Television Interview, Sky News, Sunday Agenda

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

Media contact

02 6277 7800

Release content

16 July 2023

ANDREW CLENNELL, HOST: Joining me live now from Geelong is the Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. Mr Marles, thanks for your time this morning. Can I ask first of all for your take on the Fadden by election result?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think that the Fadden by election result is certainly no comfort for the Opposition. The swing that was there was about half of what you would typically see against a government in a byelection. It's obviously a seat that we've never held before. I think we're outspent something in the order of six to one. So I mean, if Peter Dutton wants to draw any kind of comfort from this result, it says something about where he's at and his need for comfort. But I actually think this is a pretty lethargic result for the Opposition and I actually think that our candidate, Letitia Del Fabbro, did a really excellent job in flying the Labor flag in this electorate.

CLENNELL: Is it a bit of a wake up call for the government too, though? Particularly that perhaps you've got to do more about the cost of living.

MARLES: Well, we're really focused about the cost of living. I mean, we couldn't be more focused about that. And Andrew, we really have been focused on the cost of living since the moment that we came to government. And the reason for that is because the conditions that were in place around the world and were starting to play out in Australia had already occurred prior to last year's election. So, we knew this was going to be an issue which would shape our first period in office. And it's why a package around child care, which came into place this week, was a key focus for us because it goes to improving household budgets. That's why at the end of last year we put in place a package which was opposed by Peter Dutton and the Liberals to put downward pressure on energy bills. That's why we had cheaper medicines in place from the beginning of this year and I could go on. We have been focused on the cost of living from the moment that we came to power, because we know the pressure that this is placing on household budgets, on businesses around the country. So, we get it. We get it that Australians are hurting. And what Australians know is that in the Albanese Government, they've got a government which is going to be working day in, day out for them and for their budgets.

CLENNELL: Has the government got a Queensland problem?

MARLES: No, I don't think that. I mean, we've been very focused on Queensland and we will continue to be so. We obviously see that Queensland going into the next election is a place of significant opportunity for the Government. And again, I don't think this result provides any comfort to the Liberal Party. I mean, to have a by-election against a sitting government where you only get a 2% swing in an area which is in your heartland, is a very, very lethargic result indeed for–

CLENNELL: Mr Marles, it doesn't provide any comfort to you either, does it? I mean, there was a bit going for you. You've been up nationally in the newspoll. You're relatively new to government. You had Stuart Robert, a figure of scandal, leaving the seat. The electorate wouldn't have liked going to the polls because he quit. You had the Robodebt scandal. There are a few factors in your favour and yet you got to swing against you. Doesn't that raise any alarm bells for you whatsoever?

MARLES: Well, we're focused on the job at hand is the first thing. So we absolutely get cost of living, as you indicated earlier, is the issue which is facing Australians, so we couldn't be more focused on that. I mean, Stuart Robert, I think there would have been a sense of relief from the electorate that Stuart Robert was not the candidate at this election and he was the candidate at the election before. So, that's a factor which has to be borne in mind. As I say, at the end of the day, this is half the average swing that you would expect against a sitting government. We listen to the electorate, we listen to what's going on and we will continue to do that and we do not take anything for granted here. And we could not be more focused on the question of the cost of living. But the idea that Peter Dutton, as a Queenslander who is leading the Liberal Party, would take any comfort out of this result at all, frankly, is ridiculous.

CLENNELL: All right, well, let me ask you about Michele Bullock's appointment. Was she always a lay down misère in recent weeks or did the Government give real consideration to either Steven Kennedy or Jenny Wilkinson getting the job?

MARLES: Oh no I think there was a very serious process that was gone through and there were excellent candidates who were putting themselves– who were there to be chosen for this really important role within our country. But Michele Bullock is an outstanding choice. She does bring to bear enormous expertise, great leadership, but also tremendous experience with the bank. She's somebody who comes from humble beginnings so she absolutely knows the value of a dollar and a household budget. But she has had a life spent at the Reserve Bank and I think is in a fantastic position to lead the Reserve Bank at a time when, having done the review of the Reserve Bank, and we seek for it to be really world's best practice in terms of a central bank, she's in a great position to lead the implementation of that review. So we're very excited about her appointment and we think it's going to herald a great era for the Reserve Bank.

