Television interview, ABC News 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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11 July 2023

SUBJECT/S: Additional support for Ukraine; NATO; Robodebt; Geelong

LISA MILLAR, HOST: Defence Minister Richard Marles joins us now. Good morning Minister. What difference is the positioning of this Wedgetail aircraft, a surveillance plane going to mean to Ukraine and security in Europe?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, good morning Lisa. Look, this is a very significant step that we're taking here and we've been working on this for some time with our partners, meaning both Ukraine but also the United States, the United Kingdom and others who are there in support of Ukraine. The E-7 Wedgetail is a formidable capability. It's not unique to Australia but we're one of the few countries which operate it at this level and so there was a desire on the part of our partners to have this capability operating in support of the effort in Ukraine and so we're very pleased to be able to do that. It's a six month rotation as has been announced and as has also been announced that we'll also see the deployment of about 100 Australian personnel to Germany. It really does make a huge enabling difference in terms of, as you said, both the humanitarian and logistics support which is going to be provided to this effort.

MILLAR: And I'm sure it'll be gratefully received but it's not what Ukraine's been asking for on the Hawkeis, more Bushmasters. Is that going to be taken into account? Is that commitment coming from Australia?

MARLES:  Well, this is something that has been spoken to us about for some time, the commitment of the Wedgetail and so we've been working very closely with our partners in relation to the provision of this asset. This, as I say, is a capability at the very highest of what the Australian Defence Force has to offer. In terms of other platforms, we've been working closely with Ukraine, really from the beginning of the conflict and under both governments in Australia since that period of time-

MILLAR: But, you know, they're looking when it comes to the Hawkeis and the Bushmasters, they are looking for more.

MARLES: Well, obviously, they're looking for more from the international community in the context of the conflict that they're in. They're also very grateful for the support that Australia has provided and I think there is an acknowledgment in Ukraine and across Europe and the world actually that Australia is punching above our weight in terms of the support that we're providing. I mean, now that Sweden is going into NATO, Australia will become the largest non NATO contributor to the effort in supporting Ukraine in this conflict. And that's a fact which is not lost on those in Europe, it's not lost on Ukraine. And so we will continue to provide support at that level. And it's gratefully received. And what Ukraine has been doing in their conversations with us is giving us, if you like, a menu of the kinds of platforms that could provide assistance to them. And then we've been looking at that and working out what assistance we can then provide. And in that sense, we've been providing assistance at the level that I've described.

MILLAR: Minister, NATO, you just touched on Sweden now being able to join, given that Turkey has dropped its opposition, which Western allies, including Australia have been pushing for as well. But this push by NATO to have a greater presence in Asia is likely to be delayed because of French opposition. Why should NATO have a presence in the Asia Pacific?

MARLES: Well, we are grateful for the relationship that we have with NATO, for the dialogue that we have with NATO and we obviously work closely with them, as is evidenced by the fact that our Prime Minister is attending the NATO summit. We also, though, maintain our own relationships in the Indo-Pacific. And so I wouldn't overstate NATO's move in this respect. I mean, NATO is focused on the North Atlantic, which is their mandate and which is the reason for their being. We live in a much more globalised world where issues that occur in one sphere affect the circumstances of those who live in the other. That's evidenced by the way we see the war in Ukraine as impacting our national interest because it goes to the question of the global rules based order which is not just under threat in Europe, but it is under threat in the Indo-Pacific. So, I think it's natural that you are seeing entities which have had a regional base look more globally. But in terms of the Indo-Pacific, we are focused on our own relationships in the Indo-Pacific and that's the primacy of the way in which we engage within the Indo-Pacific. So, if you think about the work that we are doing, not just with the United States, as important as that is, but with countries like Japan, like Korea, like those in ASEAN, Indonesia, that's our focus in terms of creating the kind of regional order that provides security within the Indo-Pacific.

MILLAR: Yeah, someone who is also opposed to it, the former Prime Minister Paul Keating, who also labelled the NATO Secretary General a complete fool and an accident waiting to happen. What sort of commentary, what does that do, that sort of commentary? Would you rather Paul Keating didn't offer it? It's not very helpful, is it?

MARLES: The last thing I'm going to do is to suggest what Paul Keating should or shouldn't say. I also know that whatever I suggested is not going to have much influence anyway. Paul will have his say and that's fine.

MILLAR: But what's the message it sends with the Prime Minister currently at the NATO meeting?

MARLES: I think that the principal message that people hear in terms of Australia's position in the world is that which is articulated by those who are governing Australia right now. And we are very focused on building our relationship with NATO. It's important. And the Prime Minister is attending the summit, as I said. But we are very focused on our relationships with the countries within our region. We brought down the Defence Strategic Review and the Government's response to it a month or two ago. And in that we made clear that one of the key tasks of the Australian Defence Force now and Australia's strategic policy, is around providing for the collective security of the Indo-Pacific region. And at the heart of that is building our own relationships with the countries within the Indo-Pacific. And that is our focus, as we see it, in terms of providing for Australia's security.

MILLAR: Yeah. Just a quick question on Robodebt. Minister, before we lose you. Is there a case for Robodebt victims to sue those former Ministers who presided over the illegal scheme, as was suggested by your colleague Bill Shorten last night on 730?

MARLES: Well, I think those matters will unfold in the course of time. I mean, there is obviously a class action that has already taken place and we will see that play out. But I think the point I'd make in relation to Robodebt is that what is totally clear from the report of the Royal Commission is that this stands as one of the most gross acts of maladministration that we have seen from a government, from the former liberal government in the culture that they established, in the way in which they managed this. And half a million Australians were adversely affected as a result of this. We need to be really clear when we are thinking about what has happened with Robodebt that the guilty party in respect of all of this has been the Liberal Party. And that must never be forgotten in terms of what happened with Robodebt and the lessons that we draw from it, that when you're talking about the administration, particularly of a program which impacts individuals in this way, good governance must be at the heart of it, not politics. And the interests of the Australian people have to come first. And that's what the former government completely took their eye off the ball on in respect of the way in which they managed Robodebt.

MILLAR: Richard Marles, thanks for being on the program. And that beautiful shot there, that sunrise from Geelong looks great. Thank you.

MARLES: Geelong is always beautiful. Thank you, Lisa.


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