Television interview, Weekend Today

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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.

JAYNE AZZOPARDI: Well, the AUKUS submarine deal with the United States has now hit a major hurdle. US Republicans threatening to block the sale of US-made subs.

CLINT STANAWAY: That's right. Let's bring in Deputy PM and Defence Minister Richard Marles in Sydney. Richard, good morning. Thanks for your time. So, Senate Republicans want President Joe Biden to boost funding for the domestic production line. Are you worried this morning?

DEPUTY PRIME MIINSTER, RICHARD MARLES: Look, I'm not. I've been briefed by Ambassador Rudd on exactly what's occurring in the congress. I actually think this is pretty well business as usual in terms of the way in which legislation proceeds through the congress. I mean, if you take a step back, we're actually really encouraged by the pace at which this is proceeding through the congress, the attention that it's receiving. So, we're still very confident about this and we're confident that the optimal pathway that we agreed with the United States and the United Kingdom back in March of this year is what will take place in terms of Australia acquiring a nuclear powered submarine capability.

AZZOPARDI: Is there any chance that this deal could fall through?

MARLES: I don't think there is. We are very focused on achieving this and I know that across the political spectrum, in the United States as well, Democrats and Republicans alike, there is a commitment to the alliance with Australia, but specifically to the AUKUS program and Australia acquiring this capability. And why we're confident about it is that in speaking with leaders both on the hill in terms of the congress, obviously with the Administration, there is a sense of unity about the importance of AUKUS and Australia being able to have this capability. And I think you're going to see episodes like this as legislation proceeds through the congress. But I'm sure when it comes to the final moment, this will proceed as we expect.

STANAWAY: Deputy Prime Minister. Let's talk about today, the Canberra set to become the first American naval ship to be commissioned outside of its home country. What does this mean for our long standing alliance with the US?

MARLES: Well, it's a really significant day. As you said, it's the first time America has commissioned one of its new warships outside of the United States and it's happening right here in Sydney this morning. The USS Canberra has a very long and unique history with our country. This is the second USS Canberra. The first was commissioned back in 1943 and was named by President Roosevelt in the aftermath of the loss of HMAS Canberra in the battle of Savo Island, which was in the Guadalcanal campaign. That was Australians and Americans fighting together in the Second World War. And we've, of course, been side by side ever since. What's really exciting about this ship is that it was designed in Fremantle. This is an independence variant of America's littoral combat ships and these were designed and built by Austal, a great Australian company based in Western Australia. It was designed in Fremantle, built in Alabama. So there is Australian DNA right through this. And really, the USS Canberra is the story. It tells the story of the alliance and it's a real symbol of the closeness between our two countries.

AZZOPARDI: Well, another symbol, of course, is these international military exercise that is about to take place, 30,000 troops preparing for it. Is this about simulating a war against China?

MARLES: No, it's not. Look, you don't have a capable defence force unless you are match fit, and you're not match fit unless you train. And defence forces all around the world will do exercises to ensure that they are capable of doing what they can. And for Australia, we do this every two years. It's the most important exercise that we do in terms of certifying all the capabilities and skills that exist within the Australian Defence Force. For us, our Defence Force, a key task of it is to provide for the collective security of the region in which we live, the Indo-Pacific. And so it matters that we do this sort of exercise and this training in concert with other countries, particularly the United States. But there are twelve other countries participating in this exercise, so this is very much business as usual and this is about making sure that we have a defence force which is match fit.

STANAWAY: Richard, it's worth noting that overnight we've seen a little bit of movement in the Coral Sea. Are you worried about that Chinese spy ship that entered the Coral Sea during these exercises?

MARLES: I'm not. I mean, I've been to Talisman Sabre now for many years, and there is always, it seems, a ship from China, which is looking at this, and that's fine. They're acting in accordance with international law, and so this is to be completely expected. But for us, it's really about our capability and our capacity, and it is very much about our ability to work with other countries, our friends and our allies, and particularly the United States. And so the next couple of weeks is going to be really important. And there are 30,000 service personnel participating in this. It's the largest Exercise Talisman Sabre in terms of the number of countries participating and also the breadth of the exercise, it's happening in New South Wales, Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia. It really is a massive endeavour and for a whole lot of our men and women of our Defence Force, this is the culmination of months and, in fact, years of work.

STANAWAY: Richard Marles in a word, do the Cats beat the Lions at the Gabba tonight?

MARLES: Well, you know the tie I'm wearing today because it is match day and the answer to that is, obviously, yes.

STANAWAY: There you go.

MARLES: And I'm very excited about, the Cats are back.

AZZOPARDI: We're tied for time, but I'm glad you got that important question in, Deputy Prime Minister,

STANAWAY: Had to ask.

AZZOPARDI: Thank you so much for your time and enjoy the day.


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