Doorstop Interview, Garden Island

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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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21 July 2023

SUBJECTS: Talisman Sabre 2023; AUKUS; PNG defence cooperation

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. Secretary Del Toro, Minister Conroy, Generals Bilton and Helwig. It is great honour to be here today as today marks the commencement of Exercise Talisman Sabre 2023. And Talisman Sabre this year returns to its pre-pandemic levels having 30,000 service personnel participate in what is the premier event and exercise for the Australian Defence Force. Across all our domains over the next few weeks, Australian men and women in our Defence Force will be demonstrating their vocations and their skills and their capabilities, and in the process gaining certification. So this is a critical moment in the life of the Australian Defence Force to demonstrate that our Defence Force is match fit. From the live firing exercises that we're going to see at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area tomorrow, through to the deployment of a transportable wharf from the United States which will happen at Bowen across which we will see 800 vehicles move during the course of the exercise, through to amphibious landings, there are going to be a range of really impressive activities, which occur through Exercise Talisman Sabre. But this is a very serious moment for our men and women of our Defence Force because this is the moment that we demonstrate and certify their skills.

It says something about the way in which we see our Defence Force and our place in the world that this exercise occurs for our Defence Force in concert with 12 other nations, which is one of the one of the largest contingents of overseas forces engaging with us in the context of Talisman Sabre. And this is therefore a unique opportunity for the men and women of our Defence Force to engage in high-end war fighting with our friends and allies. And in that sense, it is going to be a wonderful opportunity for them.

Next week, the United States Secretary of Defense will be in Australia along with the United States Secretary of State, as part of AUSMIN, meeting with myself and the Foreign Minister, Penny Wong. And I will have the opportunity of showing Secretary Lloyd Austin some of the exercises associated with Talisman Sabre, and we're very much looking forward to that. As our men and women engage in these activities over the course of the next few weeks under Talisman Sabre. They will do so, I am sure, in a way which can make every Australian feel absolutely proud of those men and women of our Defence Force who wear our uniform. Thank you.

CARLOS DEL TORO, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF THE NAVY: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Carlos Del Toro, I'm the 78th Secretary of the Navy. On behalf of President Biden and on behalf of Secretary of Defense Austin, It's a great honour for me as the Secretary of the Navy, representing the nearly 1 million men and women who serve as civilians and uniform service members in the Navy, to be here in this beautiful city of Sydney, with this beautiful ship His Majesty’s Ship Canberra side by side with what is soon to be our newest ship in the United States Navy, the USS Canberra. And to be able to kick off Talisman Sabre, such an important exercise that, as the Defence Minister has so expertly stated, ties our two nations together and all our partner nations working together as one so that we can become more interoperable, so that we can become more interexchangeable and work together as allied nations and partners in defence of the national security interests that we share and the common values that we share between the United States and Australia and our partner nations. So, again, I'm deeply honoured to be here. I look forward to the exercises in the days and weeks ahead and I look forward to the commissioning tomorrow. Thank you.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL GREG BILTON, CHIEF OF JOINT OPERATIONS AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE FORCE: Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary Del Toro, Major General Helwig. Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. It's a real honour to be here today, at the opening ceremony of Talisman Sabre. I'd like to start by first welcoming all of the participants. And they're not all in Sydney, they are spread across this great country of ours, as far west as Perth, as far north as Darwin, and right along the coast of Queensland. Many of the communities in those various states are supporting us in conducting these exercises, not just on defence training areas, but across the towns and cities and the rural areas of these various states. So it's the expanse, the, I guess, distances over which we're operating, which add to the complexity of this exercise, and make it unique in enabling us and our partner nations to be able to really test ourselves in the most complex and difficult sort of exercise that we can generate. Now, we're very fortunate that the United States, and my colleague here represents Indo-Pacific Command, to have worked together bilaterally to design this exercise. And we'll work together to execute it. And after many, many months of hard work, we're now at the point of execution. And you'll see a whole range of activities, as previously described by the Deputy Prime Minister. This is the 10th iteration of Talisman Sabre. It's the first iteration after COVID-19, which gives us a chance to reconstitute and regain the skills that are required of Australia's Defence Force, and the United States military and our partners, to be able to defend our respective nations and our respective national interests. Thank you.

