Joint press conference with UK Secretary of State of Defence, Grant Shapps, Derby, United Kingdom

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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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4 November 2023

SUBJECTS: Visit to the United Kingdom; AUKUS; Australian industry placements in UK; Hamas-Israel conflict; Nuclear stewardship; Australian shipbuilding; Independent analysis of Navy’s surface fleet.

GRANT SHAPPS, UK SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DEFENCE: It's an honour to welcome our first embedded Australian AUKUS engineers who are with us, I know, this afternoon to these shores. And thank you for what you're doing for this important program. You know, obviously our two countries share so much extraordinary history and as we approach remembrance weekend, weekend after next, it's quite clear on nations are cut from the same cloth, our foundations and history. And I was looking at the history of an Australian Edward “Teddy” Sheean, who was born 100 years ago now, Richard, and in the Second World War, famously Teddy, single handedly shut down a Japanese bomber to protect the lives of those who have been forced to abandon ship and Teddy receive the Victoria Cross, as you mentioned to me a few moments ago, and had a submarine named after him. 80 years on from that action, we're seeing Australia in the UK in collaboration once again and our troops were training in your backyard as part of exercise Talisman Sabre recently. And before then Australian forces were helping us to train Ukrainian troops, which we've been talking about today, under Operation Interflex. We've joined forces to help deliver your mighty Hunter frigate program. And of course, we share intelligence and information on a daily basis. But AUKUS, AUKUS is different to even all of that. And your presence here today, Richard takes our collaboration to a whole new level. Up until now, the UK has only ever worked with the US on nuclear-powered subs and capabilities. But AUKUS changes that. It's an extraordinary testament to our friendship, and to our values, and to our trust in one another. You're about to embark on a program like no other. A collaboration spanning 13,000 miles – Canberra, to Washington, to London, to Derby – a partnership drawing on the world-class skills that we've been looking at this afternoon to build submarine manufacturing and to generate nuclear propulsion plans, or in Barrow, which I know you've visited as well, where BAE systems are operating, or Devonport were Babcock are working. And at the end, this won't just get us SSN-AUKUS’, the largest, most advanced, most powerful nuclear driven submarines ever created for the Royal Navy or the Royal Australian Navy, we won't just strengthen our security of our three AUKUS nations and enhance the stability of our border in Indo-Pacific and European Atlantic regions, we will establish a long-term base for skills, the skills we've been seeing this afternoon. Powering up our prosperity, doubling the size of this site, more than doubling, and creating thousands of jobs here in the UK and in Australia. And inspiring, I think a whole new generation of Australian and British talent to work together. So this is a truly historic moment as far as that's concerned. And those privileged and take part will have this opportunity which will last them a lifetime. So Richard and I urge everybody to make the most of the next seven weeks with us here in Derby, and prepare for the remembering our nation's historic collaboration together in a few days’ time, and let's reflect on that with pride. Well, great Australians, like Teddy Sheean gave us our today. In a world of growing danger, you and your efforts are helping to build a brighter and safer tomorrow. So we thank you all.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you, Grant. And it's an enormous honour to be here with you at this remarkable Rolls Royce facility in Derby and what we've seen on display here is truly exceptional. Our relationship with the United Kingdom is the oldest relationship that we have. And as Grant has said, on the 11th of November, we acknowledge the end of the First World War. And it speaks to the enduring nature of the relationship between our two countries. And my grandfather, a person I knew, fought in that war. He won a Military Cross at Pozières and was injured in that battle and after that came back to Britain where he saw out the remainder of the war before coming back to Australia in the aftermath of the First World War. My family's story is the same as so many Australian families which speaks to the defence history of our two countries, but of course speaks more deeply to a very rich and historic relationship between Australia and the United Kingdom. It's a relationship which is of complete trust. It is a relationship which is very personal. It's a relationship which has seen so many Australians and British spend time in both of our countries. But what we are now seeing is a renewed and contemporary strategic dimension to that relationship being put in place. We're seeing that with Britain's increased focus on the Indo-Pacific, in areas of trade, but in areas of defence as well. And that is reflected in the operational relationship between our two defence forces. And Grant mentioned the participation of UK forces in Exercise Talisman Sabre. We're seeing it here in Britain, as Australian personnel are engaged in Operation Interflex, in training Ukrainian recruits for the very important and heroic mission which they are undertaking in the defence of their homeland. A conflict which is critically important for Europe and critically important for the world. Because what's at issue there is the very sanctity of the global rules-based order and Australia as a country, while we may be on the other side of the world, is deeply invested in the sanctity of the global rules-based order, which is why we see that our national interest is engaged in the conflict in Ukraine and why we are so pleased and grateful for the support that we have with the UK and being able to provide our assistance to the defence of Ukraine. We've talked about all of those issues in our meeting today. But as Grant said, AUKUS is really the program which is now taking the relationship to the next level. We are building submarines together. And that goes to the very core of our national secrets and our national interests. And that's happening right here in a human way, with the 13 embeds that we've got here from Australia, who are coming here to learn critical skills in this kind of manufacture which they will take back to South Australia where we will be building the nuclear-powered submarines in Australia. But we're seeing it in a physical way. Right now, there are articles which are being fabricated that will form part of the nuclear reactors which go into the future nuclear-powered submarines that will be built in Adelaide. Those parts are being made right now and we've seen that today. And the fact that it's happening in that physical way, in this human way demonstrates the fact that AUKUS is happening, and it's happening on time, and it is happening with momentum. In our discussion today we've been talking about issues such as the commercial arrangements which will apply to the build of the submarines in Australia, something we said we would announce a year after the announcement of the optimal pathway and we are on track to make announcements around those issues by the end of March of next year. So it's been an incredibly productive conversation that we've had today, it's also been the first time that I've been able to meet Grant in person. And having had dinner last night and being able to share quite a lot of time today, both in a formal setting and an informal setting, can I just say it's been a joy and a pleasure to get to know your Grant. And I think our personal relationship is reflective of the significance of the relationship between our two countries, the seriousness of it going forward.

