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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30 November 2023

SUBJECTS: NZYQ High Court case; Unsafe and unprofessional interaction with PLA-N; Defence Trade Controls Amendment Bill; AUKUS Defence Ministers’ Meeting.

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Richard Marles, it's good to have you on the program and I guess this might be for the last time this year. Now, you'll shortly leave Canberra at the end of what's been a pretty torrid week of domestic politics. One quick one on that hanging over from the week, is Peter Dutton a protector of paedophiles?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don't think there is anybody who turns the volume up on rhetoric more than the Leader of the Opposition and there's a really simple point to be made here, the gap between Peter Dutton’s rhetoric and his action is a chasm. For all Peter Dutton talks about, he was the person in 2016 who provided NZYQ with a visa, now for all that Peter Dutton talks about, when the Opposition had a chance to vote for stronger legislation on Monday of this week, they voted against it.

JENNETT: Does that make him though, a protector of paedophiles?

MARLES: What's absolutely clear is that you've got a Leader of the Opposition who doesn't shy away from turning the volume up on rhetoric, who talks a tough game, but the reality of that game is very, very different. I mean, these are complex issues and we are working through them with a mind to have community safety front and centre. And we are doing that to keep Australians safe.

JENNETT: Are you reluctant to repeat that phrase? Because colleagues have made it; Clare O’Neil’s made it, Anika Wells has made that accusation.

MARLES: And they've made the point because the legislation that we were putting through on Monday would have made the situation– will make the situation much more difficult for people charged with child sex offenses–

JENNETT: But they had political reasons for not supporting it, including they said that it didn't go far enough and in many ways that bill will now be superseded by what happens next.

MARLES: But it is always about the politics from the Leader of the Opposition and what is absolutely clear is the gap between his tough talk and his reality is a chasm. We see that across the actions of the Opposition. When he had an opportunity to vote to make life much more difficult for those who had been charged with child sex offenses, to be protecting young people, they voted against that legislation on Monday. No ifs, no buts.

JENNETT: Alright, let's leave domestic politics behind and go to defence matters. The visiting Chinese diplomat Liu Jianchao was approached in meetings yesterday by both Penny Wong and Peter Dutton about, registering protests, I suppose around the HMAS Toowoomba incident. There's no public indication that he or anyone in the communist regime is in any way repentant about this. In fact, he's made public remarks that suggest quite the opposite. Is that an acceptable response?

MARLES: Well, we have raised this concern with China and the answer to this question is that we have called out this incident as being both unsafe and unprofessional. When there is interaction between militaries it needs to happen in a manner which is safe, and which is professional and that's not what we saw with the incident that occurred with HMAS Toowoomba. That's why–

JENNETT: Did you ever expect an acknowledgement of that? Clearly you haven't received one?

MARLES: Well we’ve not, but we've made clear our view. And our view is that this was both unsafe and unprofessional. We've made that view very clear to China, which we did almost immediately on being able to properly ascertain the facts of this case, which is obviously the process that we went through. In doing that we did do a demarche of the Chinese military, which is what we would do as a matter of course here and it has been raised in the manner that you've described.

JENNETT: Is that the end of the matter, though? Yes, there's been an escalation, there'd be multiple steps, as you say, but is that it?

MARLES: Well, we will continue to assert the fact that this is unsafe and unprofessional. But I think the other point to make here is that none of this will deter us from engaging in the very normal practice of asserting the rules-based order within the region in which we live. In this instance asserting freedom of navigation and being able to exercise our rights under international law on the high seas. We are going to continue to do that irrespective of the activities that we've seen here from China.

JENNETT: One final one from Liu Jianchao, he actually observed in public statements in Sydney, naturally you send your ships to monitor and identify and to do anything to prepare for any wrong happenings, and he suggested that Australia would do the same if a Chinese ship were lurking in international waters. Would Australia?

MARLES: That's not the case. We have seen Chinese surveillance ships in and around Australia in recent years and to be clear, they've operated in a manner which has been consistent with international law and that's something that we respect.

JENNETT: But they've not been approached or had sonar fired upon them?

MARLES: Well, clearly we've not done that. But the circumstance here was that we had Australian divers who were diving to free the propellers of HMAS Toowoomba from fishing nets which had become caught on them. We made it really clear what our divers were doing, that there were divers in the water and it was in those circumstances that Chinese navy ship approached, very close, and did the sonar blasts which ended up causing minor injury but it could have been much worse. Now that's a circumstance which is unsafe, it is unprofessional and we have made that completely clear to China.

