Television Interview, Today Show

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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; Hamas-Israel conflict.

SYLVIA JEFFREYS, HOST: Well, the US Congress has this morning passed legislation allowing the sale of AUKUS nuclear submarines to Australia. Joining us to discuss this landmark decision is Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles in Geelong, Victoria. Richard, good morning to you. You must be relieved and happy at this news. So, when are we likely to take possession of these subs?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I am very happy and it is a historic moment. It's the first time America has ever authorised the sale of a nuclear-powered submarine to any other country. And this really allows us to walk down the path that we announced in March of this year around Australia acquiring a nuclear-powered submarine capability. The answer to your question is we will get this in the time frame that we announced in March, in the early 2030s, so about ten years away. But it's really important that we do get Virginia class submarines at that moment, because that's what will close what had been a capability gap, which really opened up under the former government through a decade of indecision. And without it, we would struggle to transition from what is the Collins class submarines that we have today through to when we're making our own nuclear-powered submarines, which won't come off the production line until the early 2040s. So, this is a really big moment. It's a historic step. We're very grateful, clearly, to the American Congress, to both sides of politics who supported this, and obviously to the Biden administration, who've been championing this from day one.

JEFFREYS: What message are you hoping this sends to our adversaries?

MARLES: Well, I think what it makes clear is that you've got a bipartisan support for both the relationship with Australia, but also for this arrangement within the US. And Republicans and Democrats alike are supporting this. And, of course, this has bipartisan support in Australia, as it does in the United Kingdom. And that's what gives this arrangement real power and endurance, which is what it's going to need, because we're talking about a multi decade arrangement to get to a point where Australia has this capability itself. But the strategic significance of Australia being able to operate nuclear-powered submarines is profound. This will be hugely important in terms of Australia's own defence and will ensure that – I mean, it really represents the biggest leap in our own military capability in more than a century to be able to operate submarines of this kind.

JEFFREYS: I guess the concern is though– yeah, it is a huge step in that direction. A lot can happen, though, in ten years. Do you have any concerns that a change in administration in America could jeopardise the agreement altogether?

MARLES: I think really the message that comes through from what occurred last night, but over the course of the last year, really, with the passage of this legislation through the Congress, is this enjoys the support of both Republicans and Democrats. And that means that, I think, whatever size or shape of administration you see in the United States, but for that matter, it's true of governments in Australia as well and the United Kingdom, there is support for this. So, I do have confidence that this is going to endure in all three countries and enable us to, as a nation, be able to acquire this capability which is going to be so important for our future.

JEFFREYS: It's a win for Australia. So, does this add an element of pressure to you as you consider whether or not to support the United States in the Red Sea? Is there a bit of quid pro quo involved?

MARLES: Well, I mean, it's a separate issue, but we will work through that request. That's a request that's been received at an operational level through the Combined Maritime Force, whose headquarters is in Bahrain. We've been a part of that for a long time. Indeed, there are Australians embedded in that headquarters right now. And in the past we have operated Navy vessels as part of the CMF's activities. Our focus has been with our Navy on our immediate region, on activities in the East China Sea. For example, I welcomed back HMAS Toowoomba a couple of days ago, who'd been in a regional presence deployment there. But we'll work through this request in the normal course, as we always do when we get requests of this kind from the US.

JEFFREYS: Okay, just quickly, we're almost out of time, but I want to ask about Australia's decision to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. It has been seen as a rare split with our American allies and there seems to be some division within the Labor party on this. Backbencher, Josh Burns, criticising the decision this morning in the papers. Were you blindsided by the Prime Minister's decision on this?

MARLES: Well, no, I've been a part of this decision and I don't accept the premise of the question. I mean, I think there's obviously a tragedy which is playing out in the Middle East and it's a deeply complicated issue and one where I think if you take kind of an extra step and look at what all countries are saying, there is actually a significant amount of consistency. You've heard out of the United States in the last couple of days, a concern for the humanitarian situation in the Middle East. And that's what we've been expressing in the decision that we've taken. The decision that we took a couple of nights ago in the UN General Assembly had accompanying with it a statement that we issued with both Canada and with New Zealand, which absolutely recognised Israel's right to defend itself, which utterly condemned Hamas’ outrage in its attacks on October 7, and subsequently to that, using people as human shields. But clearly, the humanitarian situation in Gaza has to be front and centre as well. And be it talking about innocent Israeli lives or innocent Palestinian lives, it's the same. And we need to be focused on the maintenance of that. And that's all that you see in the decision that we've taken. And I think the other point to make is that we've really made clear that any ceasefire can't be one sided. There has to be a release, an unconditional release of the hostages which Hamas has held. And in the humanitarian pause which we urged that took place a few weeks ago, we saw the release of hostages, which was so important. So, we're going to continue to advocate for humanitarian concerns as this goes forward. We do so very much acknowledging Israel's right to defend itself and we do so very much condemning the role of Hamas.

JEFFREYS: Richard Marles, great to have you on this morning. Thanks for your time.


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