CLENNELL: Is there a danger politically here for you that people aren't really fond of Phil Lowe and you have appointed his deputy who's been at the bank for 38 years?

MARLES: Look, the Reserve Bank acts independently. We seek for the Reserve Bank to be the best central bank in the world. I mean, that's our aspiration and that's why we put in place the review of the bank that we did over the course of the last twelve months and it's come up with some really important recommendations. We want that to be implemented, but we want it to be implemented from the perspective of experience and that's what Michele Bullock brings to bear here. I think she's going to do a fantastic job. Now we face the economic conditions that we do. We need the Reserve Bank to be the best it can be. But at the same time, from the Government's point of view, we need to be managing the fiscal environment in a way which does put downward pressure on interest rates and which provides relief for cost of living. And that's what we're going to be focused upon and that's what we expect to be judged upon.

CLENNELL: How many more rate rises is the Government expecting this year?

MARLES: I'm not going to comment on that. I mean, ultimately that is a matter for the Reserve Bank. What we know is that there is a difficult international environment from which Australia is not immune. And what we need to do as a government, which we are doing is be completely focused on using every mechanism within our power to provide relief for Australian household budgets in the face of that. And that's been our focus, as I've said, from the moment that we came to government and will continue to be so. At the heart of the Budget that we handed down last October was really relief for cost of living. At the heart of the Budget that we handed down in May was the same. This is the issue that we are focused on and we know Australians are doing it tough and we will continue to be there standing next to them during this difficult time to provide that relief.

CLENNELL: Well, a lot of Australians will be hanging out for those stage three tax cuts beginning 24-25, won't they? And I guess the hope of the Government would be inflation's calmed down by then, which would make them less inflationary?

MARLES: Well, we'll see what happens with inflation. I mean, what we know is that there is a difficult global environment that was in place prior to us coming to power. And again we are just going to be focused on the task day in, day out of providing relief where we can to Australian household budgets and making sure that the way in which we manage the fiscal environment for our country is one which does not put pressure on inflation. And that's why we've done something that the Liberals never did and that is deliver a surplus–

CLENNELL: But stage three stays as is, doesn't it?

MARLES: Well, that's where our policies at. Again, we are focused on all the issues that we can in terms of making sure that we are putting as much downward pressure on inflation and giving as much relief in terms of cost of living as possible.

CLENNELL: Let me ask about the announcement of the Bushmasters by the PM at NATO. Now, Greg Sheridan said about this, he said, quote “it's a bare minimum you could do”. He says “there's no reason we could not give substantially more Bushmasters to the Ukrainians and simply build more of them in Australia to replace those we donate. But the crazy budgetary restrictions the Government has imposed on Defence means that's unlikely”. What's your reaction to that?

MARLES: Well, I think people need to just take a step back and look at the commitment that we are making to Ukraine relative to the rest of the world. We are the largest– well, really, with Sweden going into NATO we will be the largest non-NATO contributor to the support of Ukraine in its war against Russia. That is a fact which is not lost on Europe and certainly not lost on Ukraine and they are very grateful for that. We've been providing armoured vehicles in the context– in the means of Bushmasters, but not just Bushmasters, M113s. And that's been at the heart of the request that has been asked of us by Ukraine and indeed our partners with the United States and the United Kingdom. With the deployment of 100 personnel to Germany to support the E-7 Wedgetail, we now have two deployments on foot. In Germany and also in Britain in training new recruits into the Ukrainian armed forces. Two deployments supporting Ukraine in its conflict against Russia. So, I think the world acknowledges that we are punching above our weight in the support that we're providing Ukraine. But we are very proud and pleased to be doing that because we believe that Australia's national interest is engaged in Ukraine. This is an affront to the rules-based order. To see Russia invade a smaller neighbour, not by reference to international law, but by reference to power might. And just as the international rules-based order is under pressure in Eastern Europe, it's under pressure in the Indo-Pacific, which is why we want to stand for it and believe countries around the world need to do the same. So, I think we can stand, and Australians can feel confident that Australia stands very proudly in the level of support that it's providing Ukraine and that's how we should be judged.

CLENNELL: All right, well, Sheridan there spoke about, in his words, crazy budgetary restrictions. Are you being done over as Defence Minister by Treasury and the Treasurer when it comes to no new funding for Defence? We saw no new money in the forward estimates.