SECRETARY SHAPPS: Richard, thank you very much indeed. And I absolutely endorse your last comments there in particular. I know we've got quite a lot of different press here, we've got a combination of UK and Australian press. I'm going to start with Jonathan Beale at the BBC.

JOURNALIST: I’m afraid I’m going to ask you about Israel. Secretary Blinken, US Secretary of State, has been in Israel today saying Israel must do more to protect civilians getting caught in the crossfire in Gaza. Do you agree with that, Mr Shapps? And also, I think Hamas, the health authority (inaudible), says 9000 civilians have been killed. Is that an acceptable toll for Israel’s goal of destroying Hamas? And if it is, is there a limit to your patience? And I would say the same to you, Deputy Prime Minister. Australia has been clear about the need for humanitarian support. Do you think enough is being done to protect civilians in Gaza?

SECRETARY SHAPPS: It's worth I think, just starting on the 7th of October, reminding everybody none of this would have happened if Hamas hadn't broken into Israel and slaughtered men, women and children, including beheading people. And their entire purpose was to go after a civilian population. It wasn't a by-product, it wasn't that they were going for the army, they went to slaughter men, women, and children. They still hold over 200 hostages and we call on them to release them immediately and I think that all the coverage needs to be looked at within the within that backdrop. The important thing is that Israel is, of course, a democratic country that it has a responsibility to adhere to international humanitarian law. And it's a point that I make publicly as well as privately to the Israelis, including with a meeting yesterday with the Israeli ambassador in London. But their purpose is to go after the terrorists, the terrorists, because that's what they are. And it's worth including that in the copy. Not to go after civilians. The problem that we have with these terrorists is they use the civilians as human shields, including in the hospitals, where they're quite prepared to lose as many civilian lives, Hamas this is, as are killed. Because they are not the Palestinian people. Hamas are not there to protect Palestinians. They're there to serve their own aims, with tunnels and equipment, and their infrastructure underground in the most sensitive places. So of course, we always call on Israel to protect international humanitarian law. Of course, we feel deeply for the people who are caught up in this conflict and that is why Britain has put 30 million pounds into it, that's why I've been sending aircraft out of Brize, I X’d some pictures of them yesterday leaving to provide that humanitarian aid to Gaza, and that's why we always impress on the Israelis publicly and privately to do all they can to get that aid into Gaza. The problem is that Hamas often won't allow that smooth flow of aid as well. And the final point I would make is, every single life that's lost in this conflict is a tragedy. I've made clear how it started. But it doesn't mean that we don't feel deeply for everybody who loses their lives. I just do just caution in particular the media from picking up numbers issued by a terrorist organisation Hamas and quoting them, as fact.

