Radio Interview, ABC AM

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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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28 July 2023

SUBJECTS: AUKUS; Boxer deal with Germany; Assistance to Solomon Islands; Housing Australia Future Fund.

KIM LANDERS, HOST: Well, I spoke with the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Richard Marles earlier. Minister, there's been a bit of wrangling in the US Congress over whether the pact to sell some nuclear submarines to Australia will affect their own sub needs. Are you getting any reassurances that it's all being sorted out?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Look, we're confident about the processes that are underway in the US. I mean, obviously, Congress can be a complicated place as legislation makes its way through it, but actually, we're encouraged by how quickly it is going through it and we are expecting that there will be lots of discussions on the way through. But fundamentally, we have reached an agreement with the Biden Administration about how Australia acquires the nuclear-powered submarine capability and we're proceeding along that path with pace.

LANDERS: So, it's all on track?

MARLES: Yes, it is on track.

LANDERS: The government yesterday chose a South Korean company over a German rival to supply our Army with a new infantry fighting vehicle. Now, the ABC understands that Germany is so disappointed by this that they've stopped negotiations on a separate contract where Australia was supposed to build and supply the Germans with armoured vehicles known as Boxers. Are you disappointed by that?

MARLES: Well, that's not my understanding. I mean, the arrangement around the supply of Boxers to Germany from Rheinmetall's Brisbane facility is something that is separate from the decision in respect of the infantry fighting vehicle. And it was always understood –

LANDERS: I understand it's separate, but have the Germans not told you that they're so miffed by this decision that they're halting negotiations on the Boxers?

MARLES: Well, we're continuing to work with Germany in relation to the supply of those vehicles. And I think in cases like this, there were two companies tendering. It was always understood that this was a competition and only one would ultimately end up doing the job. And we've been very transparent with Rheinmetall and Hanwha, for that matter, about the process. And in that sense, this is a decision that has ultimately been made on the basis of what capability best suits the Australian Army, the Australian Defence Force. And I think that's understood by Rheinmetall and the German government.

LANDERS: Is the Boxer export deal in danger of collapsing?

MARLES: Look, we're continuing to work with Germany in relation to that deal.

LANDERS: You don't sound completely confident.

MARLES: Well, the Prime Minister was in Germany a few weeks ago signing an MoU with the German government. We know Germany is very keen to get those vehicles and Rheinmetall’s facility in Brisbane is in an excellent position to provide them and we continue to work with them about that arrangement. And that MoU remains in place.

LANDERS: Well, that German contractor, I understand that was planning to build the Boxers in Brisbane says it's anticipating that it might have to cut the Queensland workforce by a third. That'd be a couple of hundred people, so the government's decision on this other project might put Australians out of work.

MARLES: Again, we're working with both companies. Each of the companies understood the process that was underway. Rheinmetall right now is making Boxers for the Australian Defence Force, of course, but there is the MoU in place to do this for Germany as well. No one was in a place to expect this decision to go one way or the other and there had been complete transparency, as I say, in relation to that process. And this always happens in the sense that only one of the two competitors was going to be able to do this. And our job was to make a decision based on what capability was best for the Australian Army and this was a recommendation that came from defence, and we've been managing the process in the most transparent and upfront way with the tenderers.

LADNERS: Let me turn to something else. You've flagged that you would be happy to help Solomon Islands set up its own defence force if its government decides to go down that path. Would that be an advisory role or would Australia be providing equipment and weapons?

MARLES: Well, we'd sit down with Solomon Islands and look at what they need and in terms of whatever decisions they made about not just whether they have a defence force, but the shape of that defence force, and we would provide all the assistance that we possibly could –

LANDERS: So, that could include weapons and equipment?

MARLES: Well, I wouldn't want to get ahead of ourselves in terms of exactly what it might provide, but we do provide equipment and work with other countries in relation to their defence forces in the Pacific. And this is the point that I really made to Prime Minister Sogavare, both in terms of our work that we do with PNG, with Fiji, with Tonga, three countries in the Pacific which operate defence forces. We've got a long experience of training and aiding the defence forces of the Pacific to do their work. Currently, we are working very closely with Vanuatu, who is looking at walking down the path of establishing a defence force. So, we know the issues at hand, we know how this is done and we know what support, in an ongoing sense looks like and we would be very keen to provide that to Solomon’s so that we are their partner of choice. And I think that was an offer that was greatly received.

LANDERS: Back home on housing. The federal government's decided to reintroduce the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill to Parliament. Would the Government seriously consider a double dissolution election if it fails to pass a second time?

MARLES: This isn't about elections, this is about getting more housing. I mean, I think anyone who is facing the pressure of trying to find rental accommodation, for example, but is also experiencing the cost of housing, completely understands that the issue out there is supply –

LANDERS: So, a possible early election is not in the back of your mind?

MARLES: It's not. This is about housing, and this is about making sure that we get a much greater supply through the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund. Right now we have watched the Greens and the Liberals work together to stop this from happening. This can make a real difference in terms of reducing housing costs because we'd get more supply into the market. 30,000 new social and affordable housing units. That's what's at stake here. And we're committed to doing that, and that's why we're walking down this path. And this is absolutely about housing.

LANDERS: Richard Marles, thank you very much for joining AM this morning.

MARLES: Thanks, Kim.



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