Television interview, ABC News Breakfast

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

Media contact

02 6277 7800

Release content

15 December 2023

SUBJECTS: AUKUS legislation passes US Congress; US request for assets in the Red Sea.

EMMA REBELLATO, HOST: to another breaking news story overnight and legislation to allow the US to sell three Virginia class submarines to Australia as part of the AUKUS deal has now passed through both houses of US Congress and is on its way to Joe Biden's desk. Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles joins us now from Geelong. Minister, good morning. Thank you very much for joining us.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: It's a pleasure. Great to be here.

REBELLATO: Well, you must be pretty relieved that this has passed Congress overnight?

MARLES: Well, we're very pleased. We were confident that this is what would happen. Obviously, we're very grateful to the Biden administration, but also to members of the Senate and the House, across both the Republicans and the Democrats. I mean, in all the work that we were doing in speaking with members of the Senate and the House, what was clear is that there was genuine bipartisan support, both for the relationship with Australia, but also for this arrangement. But this is a historic achievement. It's the first time in American history that there has been the authorisation of a sale of a nuclear-powered submarine to another country. It's the first time that you will see people from another country working on American nuclear-powered submarines, and that's really important so Australians can get their skills to be able to operate these submarines and maintain them. And really importantly, what this sees is Australia being exempt from the defence export control regimes which exist in America, so that we now will have genuinely a seamless defence industrial base between Australia and the US, which has been a long sought after dream, actually, but is so important in making sure that the whole AUKUS arrangement can work.

REBELLATO: There was some concern about those export control measures in the US and this whole thing isn't done and dusted, though, now, is it? Because a future US president still has to give their approval to all these things happening, including the first Virginia class submarine to make its way to Australia. Are you confident that that will still happen or are you concerned that a future US president, we're talking two or three terms time, could squash it all?

MARLES: Well, I am confident. And the reason why I'm confident is because I think that the critical thing that was demonstrated in the passage of this legislation is the bipartisan nature of this arrangement as it's seen in America. And the bipartisanship and the support in America for the relationship with Australia. That's really what comes through loud and clear. Republicans and Democrats alike supported this legislation as it passed the Congress. And why I think all Australians can have a sense of confidence about this multi decade arrangement actually coming to pass is because it has bipartisan support in the US, but it has it here in Australia and it has it in the United Kingdom. And that is so essential to ensuring that this can endure over a long period of time. We do see arrangements and understandings between countries have that level of support, fundamentally that underpins the Alliance itself. But it is so necessary for Australia to ultimately acquire this capability, which in turn is going to be critically important in terms of our own defence posture going forward.

REBELLATO: The first Virginia class submarine won't be heading to Australia for quite a number of years. When will the money be transferred across to the US for that? We're talking four billion Australian dollars.

MARLES: Yeah, well, we'll be working through with the American administration around the transfer of that contribution to the American industrial base in the coming years. That is really important from an American point of view, in terms of making sure that they have their own capabilities maintained, that we get Virginia class submarines out of service and into operation in the US. I mean, this was always the challenge when we were talking about America providing Virginia class submarines to Australia. And that's why we were so pleased to reach that arrangement back in March of this year. It's critical from our point of view, because without it, we would have a capability gap. That really opened up under the last Government in Australia through a decade of indecision. And what we will see is our Collins class submarines, which are highly capable today in 2023 through the back part of the 2030s, reducing capability as there becomes greater technology to detect them recharging their batteries. And that's why it's really important that we do have something to close the gap before we are building our own submarines, which won't come online until the early 2040s. So, getting those Virginias in the water under an Australian flag in the early 2030s is absolutely critical. That's why this legislation overnight is so profoundly important for Australia's national interest.

REBELLATO: So, what's the next step now? What are we talking in terms of jobs, in terms of the economy, in terms, just to get things moving now?

MARLES: Well, there is a huge effort which is already underway in terms of standing up this enterprise in Australia. We already have established the Australian Submarine Agency, which is busily staffing up. We've put in place legislation around the regulation of what will become Australia's nuclear submarine enterprise next year. We will see the first significant maintenance of an American submarine in Australian waters, which will happen in the second part of next year, and that was a result of the trilateral Defence Ministers’ meeting that I had in America a couple of weeks ago. We're seeing infrastructure builds in both HMAS Stirling in Perth, but also at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in Adelaide. We've seen land swaps with the South Australian Government which enabled that to happen. So, this is all very much happening as we speak. But to put it in context, what this will ultimately represent is thousands of jobs in Adelaide and in Perth, but actually it'll be around the country as we stand up our whole industrial base to support what will be the biggest industrial endeavour in our country's history, and that is to build nuclear-powered submarines in Australia. This will be the highest tech production line we've ever seen in Australia, one of the highest tech production lines in the world, and it is going to be a great national effort to get Australia to a point of being able to own, build and operate nuclear-powered submarines.

REBELLATO: Minister, we heard yesterday the US has asked Australia to send a warship to the Red Sea to help combat the Iranian backed Houthi rebels. When will you make a decision on that? Will Australia send a warship there?

MARLES: Look, we'll go through the normal course of assessing this request. It's come through at an operational level from the Combined Maritime Force, which is headquartered in Bahrain. We've been a part of that for a very long time. Indeed, there are Australians who are embedded in that headquarters right now. And in the past, we absolutely have sent navy vessels to participate in the activities of the CMF. I need to say that obviously our focus has been in terms of our naval effort on our immediate region. A couple of days ago, I welcomed back HMAS Toowoomba, who had been involved in a regional presence deployment in the East China Sea and in our part of the world, and HMAS Stalwart and HMAS Brisbane are coming back from activities in that part of the world as well. So that's been our focus, but we will consider this in the normal course and work through with the Americans about how we can best contribute.

REBELLATO: Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, thanks for joining us.

MARLES: Thanks for having me.


Other related releases