Doorstop interview, Point Wilson

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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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23 October 2023

SUBJECTS: Re-opening of Point Wilson Wharf; Israel-Hamas conflict; Prime Minister’s visit to the US; Indigenous leaders' statement on the Voice result

RICHARD MARLES, ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Welcome everyone today to the Point Wilson Pier which is a really critical piece of infrastructure for our country, certainly for the Greater Geelong region. 2.3 kilometres long is what seems to be the agreed length of this pier, which makes it the second longest pier in the southern hemisphere. But this has been a pier since 1961, which has been dedicated to both the importing and exporting of explosive ordnance, which is really important for manufacturing, and supporting the Defence Force in Australia. This pier has not been open since 2008. So, the reopening of the pier is a very significant moment after a major refurbishment of the pier, which has now caught up to really the pristine state that we are seeing today. This is really important in terms of the guided weapons and explosive ordnance enterprise that the government has put in place as one of the key priorities, which comes out of the Defence Strategic Review. We need to be manufacturing our own guided weapons in Australia, and that is a very important part of Defence Strategic Review, a very important part of the government's response to it. We will be seeing the manufacturing of that in Australia commence in the next couple of years, we also need to be raising our explosive ordnance war stocks, and this pier, as a dedicated facility to import material but also to export what is manufactured in Australia is going to be fundamental to that enterprise. It's a very significant moment for the Australian Defence Force for Australian Defence Industry, and it's a very significant moment for the Geelong region. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Originally, this was slated to be completed in 2022, why the delay?

MARLES: Well, there's been I think, probably the pandemic is the significant answer to that question. A lot of work has gone into this, and we're very pleased that it's been open.

JOURNALIST: And what did it cost to redevelop this?

MARLES: $193 million was the amount that was committed to it.

JOURNALIST: And did it blow out over that?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL JOHN FREWEN: It was actually about $10 million under budget.

JOURNALIST: How frequent will the shipments be to and from and how big are we talking?

FREWEN: The facility will commence next month. We're expecting pretty regular inflows and outflows through the facility. So, it's very important to us, as the Deputy Prime Minister said the import and export of both explosive ordnance and dangerous goods. So it will be a very active facility.

JOURNALIST: Where has the AEO been coming into currently?

COMMODORE JAMES NASH: At Port Alma at Rockhampton.

FREWEN: Yes, so there's one other facility at the moment where we have been able to do the sort of activities that we do here, but this will become the best facility.

MARLES: So, the importing and exporting of these goods in central Queensland has seen a really unsatisfactory mix of this kind of work with other civilian freight. This gives a dedicated facility, which is much better for defence industry, much better for defence, obviously, much safer.

JOURNALIST: And what will this mean, I guess, more opportunity for local manufacturers around Victoria, Geelong?

MARLES: Well, it certainly will assist defence industry in Victoria. But this gives a dedicated, safe facility for the nation. And so the significance of this pier goes well beyond defence industry in Victoria, it does certainly support that – it supports defence industry around the country. But this is a critically important safety facility for the nation.

JOURNALIST: Just in relation to the situation in the Middle East. What is the Government doing to assist those 77 people that are still trapped in Gaza at the moment?

MARLES: Yeah, look, we're working very closely with them. Obviously, they're in a very difficult situation. We're working closely with the international community about establishing a humanitarian corridor. And we’d obviously encourage those people to move south in accordance with the warnings that Israel have put in place. We will do everything within our power to ensure that those Australians and their families are in the safest situation possible.

JOURNALIST: I Imagine that'll be pretty high on the agenda with the PM touching down in the US?

MARLES: Yeah, I mean, obviously, this is a situation which is garnering the attention of the world, and I'm sure it will be a topic of conversation between the Prime Minister and the President. But the state visit to the United States is obviously really important in terms of a whole range of interests that our country has, not least of which is Australia acquiring a nuclear-powered submarine capability.

JOURNALIST: In terms of the voice referendum, Indigenous leaders, Yes leaders, have written to the PM accusing the majority of Australians having committed a ‘shameful act’ by voting no. Was it a ‘shameful act’?

MARLES: Obviously, the outcome of the referendum was not what I hoped, but the Australian people always get the answer right. And the Government absolutely accepts the result of the referendum and so we will not be moving forward with constitutional recognition, that is clearly the decision that the Australian people have made. That said, the result that occurred in the referendum was not a vote against reconciliation, nor was it a vote against taking action on closing the gap. So our focus will be very much on practical measures, which result in closing the gap. Even last week, as we announced the skills agreement with the states, we see a couple of $100 million dedicated in the context of that agreement to the training of Indigenous Australians around the country. So we will be focused on specific measures which do see a closing in the gap. And we will clearly be very much listening to Indigenous Australians how best to put those measures in place to get the greatest outcome.

JOURNALIST: Have you or the Government spoken to any of the architects of that letter? And if not, are you planning to do so?

MARLES: We will work with Indigenous Australians about the way forward in respect of the voice, in respect of other matters in the Uluru Statement. We will be very focused on making sure that we are listening to Indigenous Australians as we take steps in relation to closing the gap.

JOURNALIST: Would you support a voice independent of the Constitution or legislation?

MARLES: Well, again, we will take our time to move forward here and we will engage with the indigenous leadership of this country around those questions. Our focus is very much in respect of taking steps which do close the gap. We obviously will be listening to Indigenous Australians in respect of all those measures, and we will talk to them about the way forward now.


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