MARLES: Well, what we see over the course of the decade is an increase in the Defence budget of 0.2% of GDP. That's about 10% of the Defence budget over the course of the next decade. And that's over and above what we committed at the last election. When we went to the election in May of last year, we did so committing to precisely the same defence spending envelope as was committed by the former government. Now, we've maintained that. We're maintaining that over the forward estimates, which does see growth in the Defence budget, and we're not only maintaining that over the next decade, but we are growing the Defence budget by an additional 10% over and above that. So, the idea that there isn't a commitment to a Defence is patently ridiculous. We are doing more in the commitment to Defence and in Defence spending than the former Liberal National government. And that's the standard against which we should be judged. And that's the point that people should understand. And we've maintained every commitment that we took to the last election and more. We need to be doing that, I might say, because I think we are facing the most challenging and threatening strategic circumstances that we have since the end of the Second World War. But the point I've consistently made is we will commit to the same level of funding as the former government. We've done that and more. And we will look at defence spending against the fact that in a rational world, defence spending should be a function of strategic complexity and strategic threat. We are rational people and that is being reflected in the growth of the Defence budget over the next decade.

CLENNELL: Okay, when Jacqui Lambie announced this complaint to the International Criminal Court, you had something to say at the time. You said there was a report from the CDF in front of you in terms of the responsibility of command over war crimes in Afghanistan. Perhaps not acting when they were warned about it. When are you going to make a decision in relation to any action there?

MARLES: Well, so I'm looking at the question of command accountability, specifically in respect of medals and awards that had been provided to those in command during the period– the relevant period that has been looked at by the Brereton Report in respect of those allegations that were made of events that occurred in Afghanistan. I'm not going to set a time limit here because this needs to be done thoroughly and properly. What there will be is appropriate process in the way in which I make my decision based on the recommendations that have been received by the Chief of the Defence Force. But the important point to make is this: given the appalling nature of the allegations that were made in the Bereton Report, in coming to office what we made really clear is that we would seek to implement the Brereton Report to the fullest possible extent. I think to do anything other than that would be to really be judged by history. And that meant that processes needed to be undertaken consistent with the recommendations of the Brereton Report around the question of command accountability and particularly those medals that had been awarded to commanders in the past. That is underway. The Chief of the Defence Force has done his work. The recommendations are on my desk. I'm going to take my time to get this right and to make sure the process is properly gone through, but in doing so, make sure that we implement these recommendations to the fullest possible extent.

CLENNELL: Well, when you say take your time, by the end of the calendar year?

MARLES: I'm not going to put a time limit on it, Andrew. I mean, I am going to take my time to make sure that this is done thoroughly and properly. I mean, we are talking about events which occurred many, many years ago. So there's not a particular time imperative here. What matters is that the process is done right and done thoroughly and I'm going to take my time to do both of those things.

CLENNELL: Just briefly, will we see a decision on Kathryn Campbell's employment soon in relation to Robodebt? And obviously she's got a responsibility now in relation to AUKUS.

MARLES: Well, I'm not going to comment on a particular individual who is a public servant and for very good reason. Let me say this: when the Robodebt report came down, on the very next business day, on the Monday after the Friday it came down, the recommendations that were in there around processes that should happen for those against whom there were adverse findings which are contained in the sealed section of that report, references to the APS Commissioner, references to the AFP, references to the National Anticorruption Commission all of those decisions in respect of all of those individuals have been taken. And in terms of their status, their employment status, which will vary from one person to another, each of the decisions in respect of that has also been taken. That's not commenting about any individual, but it is to say to the Australian public, all the steps that we were asked to take as a Government we took on the very first business day that we could.

CLENNELL: In relation to that, have any former ministers, including the former Prime Minister, been referred to the NACC over this?

MARLES: Well, again, I'm not going to go into individuals, but can I say in respect of that question, the important point is that. We should be reflecting that the guilty party here really is the Liberal Party. What comes out of the Royal Commission's Report is a story of gross maladministration on the part of the former Liberal government in respect of the handling of Robodebt which impacted the lives of almost half a million Australians. That is where culpability lies and that's what people should be focusing on when they are considering this. And we will take every step which is in the Royal Commission's report to make sure that this is implemented again to the fullest possible extent.

CLENNELL: Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, thanks so much for your time this morning.

MARLES: Thanks Andrew.



Other related releases