Television interview, Sunrise

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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; US request for assets in the Red Sea.

MATT SHIRVINGTON, HOST: In breaking news, there's been an historic moment in Washington with the US Congress officially approving the landmark AUKUS deal with Australia. Legislation has just passed the House of Reps, which will allow America to sell us nuclear powered submarines. For the first time, the US has agreed to the sale of the Virginia class boats to any country. The bill will now land on President Biden's desk to be signed into law. Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles is with us this morning. Well, this is good news for Australia. What's your response?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, this is a colossal achievement, Shirvo. And it's great to be speaking with you this morning. And this is the first time in American history that there has been an authorisation to sell a nuclear powered submarine to any country. And it's obviously critical in terms of Australia acquiring this capability, moving down the pathway that we announced in March of last year. But it's not just the sale. It allows Australians to work in the nuclear enterprise in the US, to gain skills and experience. It allows us to maintain American flagged nuclear powered submarines in Australia, which we're planning to do next year. And most critically, it exempts Australia from the defence export control legislation, which exists in the US. And that is a once in a generation achievement. It really does create a seamless defence industrial base between our two countries, which has been a long sought after goal. So, we're very grateful to the Administration, we're very grateful to the Congress, and it really is a huge achievement.

SHIRVINGTON: It'll be a mix of used subs and new subs. There are a couple of concerns, though, aren't there, at the moment, the US production capacity- they may not even have enough capacity to make their own subs for their own navy. Are you concerned about delivery times?

MARLES: No, but it is a challenge and we've known that all along, which is why we'll make a contribution to the American industrial base to get more Virginia class submarines out of service so that the American capability is maintained. I mean, one of the points here which people don't necessarily understand is there is no showroom where you can go and pick a brand new Virginia class submarine off the shelf. These are the most complex machines that humanity have ever built. And so it is really important that we have the industrial base which allows both submarines to be maintained in service in the US, but obviously built for Australia. And that's why this was always a pretty complicated deal. But it's really important that we get these Virginias in the next ten years, because without it, we have a capability gap. And that's really opened up on the former government's watch. In order to make this work, we need to get these three Virginia class submarines in the time frame that we're talking about so that we can have an evolving submarine capability from what we have now with the Collins class submarines through to when we're making our own submarines, which will be ready in the early 2040s.

SHIRVINGTON: Just quickly, before I let you go as well, the US has requested we send one of our warships to help guard the Red Sea, where Iranian backed rebels from Yemen have been attacking commercial tankers. You sounded a little cagey yesterday on whether we would send one or not. Why is that? Are you concerned that we'll be dragged further, wider into this Middle Eastern conflict?

MARLES: Well, it's not that so much. I mean, we'll work through this request. It's been received at an operational level. The Combined Maritime Force is something that we've been a part of for a long time. We've got Australians embedded there now in Bahrain, which is where it's headquartered. And we've had ships participate in the CMF's activities in the past. I mean, our focus has been in terms of our naval activities on our immediate region. And two days ago, I welcomed back HMS Toowoomba from a regional presence deployment in the East China Sea and in that part of the world, which has been our focus. But we'll look at this and consider it.

SHIRVINGTON: Yeah. Just to clarify to Australia wasn't the only nation asked, it was one of 39 nations to potentially send a warship to that area. Richard Marles, thanks for your time this morning.

MARLES: Thanks, Shirvo.


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