Television interview, ABC News Weekend Breakfast

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

22 July 2023

SUBJECTS: USS Canberra, Talisman Sabre, ADF pension issue, Voice to Parliament.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM: Now, back home and a United States warship named after Australia's capital, Canberra, is set to be formally commissioned in Sydney today. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles joins us now from on board the USS Canberra. A very good morning to you, Minister.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Good morning, Fauziah. How are you?

IBRAHIM: I'm good, I'm presuming you must be quite chilly out there on the ship at the moment?

MARLES: I am absolutely freezing. I'm not sure what's going on. I think the sun is broken because despite the fact that there are clear skies, it is absolutely polar here.

IBRAHIM: Listen, the ship that you're on at the moment, its West Australian made. It is the first warship the US Navy has commissioned internationally, I believe, for active service. Do you see this as a significant step for the Australian defence industry?

MARLES: It's a massive step forward for the Australian defence industry. And you're right to acknowledge this is a really rare event. This is the first time that America is commissioning a new warship outside of the United States. And, of course, it's happening right here in Sydney today. And there's a very special and historic connection with Australia, with the USS Canberra. But this is a ship which was designed in Fremantle. It's an independence variant of the littoral combat ship which is operated by the United States, and that variant was designed by Austal a great Australian company which is based in Fremantle. It was built in Mobile, in Alabama. But there is Australian DNA right through this ship and it is a great example of Australian technology and know-how. And Australian defence industry should feel incredibly proud today.

IBRAHIM: Listen, it's relevant that we're actually talking about ships and we're talking about defence, because Australia will be taking part in the Talisman Sabre. Of course, it's one of the largest military exercises with the US, Europe, several Asian and Pacific nations as well. Now, Beijing will be watching very closely here. Do you hold any concern that these exercises may test the thawing Sino-Australia ties?

IBRAHIM: We've just lost communication there with Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles on board. That USS Canberra, which is being commissioned today. Alright, we are going to break into that story and hopefully we have established communications with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, Richard Marles. Are you back with us again?

MARLES: Oh, I can hear you loud and clear.

IBRAHIM: Oh, fantastic, fantastic. Listen, I want to get your response to a story that ABC's Defence correspondent Andrew Greene broke today. It's about the Defence Department incorrectly paying a special allowance to a group of soldiers, and they've been doing that for a decade now. And now these group of soldiers are expected to repay that amount and some amounting to up to $15,000 a year. How was this mistake able to occur for decades?

MARLES: Well, look, we're just becoming aware of this, obviously, in terms of the story that's been broken today, and obviously we will go through this and look at it in detail and try and work out how the best way is to proceed forward. But this is just something which is coming to light to us now, in terms of Andrew's story.

IBRAHIM: Is it fair, though? I know you're just getting across this story, but is it fair that an accounting mistake by the Defence Department is something the soldiers should bear?

MARLES: Well, again, I think it's wanting to be really clear about exactly what's happened here before I give an answer to that. I mean, obviously we need to make sure that however this is resolved is done in a fair way. But I'd be keen to get across the detail of that before I venture an opinion in that way.

IBRAHIM: Sure. I want to talk about well, I want to ask you this question that I started asking you a little earlier, and it's about Australia taking part in the Talisman Sabre. It's a huge military exercise, of course. You know, we've got the US, Europe, several Asian and Pacific nations taking part as well. We know Beijing will be watching very, very closely, of course. Do you have any concern that these exercises may test the repairing relationship that Australia and China is undergoing at the moment?

MARLES: I don't. I mean, you can't have a capable Defence Force unless its match fit, and you can't be match fit unless you train, and that's what these exercises are about. I mean, Talisman Sabre is the premier exercise that the Australian Defence Force does every two years. It's the means by which we certify a whole lot of the capabilities and skills that exist within our Defence Force. What we do with these exercises is literally what every military around the world does, and so I don't think that we need to be concerned about that.

And part of how we see the world today is that the task of the Australian Defence Force is to contribute to the collective security of the region in which we live, the Indo-Pacific. And so it's really important that when we do exercise, we do so with our friends and our partners so that we can learn to work with them and we get greater familiarity in the way in which we work with them. And there's 30,000 people participating in this exercise over the next couple of weeks. So, you're right in describing it as it is the biggest exercise that we do, but I think this is understood as being absolutely business as usual for a Defence Force like Australia's.

IBRAHIM: Just very quickly, I also want to get your opinion on something else, and this is about the Voice that we're going to talk about now. And the Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that a recent poll suggests that New South Wales is leaning towards a no vote. Now, New South Wales has always been seen as a swing state. Recent polls, of course, have not been very favourable to a successful referendum, which is expected in October. Of course, we're still months away from it. Voice supporter and Liberal MP Andrew Bragg is also calling for the vote to be delayed. I wonder if this is something the Albanese government is considering, just very quickly?

MARLES: Look, we're committed to presenting a referendum on the Voice this year and that's what we took to the election last year. We see this as being a very important moment to unify the country. And look, polls are going to come and go, but what we're focused on is making clear that this is a moment for our nation to grow by recognising our First Nations people in the Constitution, the people who have been the custodians of our continent for 65,000 years, and doing so in a practical way through a Voice to Parliament which actually can make a difference in closing the persistent and stubborn gap in social disadvantage which is experienced by our First Nations people. Now, we are going to tell that story and continue to do that. There are going to be polls but we are going to be focused on explaining this.

IBRAHIM: Deputy Prime Minister, I'm going to have to end there. But thank you very much for being with us this morning.


Other related releases