Radio interview, 5AA Mornings

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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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10 November 2023

SUBJECT/S: South Australian Defence Industry Taskforce report; Commonwealth and South Australian Government land swap; Optus; High Court; Cost of living

MATTHEW PANTELIS, HOST: But firstly, the Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles on the line, Acting PM. Good morning.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Good morning, Matthew, how are you?

PANTELIS: Thank you for your time. Very well, thank you. Now, we spoke with the Premier earlier today, announcing the $59 million spend on defence training coming up in SA. But I understand you've further made a secondary announcement today on the land swap that was talked about in the initial days of AUKUS. Just remind us what's involved there.

MARLES: Well, as you say, we made the announcement in relation to training today, but we also did the announcement in respect of a land swap, which will see the defence bases at Keswick, close to the city, and Smithfield, which is in the northern suburbs, along with defence land in Cultana, which is near Port Bonython near Whyalla be transferred to the state government. That's all obviously Commonwealth land right now. And in return for that, there is state government land adjacent to the existing Osborne Naval shipyard down in Port Adelaide, which will be transferred to the Commonwealth and that will be both the site of where future nuclear powered submarines will be built in Australia, but here in Adelaide, along with the establishment of the training Academy, which is going to be so important in terms of making sure that we have the people we need with the skills that are required to undertake this massive endeavour. So, it's a really significant day. It's one of the biggest land swaps in the history of the Commonwealth and South Australia, and it just shows the extent of partnership which is happening right now between our two governments.

PANTELIS: All right. Are we putting all our eggs in the one basket in defence with this AUKUS deal, do you think? I know the defence needs of the country are many, varied and different all the way through, but too much on submarines?

MARLES: No, the spend on submarines will be less than 10 per cent of the entire defence budget, but it will be a completely game changing capability for Australia. I mean, we become just the seventh country in the world to operate nuclear powered submarines. We have never operated at such an elite level in terms of military capability in our country's history, but we need to do that. I mean, this gives us the ability to project as a country. It gives us an ability to hold any adversary at risk much further from our shores. In other words, any country that seeks to move against Australia, these submarines will give them pause for thought. It is fundamentally important in terms of the strategic setting of the nation. But, as I said, it's less than 10 per cent of the ongoing defence budget. And so you're right, there are a whole range of needs in defence, in terms of our land forces, in terms of having a modern fighter plane fleet and we will continue to have all of that.

PANTELIS: I want to ask you about Optus and their poultry offer. Many seeing it as poultry anyway. 200GB of data to 10 million customers, including businesses that have been affected in a big way- lost money. Should the telecommunications industry watchdog make them pay compensation?

MARLES: Compensation is going to be an issue which I think will play out now in respect of the outage which occurred with Optus. And the telecommunications industry Ombudsman has advised clients of Optus to keep their receipts. No doubt that's what clients of Optus will be doing and I think we will see that play out. What I think matters is that Optus from here works obviously with their customers around this, but also is completely clear and transparent about what actually occurred with this outage. I mean, as you say, there was customers who didn't have the service for up to 14 hours. Our lives are so connected these days that being offline for that period of time will have had a very significant impact on many businesses. And from the government's point of view, we were very concerned to make sure that the safety of Australians was maintained through the 000 and so a lot of work was done to ensure that was maintained throughout that period. But even then, Optus landline holders weren't able to access that service for that period of time. So, this is a significant outage and it's really important that Optus is clear with its customers as to exactly what happened.

PANTELIS: Absolutely. I want to move on to a couple of other topics quickly because time is limited for me and for you. The government's begun releasing asylum seekers after the High Court ruled people can't be held in indefinite detention, including a man who was detained completing a jail sentence for child sex offences, for goodness sake.

MARLES: Well, I certainly understand the sense of anxiety that will be felt in the community given this decision of the High Court. I mean, from the government's point of view, what we will now do is ensure that this release happens with the very tightest conditions surrounding it. We'll also look at what our options are moving forward as a government, particularly when the full decision of the High Court comes down. We have access to the full reasoning of the High Court to look at what steps the Commonwealth government can then take. And in considering that, obviously we want to ensure that those steps are completely legally robust. But in the meantime, we will be ensuring that these releases happen with the strictest possible conditions around them.

PANTELIS: Lastly, I want to ask you about cost of living, because Australians, I think, and I judge it on response from people ringing in and texting in here, are increasingly frustrated with the effect the cost of living crisis is beginning to have. Interest rates up again, people struggling to pay ever spiralling energy bills. People tell me that the government seemed preoccupied by the voice referendum, the lead up to that, and images now of the PM's trip overseas we’re seen dancing in the Cook Islands as part of the hospitality thing, which all politicians have to do and look silly with a garnish around their- forever immemorial as time has goes-

PANTELIS: Yeah, I’ve been there.

PANTELIS: So, people are saying you're not doing enough. You're disconnected from the reality of people's day to day living pressures. What's your response to that?

MARLES: Look, from the very first moment that we came to office, it was really clear that cost of living would be the dominant issue. And we are very mindful about the impact of this on household budgets, on the budgets of businesses. I mean, this is a really difficult period. And the reason we are mindful of it from day one is because the inflationary environment that we were seeing around the world and its impact on Australia had already begun prior to the government coming to power. Indeed, the single biggest jump in inflation occurred under the former government. But as a result of that, what we've done is focus in two respects. One is to make sure that in terms of the way in which we're managing the budget, we're not contributing to inflationary pressure-

PANTELIS: You’re hiring a lot of public servants, though.

MARLES: Yeah, but we've done something the Liberals never did, and that is deliver a surplus. And that is a demonstration of the prudent way in which the government's gone about managing the budget and where we have engaged in expenditure, it has been focused on easing the pressure around cost of living, be it putting downward pressure on energy prices, be it tripling the bulk billing incentive, which came into effect as of last week, which will enable a whole lot more people to access bulk billing in terms of services, in terms of their health, cheaper medicines, more affordable childcare, fee-free TAFE. There's been a range of measures that we've been putting in place to focus on the cost of living, a lot of which have been done in opposition- with the opposition of the Liberal Party. But we are singularly focused on the impact of cost of living. It remains the key issue that is garnering our attention. And sure, the Prime Minister was in China, the Prime Minister is in China around dealing with questions of trade. In stabilising that relationship, we've seen a lot more trade come online. That equals more jobs in Australia that equals the ability to deal with this situation here in Australia. I think what we've seen in The Pacific is that our national security is so located in many ways in the Pacific, and we saw the former government take it’s eye off the ball there and in turn, that has the potential to have a massive impact on our way of life. So, it is important that the Prime Minister is doing what he's doing. While it's happening overseas…cost of living is the key issue. All the predictions are that we are past the worst of the inflationary increases, but it is still there. So, we look with some hope to the future, but we absolutely understand the pressure that people are under now and that's why we put in place the measures we have.

PANTELIS: Richard Marles, appreciate your time. Thank you.

MARLES: Thanks, Matthew.


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