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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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15 December 2023

SUBJECTS: AUKUS legislation passes US Congress; Hamas-Israel conflict; Geelong Ministerial Office vandalised; AEMO energy plan.

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: All right, so we've got this breakthrough out of us Congress this morning. The AUKUS deal managed to pass through the Senate yesterday. It's gone through the House. Now it's just waiting for the US president to sign off on the whole thing. So, joining us live is the Deputy Prime Minister and the Defence Minister Richard Marles. Richard, very good to see you this morning. So, for a moment there, it looked like this might not happen. So, are you relieved?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, it's a very significant moment. It's really a colossal achievement and we very much want to thank the United States administration. Obviously, we want to thank the Congress and all those members of the House and the Senate who work so tirelessly to see this pass. There's been a lot of effort on our part in terms of speaking with them over the course of the last year, really, since we announced the pathway by which Australia would acquire the nuclear-powered submarines back in March. But this is the first time in American history that America and its congress have authorised the sale of nuclear-powered submarines. It enables Australians to go and work in the nuclear enterprise in the US. It enables us to maintain American Virginia class submarines in Australia. And most significantly, it gives Australia an exemption from the defence control export regime which exists in the United States. And that is a once in a generation achievement which genuinely creates what we've been seeking, which is a seamless defence industrial base across Australia and the US and with the UK.

STEFANOVIC: You are relieved, though? Yes.

MARLES: Well, look, I'm very gratified. I was pretty confident the whole way through. And to be honest, that's because of all the conversations I'd had and others had had with people across the political spectrum in the US. Everyone was deeply supportive of the relationship with Australia, but deeply supportive of this arrangement. So, I felt that at the end of the day, this is where we would get to. But this is a very significant moment and obviously we're very happy, but we are very grateful to the American administration, the Biden administration and the Congress.

STEFANOVIC: So, there was pushback from some parts of the US, though, out of concerns that they just wouldn't have enough subs for themselves. So, do you have any doubts about the timeline now, Minister?

MARLES: No. But there has always been an issue around ensuring that America maintains its own capability. And this really comes back to the original arrangement that we negotiated with the US, as we were doing this time last year. I mean, there is no nuclear-powered submarine showroom where you can just pick one off the shelf. These are the most complex machines that have been built by humanity. And there is an issue about making sure that America maintains its own capability, which is really why it's such a colossal gesture on the part of the United States to be willing to sell any nuclear-powered submarines to Australia. Why it was such an achievement back in March that we had this as the agreement with the United States for Australia to acquire this capability ourselves. The critical part of this, Pete, is that what it does is close a capability gap which had really opened up over the last ten years. But for attaining the Virginias in the early 2030s, we would have a real issue in transitioning from the Collins now to when we're ultimately building these submarines ourselves.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, so when do we get the first sub now?

MARLES: Well, it's on time. It's what we said back in March of last year– March of this year, I should say. And that is that we will be receiving the first in the early 2030s, in about a decade. And that is a decade earlier than what we inherited, if you like, when we came to office back in May of last year. And so this is really important. It's important because the Collins class submarines are a highly capable submarine, they're the ones that we operate right now. But as we go through the 2030s, they will increasingly lose their capability because the ability to detect them recharging their batteries, what's described as snorting, is going to be there. And so in order to maintain an evolving submarine capability, we really do need to have flagged Australian nuclear-powered subs in the water in the early 2030’s. And that's what the sale of the Virginias allows us to do.

STEFANOVIC: Minister, any friction with our American friends given we voted for a Gaza ceasefire at the UN and the US did not?

MARLES: No. I mean, this is obviously a very difficult situation internationally. We talk very closely with the United States about this issue, about our position and about the US position. You will have seen commentary coming from President Biden in the last few days expressing concern around the humanitarian situation in Gaza. And really that's what we are doing as well. The vote that we took in the last couple of days had accompanied with it a statement which we made with Canada, with New Zealand, again, two very much like minded countries which obviously expressed our concerns for the humanitarian situation in Gaza, but made clear of Israel's right to defend itself, made clear our condemnation of Hamas and its attacks on October 7. So, our position has been consistent. We talk very closely with the United States, as we do with the United Kingdom. And I think all of us understand where each of us is going.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah, well, off the back of that, your own office was targeted by pro-Palestinian vandals. So, how unsettling was that?

MARLES: Well, in some ways, I feel like the less we talk about that the better. In moments like that my principal concern, as you would expect, is for my staff, for their safety and their wellbeing. I was obviously in contact with them yesterday and they're fine. Look, we keep doing the business of trying to govern, and in this instance, you know, this is a really difficult situation internationally, it clearly does raise a whole lot of concerns for people in Australia in a variety of ways. We understand that. And those concerns are legitimate. I mean, this is complicated. But our position as a Government is in focusing on Israel's right to defend itself, in focusing on the condemnation of Hamas's attacks, to also make clear that there has to be a focus on the humanitarian situation as well.

STEFANOVIC: Richard, I know you've got to go to your next interview, but I just want to ask you about this report this morning that AEMO is forecasting coal to be gone within 15 years. So, is it a pipe dream that enough renewable energy will be ready by then, given the slow build out of transmission lines?

MARLES: Well, what it absolutely confirms is how important it is for Australian Governments to be making sure that we're investing in poles and wires, in the infrastructure of the nation to be able to take on more renewable energy. That's why we went to the last election making that position clear and making it clear that we need to be pursuing it, which was what we've been doing through our rewiring the nation initiative. And so this utterly confirms and validates the focus of the Albanese Government around rewiring the nation. And we're really confident we can do that and make sure that we get renewables in the grid in a reliable way.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. Richard Marles, the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, a big morning for you. Thank you for your time, as always. We will talk to you again soon.


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