21 November 2023
SUBJECTS: Visit to India; ICC World Cup Final; Australia-India defence cooperation; Indo-Pacific; Unsafe and unprofessional interaction with PLA-N; Quad; AUKUS.
SIDHANT SIBAL, JOURNALIST: India and Australia have increased momentum in the relationship with high level visits; with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Australia and the Australian Prime Minister visiting India two times. This relationship has many aspects whether its cricket or diaspora with me is the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and the Defence minister Richard Marles to speak about this relationship but starting with cricket first congratulation for that victory. We saw the visuals of you handing over the Cricket World Cup to your team. So what was the sense there the electrifying moment we saw the entire country saw and across the world we saw all your cricket team saw that amazing victory?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, it was an incredible experience, it was an extraordinary experience for me. I wasn't expecting you to do that. But I mean, the team played an amazing game on just the most extraordinary stage. This is the largest cricket ground in the world, completely full. I've never heard noise like it. Those first first few Australian wickets where we were getting a bit nervous there. The noise of the crowd was astounding and actually I spoke to the Australian cricketers afterwards in the dressing room about whether that was something they had heard before but what's really clear is that for Australian cricket now India is so familiar. All players play here in the IPL, they all said they've heard noise like that in various IPL games. Actually, it's their second home in so many ways and I think that that does speak to through cricket, how the relationship between our two countries has grown so significantly.
JOURNALIST: And cricket in many senses has become very symbolic of India, Australia relationship. In fact, the Indian cricket team from newly independent India visited Australia in 1947-48 as well.
MARLES: They did and Bradman was the captain in that tour. My father saw Bradman play once, and it was in that tour against India and it was a very iconic moment. And since then, Indian tours of Australia have been significant. I first remember watching India play in 77/78. And Bishan Bedi, who sadly just passed away was the captain in that tour, it was a great series. But I think now you know, as global cricket has become centered on India, for us, Everest really is beating India in India and the Australia-India matches are becoming really the pinnacle of the game. Obviously, Australia-England has a lot of tradition, but I think increasingly we see top matches and series against India as being the really significant moment. And you're right, that it really is emblematic of the relationship. You know, we share a passion as two countries for this sport. And we obviously have a very significant relationship with the United States, but you can't have a conversation with a taxi driver in Washington or New York, which is the same as the conversation you'll have with a taxi driver here in Delhi, where you feel passionately about the topic and it binds us very closely together.
JOURNALIST: Talking about this relationship, yes, cricket diplomacy is one of the elements and our team also played very well. But essentially, how do you characterise this relationship? We saw the Defence Strategic Review talking about increasing engagement with India so what kind of engagement are you looking at, especially in terms of training, and in terms of Indian participation in Australian exercises?
MARLES: Well, perhaps to go back a step and think about it at the highest level, we see that we have a huge strategic alignment with India and we have shared values with India. I mean, you know, for both Australia and India, our largest trading partner is China and our biggest security anxiety is China. So we share something very similar. We share an ocean and in that sense, we live in the same neighbourhood. But we also share values; that we're both democracies, we both have freedom of speech, the rule of law, a whole lot of things in common, very much including cricket. And you put all that together and what becomes really clear is that from our perspective, and I think and hope from the Indian perspective as well, the significance of this relationship going forward, off a very strong base is hugely important for us and defence is a key component of that. So we are seeing a much greater tempo of exercises. We've seen Malabar for the first time happen in Australian waters and I was able to meet Indian Admiral on Sydney Harbor this year. Exercise AUSINDEX, Exercise AUSTRAHIND, are all happening this year and observers at exercise Talisman Sabre in Australia. So you have a really significant tempo of exercises, and this is building a familiarity, interoperability between our defence forces, a comfort and again off a very strong base which does underpin the significance of the relationship.
JOURNALIST: So greater strategic alignment. Increasingly both countries are looking to each as security partners, you were on board the Indian Navy's P8 as well.