JOURNALIST: I didn’t, I quoted it as (inaudible)

SECRETARY SHAPPS: It'd be better, I think, to say Hamas, a terrorist organisation, says that.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

SECRETARY SHAPPS: The health authority, just to be clear, the health authority is run by the terrorist organisation Hamas.

JOURNALIST: I’m asking the question, do you agree with Secretary Blinken that Israel should do more (inaudible) –

SECRETARY SHAPPS: Oh, yes. And as I thought I had explained, I had the ambassador in with me yesterday. And we've said that we want Israel to do everything possible, strain every sinew, get that aid in. We wouldn't be paying for and sending the aid if we didn't want it to get to the Palestinian population. Absolutely. That's entirely true.

MARLES: Well, let me perhaps start with where Grant finished, which is that every life matters here. The lives of innocent Israelis and the lives of innocent Palestinians. I've come from the United States this week, immediately prior to being here. Obviously, this is an issue that we've been speaking about. And we've been working closely with the US as we have with the UK around ensuring that every effort can be made to see that humanitarian efforts are put in place for those who are suffering in Gaza right now. And in that sense we very much do support the effort that has been made by the United States. But let me also say that while there's clearly a deep history in the Middle East, nothing, nothing justifies the attack that Hamas undertook on the 7th of October.  That was an attack which was, as Grant said, aimed at innocents. It was not aimed at combatants. People who were going about their ordinary lives, literally answering the knock on the front of the door, going to a music festival, those were the people who were targeted by Hamas in that moment. And because they were innocents, it means that what we saw on that day was murder. And in that sense, Israel does have a right to defend itself and it is obviously, in facing the appalling circumstance of a significant number of its citizens now being held hostage in Gaza. Now in exercising that right, it is obviously important that Israel acts consistently with the rules of war and that the protection of civilian life is front and centre in terms of the way in which Israel is engaging in its activities. And we've been making that clear in our conversations with Israel. And we are concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. We have committed $25 million towards alleviating that. I mean, what we're seeing play out here is just an unfolding tragedy which has impacted innocent Israelis and innocent Palestinians. And we need to be doing everything we can as an international community to be focusing on that humanitarian situation.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

MARLES: Well, I mean AUKUS is a number of things. Firstly, it is a technology sharing arrangement between the US, the UK and Australia at the heart of which is the US and the UK working to see Australia acquire the capability to operate nuclear-powered submarines. And that is about Australia's capability and we make no apologies for seeking to be more capable. Our capability in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines is about making our contribution to the collective security of the region in which we live, the Indo-Pacific, and seeing the full expression of the rules-based order within that region, rules such as freedom of navigation. Now, ultimately that is about the security of the region and that is about the security of Australia. And that is our strategic objective here. It is actually about maintaining balance and peace within the Indo-Pacific. It's a point that we have made repeatedly to the world, but to the countries of our region. And that is essentially our message to the countries of the region, including to China. This is not proliferation. We have been working hand in glove with the International Atomic Energy Agency from the outset, to ensure that what we are doing in acquiring this capability is entirely consistent with Australia's obligations in respect of both the Non-Proliferation Treaty and separately, the Treaty of Rarotonga. And so, that again, is a point that we have made. And actually, you know, in this arrangement we are seeing the bar being placed at the very highest level in terms of the transfer of this technology and capability from one country to another in a way which does not give rise to nuclear proliferation. And in that we are very proud of the way in which we have established this relationship with the US and the UK.