MAJOR GENERAL JERED P. HELWIG, COMMANDING GENERAL 8TH THEATER SUSTAINMENT COMMAND: Gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for this opportunity to spend some time as we get prepared for this great exercise. On behalf of Admiral Aquilino, Commander of USINDOPACOM, and General Flynn, the Commander of US Army Pacific, we're excited at this opportunity. We've been planning this exercise for many, many months, invested a lot of time and energy tied together as partners across all of these nations, to really get after some core training principles that allow us to really hone in on our skills and build the competency that we need to be able to fight and win in any contingency and in any environment. So we're excited to see this exercise kick off. We're excited to pool the logistics that's required to make all this happen. And looking forward to the opportunity to train together. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: We've seen in Washington the stalling of key legislation for the transfer of AUKUS. Is this about trying to get more dollars in the American submarine program, or is it about (inaudible) the Alliance?

DEL TORO: Andrew, I don't think there's been any stalling whatsoever. I mean, this is complicated legislation that always goes before Congress. There are three legislative proposals that come from the Department Defense, one legislative proposal that comes from the Department of State. And actually, from my experience, having dealt with many of these legislative proposals, it's actually moving along quite nicely. And of course i
t's our responsibility in the Executive to brief the House of Representatives, the Senate, make sure that they fully understand the legislation that is being proposed, what's involved. But from everything I've seen and heard on Capitol Hill, everything seems to be very supportive and I'm hopeful that the Congress will go ahead and pass that legislation so that we can actually make continued progress with regards to AUKUS. So, I really don't see any stalling of any legislation on Capitol Hill.

JOURNALIST: A question for the General, if I may. Sir, what do you say to the Chinese rhetoric, the rhetoric of Beijing, that says these sort of exercises counter against the world order, which we're obviously wanting to preserve? And have you reached out to the Chinese for Talisman and what was their response?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL BILTON: So, firstly, the second part of your question, we haven't reached out to the Chinese specifically. Look, what I'd say in response is the exercise is about us, it's about our partner nations building interoperability, being able to build trust and an ability to respond together to whatever crisis might exist in our region in the future. So, we are entirely focused, frankly, on our alliances and our partnerships and building much better levels of capability.

JOURNALIST: Would it worry you if Chinese spy ships were trawling about the exercise? Is that a danger?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL BILTON: No, look, they've come before and look, I'll tell you now, there's one off the east coast of Australia at the moment. We reached out on Thursday and hailed that vessel in the Coral Sea. It'll move down, I expect, and join the exercise – or be in the location of the exercise again. They've done this for a number of years, we're well prepared for it.

JOURNALIST: When you've hailed it, what was the response?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL BILTON: Courteous and in accordance with normal norms at sea.

JOURNALIST: Question for the Navy Secretary. My name is Mike Cherney, I write for the Wall Street Journal here. Keen to hear from you, what capabilities the US military are sort of practicing here in a new or enhanced way versus say the previous iterations of this exercise? And you know, what message is the US trying to send to China with this?

DEL TORO: Well, it's not just the message that we're trying to send to China. It has to do about the mutual relationship between all the allies and partners working together. And what we're trying to do in all of our exercises, whether it be UNITAS kicking off in South America or Talisman Sabre here in the Indo-Pacific, is to actually work far more closely building the types of capabilities - the advanced capabilities that we actually need to better be able to communicate together, to effectively show long range fires when necessary and to use capabilities in space as well, too, to our full advantage, making each exercise that much more complicated and that much more integrated, right. So, that all of our partner nations can actually work together collectively in order to be far more responsive as one task force.

JOURNALIST: What role does Northern Australia play in the US strategy in the region?

DEL TORO: Northern Australia plays a very important role in the region. Obviously, we have had our Marine Corps working very closely with the Australian Army for quite some time. I actually visited Darwin last year and was very impressed by the rotational Marine forces that come and go and interoperate and work on C4I capabilities again to advance the operations between our Marine Corps that I oversee, as well as the Australian Army as well too. So, this is very, very favourable to all the nations that are participating in this exercise and I'm excited to see the results that come out of it.

JOURNALIST: Just following on from that question about AUKUS and the nuclear-powered submarine, there have been concerns raised about US production capabilities to keep up with America’s needs. Are you at all concerned that AUKUS bill may not pass the US Senate?

MARLES: I'm not concerned. I've been briefed by Ambassador Rudd on the progress of the legislation through the American Congress. And as Secretary Del Toro has just said, we're actually encouraged by that progress. Obviously, the Congress has its own processes and they can be complex and we'll let the American process play its way out, but we're actually very confident and encouraged by the way in which that's occurring. In terms of the industrial capability of the United States. We've said from the outset that we understand that in order to make this happen in terms of Australia acquiring a nuclear-powered submarine capability, we need to be making our own contribution to the net industrial base of the three countries of Australia the United States and the United Kingdom. We get the pressure which is on the industrial bases around the three countries and that's actually why those in Adelaide and the rest of the country should have a sense of real comfort that the way in which this will play out is the ability for us to build a nuclear-powered submarine in this country because we simply have to make our own contribution to this industrial base. But we are confident that the arrangement that we have arrived at with the United States and with the United Kingdom is going to deliver Australia this really important capability.