MARLES: Yes, which was a thrill for me last year. Coming to India was the first bilateral visit which I did in my role as Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister and I had the enormous honour to be on an Indian Navy P8, flying from Goa to Delhi. P8s are sensitive platforms, they do surveillance and acquire intelligence and information. And indeed we are seeing much greater interoperability between our P8s, the P8s in the Australian Air Force and the P8s with the Indian Navy and there is so much we can do there together. It speaks to the comfort, trust, and the joint deterrence which comes from seeing Australia and India working closely together and that is very much in in both countries' interest.
JOURNALIST: How do you plan to increase military interoperability and there is a logistical pact as well signed in 2020, which aims at logistic cooperation, any update on that and how we are moving towards this convergence?
MARLES: The logistical agreement that we signed in 2020 has been really important. The significance of it is that it has enabled the increased tempo of exercises we’ve been able to undertake this year and we hope will continue going forward. Underpinning all of those exercises is the logistics arrangement which has put platforms and support to be able to be put in place, so these exercises can occur. But we have also seen it play a part in humanitarian assistance. For example, last year we saw the Tsunami in Tonga and we were able to take Indian humanitarian assistance to Tonga on board our platforms and again that logistics agreement was a critical part of that. And the diplomatic power, the assistance which comes from Australia and India being seen to work together, in that instance to provide assistance to a Pacific nation like Tonga is really really significant and greatly appreciated.
JOURNALIST: How do countries plan to increase their engagement in the Pacific together? I’m asking because the Indian Prime Minister was in Papua New Guinea and under Prime Minister Albanese, how do you see the relationship going towards a further upgrade?
MARLES: Firstly, on the Pacific firstly, we really welcomed the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Papua New Guinea which occurred just prior to him coming to Australia. Papua New Guinea is a country I've been to many times and know well and I can tell you the significance of having Prime Minister Modi, having the Indian Prime Minister in Port Moresby was absolutely enormous. And we very much welcome an increased Indian presence in the Pacific. Dr. Jaishankar, the Foreign Minister also was in Fiji last year. Again, that was a really significant moment for Fiji to have Dr. Jaishankar there. So we are seeing an increased Indian presence in the region. And it is really important. The Pacific is an area of greater strategic context. Countries like ours, which share values of democracy but importantly, a commitment to the global rules-based order having a greater presence together in the Pacific is from our perspective, very welcomed, but I know is also very welcomed by the countries of the Pacific. I think to your other question. Firstly, Prime Minister Albanese and Prime Minister Modi have formed a strong relationship. I had the real honour last night of being able to sit with Prime Minister Modi for some of the match, and it was incredible to see the reaction of the Indian crowd to Prime Minister Modi. We at one moment took a selfie and the first thing Prime Minister Modi said to me is you have to send that to your Prime Minister right now. I did. It was in the middle of the night, I got a response straightaway so I can tell you that our Prime Minister was watching the game albeit at two or three in the morning and he wanted me to pass on his regards to Prime Minister Modi. So they have a very close relationship. And I think what that speaks to in a personal way is what we've been saying how important this relationship is going forward. We haven't talked about the Indian diaspora in Australia but that's also a huge element now of the relationship. It is a growing community in Australia, probably the fastest-growing community in Australia. It is in many ways, I think changing the face of Australia in a really wonderful way. It's not going to be long before we have people of Indian heritage playing in the Australian cricket team. We look forward to that day. And so– but that community actually transforms the relationship between our two countries as one of close friends to actually being one of family.
JOURNALIST: So several aspects now moving from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean. How do you see the situation in the Indian Ocean? Because this is an ocean you share with India as well and has the Indian side offered you to do exercises around the Andaman Islands?
