we've been completely focused on it. We understand that-  

ABO: But people can't pay their power bills and so on. I mean, they're not really concerned about sending planes to survey skies near Ukraine. They're more worried about paying their rent every day.

MARLES: Of course, and it's also true that governments can walk and chew gum at the same time. In fact, it's critical that governments are able to walk and chew gum at the same time, because our national interest is engaged in lots of different ways. But we really understand the pressures that people are facing in respect of cost of living. And as I said, polls will come and go, but we will be focused each and every day on the question of the cost of living and how we can provide assistance to Australian household budgets and Australian businesses to put them in the best position to deal with what is a very difficult period of time.

ABO: Yeah, it sure is. All right, Richard, thanks so much for your time. Stay warm down there in Geelong. I bet it's pretty cold at the moment.


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