JOURNALIST: India was invited to part in this but has declined. Do you hope they will join in the future?

MARLES: Well, we obviously have exercises with India in the maritime domain later, in the not too distant future, in Exercise Malabar, which for the first time will be occurring off the coast of Australia, off the coast of NSW. We work very closely with India and it is a relationship which is growing and it is a military to military relationship which is growing and we hope to be able to do more with India in the future.

JOURNALIST: Mr Marles and Mr Del Toro, as you look at this exercise, what points of friction are you hoping to lubricate best in terms of operational testing? Because that's effectively what you're doing. Are you looking at testing logistics most closely? Are you looking at boarding rivers to streams? What are you looking at?

MARLES: Yeah, look it's a really good question. What this does is afford us the opportunity to engage in high-end war fighting with our allies and certainly with the United States. If you think about the mobile wharf which is being deployed at Bowen, which, as I described earlier, will see 800 vehicles go across it during the course of this exercise. That is a huge logistical capability which is being exercised in that. It's going to be the most significant logistics exercise that we will see between Australia and the United States in Australia since the Second World War. And so all of this is actually building muscle memory between our two countries’ defence forces, building comfort and familiarity. And obviously not just between Australia and the United States, but the other eleven countries that will be participating in the course of Exercise Talisman Sabre so I wouldn't use the word friction. I think it's actually about ensuring that we are becoming much more familiar with each other and able to operate at a much higher level in a much more coordinated way.

DEL TORO: simply to follow up on the second half, and I think the Deputy Prime Minister said it very well. I would also say C4I, right. The ability of all these ships and incredibly capable platforms, whether they're at sea or on land, to be able to communicate effectively with each other, for the weapon systems to communicate effectively with each other. And look, in the military there's this adage that we want to train the way that we fight, right. And so our mission is to deter, deter our adversaries from doing things that they want to do that perhaps isn't in the best interest of our own national security interests. And in order to do that effectively, we've got to be able to learn how to operate together. So, these platforms, whether they're on land, whether they're at sea, whether they're in space or in the air, they're extremely complicated and we're constantly adding capabilities to them year after year after year. So, it's important to every couple of years come together in exercises like this to be able to be interoperable to the point of being able to be inter, exchangeable. And that's what we're trying to strive here in Talisman.

JOURNALIST: Obviously, China is watching this exercise very closely. What messages would you like China to take from this?

DEL TORO: I think the most important message that China can take from this exercise and anything that our allies and partners do together is that we are extremely tied by the core values that exist amongst our many nations together. And we are prepared to actually operate together in defence of our national security interests and in defence of the core values that we all share as Western and non-Western countries working together. I think that's the most important message that China or any other country actually can take from this exercise and any other exercise that we do with partners and allies. I often talk about the greatest strength that we have as a nation is the strength of our friends, of our allies and partners working together – whether it's here in the Indo-Pacific and Central and South America on UNITAS, whether it's in Europe. That's the strength of three nations working together as one.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

MARLES: Well we’re working very closely with PNG in relation to the development of a bilateral security treaty. And it's important in terms of covering the range of activities that we undertake with PNG. But what I would say is that we have a long history in terms of our engagement with PNG, with the PNG Defence Force. It is the country which has our biggest defence cooperation program and most officers in the PNG Defence Force would have received some training at some point in time in Australia. So, it is a very deep relationship and it's one that we want to see continue. We really welcome the agreement that's been signed between Papua New Guinea and the United States. We think that it is a very positive thing to see America and PNG working so closely together in a security sense, and we look forward to the opportunities, where we can, of working with both PNG and the United States together.

JOURNALIST: Any comment on that (inaudible)?

DEL TORO: You'll forgive me because I was standing behind the Prime Minister and there was the wind blowing and the whistles, so I actually didn't hear the full extent of his statement. But what I think he said, and what I did hear was that it's extremely important for all of us nations work together in Oceania with all the island nations, and try to work together to help solve their problems, right. Whether it be climate change, whether it be security issues that they have, whether it be their attempts to actually combat illegal fishing in their own extended economic zones which is so critical to the future of their own economies. And so it is enlightening that both Australia and the United States are working with Papa New Guinea and other nations across Oceania to achieve our common goals.


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