JENNETT: Alright, let's move on to some legislation you're putting to the Parliament today. Effectively it binds together Australia, the UK and the US into a highly trusted sharing relationship on military technology. And so I suppose like a protected military zone for free trade between those three partners. Does it mean that for all intents and purposes in that area of trade Australia is now like a 51st state of America, so free can those exchanges be?

MARLES: No, I think there's a leap that is made in the way in which you put that question. I mean, the first part is correct in the sense that what we are creating is a much freer environment in which trade can occur and you know, obviously in non-military goods and services we do that around the world. Military goods and services are protected by export controls, there's good reasons for that, but what we're doing here is with the United States and the United Kingdom, two trusted partners, we are removing a whole lot of red tape which would go with that in respect of those two countries so that we do create a much more seamless defence industrial base between the three countries.

JENNETT: So if that becomes free and cross border military technology trade, does it surrender sovereignty – as the former Pentagon official Bill Greenwalt, who is very familiar with these laws in the US jurisdiction, I think he helped write them – surrendering sovereignty, is it?

MARLES: No and frankly it's a ridiculous assertion. I mean, we're a trading island nation, we understand the benefits that trade provides to our country and what this will do is completely open up the opportunity for Australian defence industry to trade into both the United States and the United Kingdom. And to give you a sense of the magnitude of that, right now we, under our [DSGL] list, which is the controlled goods list, we have about $9 billion worth of exports which occur under that list right now, $5 billion of that goes to the United States and the UK. So in respect of those two countries, they account for the bulk of our defence industry trade. What we're now doing is removing the red tape which goes with those control regimes in respect of those two countries. This is going to be a huge opportunity for Australian defence industry and also exporting to those countries.

JENNETT: Could it also further skew, for those defence industry companies, that market? That is to say that it becomes so much more easy to access the US and the UK market, it does become less attractive or even impossible to share certain products, sell certain products to traditional customers like the UAE, Korea, New Zealand, Indonesia?

MARLES: Well, I don’t accept that. That we are making it easier in respect of some countries doesn’t then mean that there is a trade impediment elsewhere. Yes, we are strengthening the controls in respect of three specific loopholes, but the vast majority of what is currently traded on that list in respect of other countries will not be affected. I mean, the $4 billion worth of trade on that list right now which doesn't go to the United Kingdom and the United States still requires a permit for that trade to occur and that will happen going forward. So you know, defence industry is really important. There will continue to be defence industry trade with other countries, but the bulk of our trade is with these two countries now and creating a seamless industrial base is going to be critically important. But the other importance in this Greg, is that what it does is free up the flow of technology from the United States to Australia.

JENNETT: Does it lower the cost of those?

MARLES: Well, it certainly lowers the cost, it makes it much easier in terms of the transition or the transfer of that technology and that is going to be utterly essential to delivering a nuclear-powered submarine capability and to developing AUKUS Pillar Two.

JENNETT: Which takes us to your forthcoming travel, you're about to go to San Francisco for talks with AUKUS partners. The time is ticking now for the US to do its end of the bargain, for the US House and Senate to pass the relevant laws for AUKUS exports to Australia. Joe Biden said he wanted it done this year. That's 31 days. Is there any indication that it will happen?

MARLES: We're pretty hopeful about that. Obviously, I want to be respectful to the American processes. Ultimately, this is a matter for the United States Congress. But both myself and the Prime Minister have made representations to the Congress, to the Senate. In all the meetings I've had, I know all the meetings that the Prime Minister had, we've been met across the political spectrum in the United States with enormous support both for the Alliance with Australia but also for this regime of legislation and the creation of that seamless defence industrial base. And if we are able to achieve it, it genuinely is a once in a generation reform.

JENNETT: Is there a consequence if the 31st of December deadline, I know Joe Biden wouldn't call it a deadline, but if that wasn’t met, what would be the consequence of that?

MARLES: Well, I mean, we will continue to advocate our case in the American system and we very feel confident in the way in which the Administration is handling this, and in our work with the Administration, and in the fulfilling of the commitments that all three governments have made to each other around Australia acquiring a nuclear-powered submarine capability and no doubt that's what will be on the agenda as we talk at our trilateral Defence Ministers’ Meeting on Friday. But we feel confident that this is moving in the right direction and all the indications we've been given from lawmakers on the Hill and in Washington are positive.

JENNETT: Well, we’ll look for progress on that and no doubt get to follow up some of these things with you in the new year. Richard Marles, I hope you get a break over summer and thanks for joining us once again.

MARLES: Thanks Greg.

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