Television Interview, ABC Afternoon Briefing

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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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18 August 2023

SUBJECTS: AUKUS; Space capabilities.

TOM LOWREY, HOST: Deputy Prime Minister, thanks for joining Afternoon Briefing.


LOWREY: For those who aren't following every movement of the Labor conference incredibly closely, what should Australians make of the AUKUS debate we've seen so far, and how great is the split within the Labor Party on this critical issue?

MARLES: Well, I think today is a very important day because what it makes clear is that not only has the decision to pursue nuclear-powered submarine capability been taken by the Albanese Government, and it's had the complete support of the Government, today it's won the support of the Labor movement through our peak body, the national conference. And it was a very significant win on the floor, it was not close. And I think that says a lot about the way in which the party and the movement understands the significance of the steps that we have taken. I was obviously very pleased with the outcome of today's debate, but I was just as pleased with the way in which we went about the debate. It's been a really good process where we've been able to explain to party members, to unions and the like about why the Government is taking the steps that it's taking. And that's been understood, there's been a very open mind out there and today we won the support of the movement behind this.

LOWREY: Minister Conroy said in his speech within the conference “strength deters conflict and appeasement invites conflict”. Was that a direct message to the AUKUS opponents within Labor, and how do you interpret that message?

MARLES: Well, deterrence is fundamentally important. I mean, deterrence is a critical step that we can take in promoting peace. When we look, for example, at what we do with our really critical defence exercises, such as Exercise Malabar and Talisman Sabre, which have both been occurring in the last few weeks, what they do is demonstrate capability which provides a deterrence. It is a contribution to peace. And what we have – well what we have in a highly capable submarine capacity now with our Collins, but will have a more capable submarine capability going forward with the nuclear-powered submarines is bring to bear a very huge deterrent effect, and that is a very significant contributor to peace.

LOWREY: I know Labor makes a virtue of open debates at conferences like this, but can you unite the Labor Party around AUKUS? And do you need to?

MARLES: Well, I think debate such as this does unite the party. We don't hide from the fact that we have debates and we talk about politics, and we talk about politics on the progressive side of politics because that's the party we are. And then we have considered debate and we make difficult decisions. That's what we did today. But you can go through the history of the Labor Party back to the time that we've been formed and we've been doing exactly the same thing. And that's why I say I'm very pleased with the outcome, but I'm really pleased with the process and the quality of the debate because that's part of the process of bringing people along with you. And it was really important that we have this debate, I think. I mean, there had been interest within the branches, among unions about the decision that the government had taken. It was clear to us that we needed to be able to have that debate at this conference. And we really did feel that if we were given the opportunity of explaining ourselves, we would win the overwhelming support of the conference. And that's what we've done.

LOWREY: Some have expressed concerns about rumblings within the Republican Party in the US around AUKUS and the US's commitment to AUKUS. Should our allies abroad have any concerns about this division here?

MARLES: No, I mean, what this shows is a government which has the confidence to go to its own rank and file to make out the case. And we've seen that rank and file support the government in spades. In terms of the political landscape in both the United States and the United Kingdom, we feel very assured that this is a matter of bipartisan policy in both countries as well. And that's why we do have a sense of confidence that this will endure and that we will be able to acquire this capability. And we should never forget this is a very historic and rare step. Only once before has a country provided the technology of operating – nuclear technology to operate submarines before, and that was when the US provided that technology to the UK. This is the second time in history that we will have seen that happen. It's a massive thing that all three countries are doing, but it is a step which enjoys the bipartisan support across the political landscape of all three countries.

LOWREY: Just on another issue in the defence space today, it's been revealed hundreds of Chinese satellites were above Australia and are above Australia as these current defence exercises are underway. Are you concerned that Australia is scaling back its presence in space as it becomes an ever more critical domain?

MARLES: Well, we certainly understand how important space is as a domain and you're right to describe it as being an ever more critical domain. It certainly is. I mean, at the most recent AUSMIN talks that we have between ourselves and the United States, we made there very clear that space would be an area of force posture cooperation between the United States and Australia. I mean, we are confident about our ongoing presence in space and the evolution of that in a way which provides an enhancement of the effects that we can bring to bear through our Defence Force. We get that other countries are in space as well and we know we need to be there, but we're confident about what we're doing there in that regard.

LOWREY: Are you concerned about that?

MARLES: I mean, I think what we see is China increasing its capability throughout its Defence Force. I spoke about that today. It just is. I mean, that is the world that we live in. But we need to understand that. And as I said today, it's our unavoidable responsibility to then navigate our way through it. So, what I take from that is that's really important, that we have our own space capabilities and that's why we're working on those. And it's just another example of why we need to be enhancing our defence capability, which we are doing in the response that we've made to the Defence Strategic Review.

LOWREY: Deputy Prime Minister, thanks for making the time for Afternoon Briefing.

MARLES: Thanks, Tom.


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