Television interview, Weekend Sunrise

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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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22 July 2023

SUBJECTS: AUKUS, USS Canberra, Talisman Sabre and China-Australia relations.

MONIQUE WRIGHT: Australia's AUKUS submarine deal is facing a new hurdle this morning as US Republicans threaten to block the sale. Now they're pressuring President Joe Biden to fund the domestic production line, moving to block legislation which would enable the sale of Virginia-class submarines to Australia.

MATT DORAN: It comes as Australia and the US mark a really significant milestone. America's newest warship, carrying a piece of Australian history will be commissioned here in Sydney this morning.

WRIGHT: And Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles joins us now from the decks of the USS Canberra. US Navy's first ship to be commissioned outside of the US here in Australia. We're going to talk to you about that in just a moment. Deputy PM but we just want to talk to you about this AUKUS deal first. We're hearing overnight, US Republicans in the Senate are making noise about our deal with the US. Are you concerned about the AUKUS deal or is this just the republicans playing political games?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Look, I'm not concerned. I think there's always a process that occurs as legislation goes through the American Congress. I was speaking with Ambassador Rudd yesterday about this very issue. In fact, when you take a step back and look at how the legislation has been progressing, we're really encouraged by the speed with which this is moving and the attention that's been given to it by the congress. We're really confident with the pathway that we've negotiated with the Biden administration, we're confident that this will come to pass. And it's obviously very important in terms of enabling Australia to acquire a nuclear powered submarine capability, which will be just about the biggest leap forward in our military capability in our history.

DORAN: Deputy PM, Australia's largest military exercise Talisman Sabre underway at the moment. We have two Chinese spy ships it’s understood, expected to sit off the coast of Darwin and Queensland. As all of this plays out, how concerned are you by this? How are you planning to address this?

MARLES: Again, I think this is business as usual. I've been attending Talisman Sabre for a number of years now and this is pretty normal that these ships are there monitoring what's happening, so that's understood and kind of built into the way in which the exercise will be undertaken. But this is our largest exercise. We do it every two years. It's the means by which we certify that so many capabilities and skills within our Defence Force are match fit. And I think that's the way to think about it. You can't have a capable Defence Force without it being match fit and you can't be match fit unless you train. And we're doing what defence forces around the world do in having exercises of this kind. And, of course, for us, what's really important is that a critical task of our defence force is to provide for the collective security of the region in which we live, the Indo-Pacific. And so training with our friends and allies, twelve other countries, including, of course, the United States, is so important in terms of the way in which we operate.

WRIGHT: Okay, so we're training with these twelve other countries. China is not part of that. So, let's talk about our relationship with China. Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Foreign Minister Penny Wong are meeting with their Chinese counterparts, I think, over this weekend. How would that be affected? Where would you say our relationship is at with China?

MARLES: Well, we're trying to stabilise our relationship with China, and I think we've made real progress on that since we came to government. I mean, I first met my Chinese counterpart back in June of last year and met the new Chinese Defence Minister in June of this year. And we've now had numerous meetings at a Ministerial level. Of course, our Prime Minister has met President Xi back in November of last year, and so the relationship is stabilising. And it's not just about the meetings. We are seeing, from a defence point of view, actually, the defence dialogue being put back in place, which we felt was very important. But in terms of trade, we're seeing a lot of that trade come back online. I mean, the relationship with China is broad, it is complex, it's not obvious, and it requires a lot of thought. But I think at the heart of it, we need to be dealing with this in a professional and serious way, making clear that we do value a productive relationship with China. But we will also be very clear about the fact that when we need to differ with China, we will. And that's the way in which we've been conducting the relationship and the relationship has been improving.

DORAN: Deputy PM, you're speaking to us right now from the USS Canberra. This is a really historic day and it'd have to be described for both Australian and US military ties.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: It really is. It's the first time the United States has commissioned a new warship outside of America. This ship has a very unique history in terms of its connection with Australia. It's the second USS Canberra. But what I love about this is that this ship was designed in Fremantle. This ship is an independence variant of the US littoral combat ships. And that variant was designed and built by a company, Austal, which is based in Western Australia. It was designed in Fremantle, it was built in Mobile in Alabama. So, there's Australian DNA throughout this ship. And this really, speaks to the ingenuity, the technology and the know-how of Australian defence industry. And it's a very proud day for Australian defence industry, a proud day for Austal and a really significant day in the alliance between Australia and the United States.

DORAN: Deputy PM Richard Marles. Great to talk to you. Thanks for being with us on Weekend Sunrise this morning.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Thanks for having me.


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