JOURNALIST: As of a few weeks ago, all six of the UK’s attack submarines were in port. Indeed many have been here, one has been here for about a year, another is due to be here for about a year. My question to you is are you comfortable with the level of service the Royal Navy is getting out of these submarines. And my question for the Deputy Prime Minister is when these submarines finish their life, their service life, they contain a significant quantity of radioactive material. The UK has some 21 submarines in a submarine graveyard slowly decomposing, yet to work out a way to deal with the nuclear waste. Will Australia take its own nuclear waste from your submarines, or will they come to Royal Navy graveyards?

SECRETARY SHAPPS: Obviously, you know we never ever comment on our operational performance other than to say we've always been able to fulfil all of our international commitments, including of late as well. Beyond that, I'm afraid I can't go further. I will just comment on the nuclear waste side because from a civil nuclear side, in particular, given my last post, I know that actually the UK leads on some of the technologies to deal with civil nuclear waste and I know that increasingly from my last position and coming to this that combination of using that technology and in defence, civil waste as well is coming to fruition. For example, it used to be the case the only way to deal with nuclear waste was to bury vast sums of it, we're now in the process of getting to the point where we recycle or strip out something like 95% of the waste. So I imagine that the very similar principles would apply in future to the military side of waste. But I know that part of the question wasn't to me, so, Richard.

MARLES: Well, there's a very clear answer to that in that Australia will be taking responsibility for its own nuclear waste. So that will not be returned to the UK or to the United States. And that was really an important commitment that Australia made as part of this process. I mean we understand that in operating a nuclear-powered submarine there is really a degree to which we are now going to be significantly nuclear stewards. And part of the responsibility of being nuclear stewards is to take responsibility for the full nuclear cycle and that includes the disposal of the waste. And so we'll be going through an extensive process which we've already begun around the means by which we will ultimately determine sites in Australia for that to occur. I mean, this is a very significant endeavour and, you know the significance of it is not lost on us but clearly we do have some time though in order to get this right, but we are working on it as we speak.

JOURNALIST: There’s been some talk about delays in building (inaudible). What guarantee do you (inaudible) actually be built in Adelaide?

MARLES: So the question is in relation to the Hunter frigates?

JOURNALIST: Yep. Well, Alexander Downer said this week that he believed that the delay in building (inaudible). What guarantee do you give that the Hunter class will be built in Adelaide?

MARLES: Well in terms of building the production line for nuclear-powered submarines in Adelaide, every step that we have committed to taking so far has occurred on time. So there is no delay. Let’s be really clear about that. We’re in the process of working through with the South Australian government the transfers of land which will be the very place where the site is built for the production line. We’ve got an expo in Adelaide this weekend which is about exploring the opportunities that come from working in building our nuclear-powered submarines. So we are right in the process, and we can see here right now, of developing the workforce that will enable that to occur. Let me be completely clear that we are absolutely on time and going at a pace in terms of the development of the nuclear-powered production line. In relation to the Type 26 frigates, the Hunter class, work on that continues in Adelaide. I mean, there have been delays that have occurred over the last few years and a lot of that has been related to the pandemic, but there has been also significant retrieval of that timeline in what BAE has been doing. We, coming out of the Defence Strategic Review, undertook to do a review of our surface fleet which has occurred and we received the outcome of that review at the end of September, which was when we said we would have that completed and we will respond to that in the first quarter of next year. And again, that enables us to make the decisions in the timeframe that we have available to us. I’m not going to pre-empt the decisions that we are going to be announcing as part of that. But obviously, the way forward in terms of the Hunter class frigates has been considered in that review and we will respond to that in the first quarter of next year. Let me finally say this, though, a key recommendation of the Defence Strategic Review which this government accepted was the proposition of continuous naval shipbuilding in Australia and that means at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in South Australia. That is a commitment which is utterly central to the decisions that this government will make.

SECRETARY SHAPPS: Thank you very much indeed. Richard, I'm afraid we are out of time and we both have schedules to get on to. Thank you very much everyone.


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