Television Interview, Sky News First Edition

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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: Housing Australia Future Fund; AUSMIN dialogue; AUKUS; Pacific.

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well, one of the headline political stories today, the Albanese Government's to reintroduce its $10 billion future housing fund to Parliament next week, unchanged, setting up a showdown with the Greens. Joining us live now beautiful Brisbane is Defence Minister, Richard Marles. Minister, good to see you. Thanks for your time. So, yeah, the housing fund back on the table into Parliament next week. If there are no changes to it, though, why would the result be any different?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we want to make sure that there is every possibility provided to try and get more housing stock into the market. I mean, anybody who's out there looking for a house and can't find one to buy or to rent, who's experiencing increased housing costs, know that a big part of this is we just don't have the supply. And that's why the Housing Australia Future Fund would make such a big difference. $10 billion, 30,000 new, affordable and social houses. And we want to make it really clear to the Greens and to the Liberals that they have an opportunity in supporting this bill to make a real difference to housing costs in this country. So, that's our focus and we're going to keep doing it.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. Will you accept any of the Greens’ demands, be it guarantees or rental freezes, to get it over the line?

MARLES: Look, we've gone through these processes with the Greens and the Liberals as this has gone to the Parliament before, but we're not giving up on this. We will keep pushing. Fundamentally, the Greens and the Liberals have to make a decision about whether this is politics for them or whether they're actually going to make a difference for the Australian people. This ball is very much in their court and we are going to keep pushing this because we really want to see more houses into the Australian market.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, so that's a no. You're not going to accept any of these Greens demands, be it rental freezes or whatever. You're going to stay the course?

MARLES: Yeah, we have a policy which would make a difference. We were elected with a mandate and we're going to put these policies before the Parliament.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. Are you prepared to go to an early election over it?

MARLES: This isn't about going to an election. This is about getting more houses into the housing market and it's about making a difference to people's cost of living. That's what we're focused on. This is not about elections, it's about houses. And that's why we want to do everything that we possibly can to try and get this Bill through. And we just hope that given all that is playing out around the country in terms of cost of living, the difficulty in finding houses, that the Libs and the Greens come to their senses, stop this unholy alliance to deny Australians houses.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, but if it doesn't get through the Senate again, would it not be a double dissolution? Would it not be a trigger for a double dissolution?

MARLES: Pete, it's not what we're focused on. We're focused on getting new houses into the housing market and doing everything we can within our power to achieve that.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, but if it is if it goes to a double dissolution, would that not mean an early federal election?

MARLES: No, it doesn't. And this isn't about elections. We're not talking about early elections. We had an election last year. This is about getting houses into the housing market and using every means we can to achieve that. And that's why we are looking at putting this to the parliament again. As I say, we were elected with a mandate just last year to make a difference. And this is a policy which could really make a difference. We're very committed to it.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. Minister, onto AUSMIN, significant talks this weekend. Will you be seeking assurances that submarine delivery is on track?

MARLES: Well, we're obviously talking with the United States all the time about the progress of the nuclear-powered submarine agreement and we are confident that it is on track. I mean, legislation which goes through the US Congress is a complicated process. We were expecting all of this to play out in the way that it has. But actually we're encouraged by the pace with which this is proceeding through the Congress. There is a mountain of work which is being done by both ourselves and the United States to walk down the path of Australia acquiring a nuclear-powered submarine capability. It is on track, but we will undoubtedly talk about this over the next two days, as I think we will be talking about it at AUSMINs for years to come.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, but so AUKUS is on the table even though the UK is not here?

MARLES: Of course. Well, I mean, we talk about it with the UK as well. I mean, they have a role to play, but every opportunity we get, we will be speaking with our partners about it and we will certainly be talking about the progress of what we're doing in terms of moving down the path of acquiring the nuclear-powered submarine capability. There are lots of steps here and a lot of them obviously involve the United States. And this is an opportunity for us to deal with it.

STEFANOVIC: And just on that, because there has been a recent push by a Republican Senator to hold back delivery of our subs to look after its own house, essentially, America's own defence budget. Are you worried about that?

MARLES: No, because this is something that we were very aware of in the negotiations last year around the deal that we've put forward and had agreed with the United States. There is pressure on the American industrial base. We've well understood that. That's why we'll be making a contribution to it. But ultimately, why this arrangement is going to be so advantageous for all three countries is because we will develop an industrial base in this country which will contribute to the net capability of Australia, the UK and the US. Right now, there are three facilities across the United States and the United Kingdom which build nuclear-powered submarines. The facility in Osborne will take that to four and it will make a real difference in respect of all three countries moving forward. And this, of course, does mean that there are great opportunities for Australian companies to not only supply into the Australian supply chain, to build our own subs, but to supply into both the American and the UK and that's going to help them.

STEFANOVIC: Has Lloyd Austin told you, though, that that's all going to be sorted out?

MARLES: We're really confident in all the conversations we've had with the Administration. And not just with the Administration, obviously, we talk with members of Congress on the Hill. This is actually proceeding fine and you're going to see colour on movement as legislation goes through the congressional processes, but this is all on track.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, just a final one here, Minister. Just recently over in the Solomon Islands, and we're talking about China's influence in the Solomon Islands here, Manasseh Sogavare, he accused Australia of being un-neighbourly and he had a crack at the Americans as well. How will AUSMIN counter that?

MARLES: Well, AUSMIN is a great opportunity to talk about lots of things and we're doing so much with America right now and it follows on the meeting that we had last December and we've seen a whole lot of advances in terms of the way America is engaging in Australia. But we will talk, obviously, with the US about the region and the world, and that will include the Pacific. Solomon Islands, I was there a few weeks ago. I met with Manasseh Sogavare. We are looking at working very closely with Solomon Islands, both in terms of ensuring that the big events which are coming up on their calendar, the Pacific Games and their own elections next year, that they happen in a secure way. And we've been talking with them about the policing for that and how Australia can support this. And there's great encouragement, I think, for Solomon Islands about the support that we're willing to provide, along with the prospect of Solomon’s establishing its own defence force. It doesn't have one right now, but they are considering moving down that path and we've made clear that if they do that, we would stand as their partner of choice to provide assistance. And in the very interview that Prime Minister Sogavare was making, the comments you're referring to, he also was referring to his meeting with me and the opportunity to work with Australia in respect of establishing a defence force. So, we're actually going all right in terms of Solomon's. And the relationship is in a much better place today than it was back in May of last year at the end of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. Richard Marles, live for us from Brisbane there. Appreciate it. Thank you. We'll talk to you again soon.


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