MARLES: Well, we do see the Indian Ocean as being more contested. It is obviously very important to us. Our Defence Strategic Review that we announced in April of this year identified the Indian Ocean and specifically the northeast part of the Indian Ocean as being critically strategic to Australia's security and to our national interest. But we do see it being increasingly contested. And so we want to work very closely with India in relation to the Indian Ocean. It is where we are neighbours. I think what we will see coming out of our engagements with our Indian counterparts in our meetings today is an increased focus on how we can work more closely together in the Indian Ocean. We already have a liaison officer in the Fusion Centre just outside of Delhi here which is really important for us. But I think particularly with maritime domain awareness, sharing of information where we're working closely together, we are doing more with our P8s as I said earlier. I mean all of this paints a picture of an increased engagement between our two countries in the Indian Ocean. And I actually think that is where we give rise to the greatest power of deterrence when the world can see Australia and India working so closely together in the Indian Ocean.
JOURNALIST: China remains a big worry whether it's the Indian Ocean, whether it's the Pacific Ocean, or the entire Indo-Pacific region. What's your view about an increasingly aggressive China whether it is with India, whether it's with the Philippines or whether it's with you; we saw your reaction to the actions of the Chinese vessel. So if you can talk about the Chinese aggressive actions in the region?
MARLES: Well have had the incidents over the course of the last week with HMAS Toowoomba, where we did have Australian divers who were in the water, that our ship had some fishing nets tangled around its propellers, it was being shadowed by a Chinese vessel, we made clear to the Chinese vessel that our divers were in the water fixing the propellers but there was behaviour there which was assertive and aggressive and it did, in our view, equate to being unprofessional. We've made our concerns known to China. It’s not the first time that we've seen an incident of this kind and it is concerning because you know our engagement in the South China Sea, and East China Sea in that part of the world is around asserting the rules-based order, freedom of navigation and that matters to Australia's national interest. I mean most of our trade, literally most of it goes through the South China Sea. And seeing the rules-based order be maintained is profoundly important for us. I think you know, we are seeing a Chinese assertiveness as you say, we're seeing a huge military build-up by China. And all of this is changing the strategic landscape of our region and the world. But of course, the country which has really borne the brunt of this, who has experienced the most of it is India around the line of actual control. And so be it there, be it in the South China Sea, we are seeing attempts to shape the rules-based order. And what this says to us is that, you know, now's the time to be building our own capability which we're doing, but now is the time for us to be working very closely with friends and India is front and centre of that.
JOURNALIST: Are you looking at the defence angle within the Quad? And secondly are you looking to expand the Quad?
MARLES: Firstly I think Quad is the Quad, we are very comfortable with the four countries operating together and we think there is a natural alignment between our four countries and building that and increasing our cooperation across a whole lot of spheres, we are committed to doing so. There's no talk of changing the membership of the Quad. It's not a defence– it's not a piece of defence architecture, and so we don't intend for it to become that. This is countries engaging with each other around a range of mutual interests beyond the sphere of defence and we're very comfortable with that as well. So we see the Quad as being an important meeting of countries with shared values and shared interests working together not in the defence sphere, but working together in other spheres and we highly value it but we're very comfortable with where it is at the moment.
JOURNALIST: AUKUS and India engagement, are you looking at it?
MARLES: So pillar two of AUKUS which is looking at sharing greater technologies innovation technologies, we think, the three countries Australia, the US and the UK, open-minded to the idea of expanding that cooperation but to be to begin with, we've got to get that part of AUKUS pillar 2 going in a more significant way. And so we're very focused on giving it meaning if I could put it that way within our three countries first. But I would you to know, fundamentally Australia requires nuclear-powered submarine capability under pillar one or pillar two, what AUKUS is is a technology-sharing arrangement between the US, UK and Australia. In terms of Australia and India, we are increasing our technology sharing as well. Again in our engagements today, we'll be talking more about expanding the cooperation between our respective defence and science organizations, we are seeing a greater engagement between our defence industry and the technology-sharing aspect which is at the heart of all because we're seeing happen between Australia and India anyway.
JOURNALIST: But thank you so much for speaking to WION. It's lovely to have you here in India at a time when your cricket team has won the World Cup but we also played very well. Thank you so much.
MARLES: You played very well, and enormous honour to be here and a great privilege to be at the game last night.
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Opening remarks - Australia-India bilateral Defence Ministers' meeting, New Delhi, India