Radio Interview, Breakfast, FIVEaa

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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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21 February 2024

SUBJECTS: Surface Fleet Review, AUKUS.

HOST, WILL GOODINGS: A Momentous announcement yesterday for the future of the Australian Navy and the future of the South Australian economy – those two things inextricably linked that we spoke at length about yesterday and in previous days as we’ve interviewed the Premier. Today we speak with the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and Defence Minister Richard Marles following the announcement that is essentially not only the biggest expansion of the Navy’s fleet since the Second World War but, if realised, with 26 major surface combatants would have our Navy dwarfing the size of the Royal Navy in terms of major surface combatants, who number 19 today. It’s pretty remarkable to think about that taking place in Australia. The Deputy Prime Minister joins us now. Richard Marles, good morning to you.


GOODINGS: We’re well. Huge announcement yesterday. But we only know too well in South Australia the history of big defence announcements – the Attack submarines became SSN AUKUS. The Hunter frigates went from nine to six. In fact, I went back last night and read a bit of the Dibb report from 1986 to get a sense of how – what’s the scoreboard looks like for Australia when it comes to major defence announcements. And at the time it said something like we need eight or nine destroyers and a similar number of frigates. And in the 40 years since that we never really achieved any of those numbers. Why is this announcement yesterday going to be any different?

MARLES: Yeah, look, I mean those observations are right in the sense that that is the history that someone in my position bears as a legacy in trying to convince people that what we are saying today will be different. I think there’s a couple of points to make: firstly, what has happened in the past is that we’ve seen announcements made which go a long way into the future and there isn’t the proper budgetary allocation for it. So what we tried to do in making this announcement yesterday was make clear not just the vision for where we’re going but here is the money to pay for it. So over the course of the next decade it’s a $54 billion spend. There had been $43 billion allocated in the budget for our surface fleet before yesterday’s announcement. So yesterday we announced an increase in defence spending of $11 billion to see that this happens. So that really does set what we did yesterday apart from announcements that we’ve seen in the past because we’ve completely put our money where our mouth is, if you like, and made sure that the money is there to make this happen. We’re also really clear that, you know, there are challenges that we will face even with this being fully funded. There are always challenges when it comes to big defence projects, they’re complex, they’re large. It’s not – they can easily run into issues which see them run over time and over budget. So what we’ve made clear is that what we have – what is being planned to be built at the Osborne naval shipyard in terms of the Hunter frigates we will stick to, we will not change so that there are no additional add-ons. When we talk, for example, about acquiring a new general purpose frigate we are going to – we need to see that in service as quickly as possible. So we’re going to buy a product which is off the shelf. We’re not going to change it. We’re specifically looking at products or ships which are being constructed in the world today which are actually in service today. So, I mean, the technical language there is minimum viable capability, but we want to be making sure that we get something that can do the job which is simple, which is understood, and that’s where we are focusing our energy. So, I think those two in combination give a greater sense of confidence that what we’ve announced yesterday will actually come to pass. And the final point is that, you know, for Adelaide – true for Perth as well – but for Adelaide what we are putting in place is a decade or decades-long pipeline of work, which means that we really can walk down a path of continuous naval shipbuilding. And that’s been a key recommendation of the Defence Strategic Review, of the Surface Fleet Review, the need for us as a country to have continuous naval shipbuilding. Now, we’ve had naval shipbuilding. I think the truth is – and, in a sense you alluded to it in your question – probably the history of it in Australia and in Adelaide has been discontinuous shipbuilding.


MARLES: We need to actually commit to a pipeline so that the skills that we build up in that place, the ecosystem which will exist at the Osborne naval shipyard is something that people can rely on being – you know, if you’re parents and you’ve got young kids coming through school now, that is a job that you can go to and you can go to for life, and that governments will fund the training for you to do that job. And that’s why there’s such an emphasis in terms of what we’re announcing around the skills training so that we get the people that we need. But it is that focus on continuous, enduring shipbuilding which we see as being so fundamental to delivering the capability Australia needs but obviously it will have a massive impact, as you say, on the South Australian economy.

HOST, DAVID PENBERTHY: Yeah, the announcement yesterday charted a path over the ensuing decades to a state-of-the-art Navy for Australia. But the strategic environment at the moment is pretty fraught. Are you concerned about a capability gap for the rest of this decade?

MARLES: Well, I mean, the answer to that is we are very much aware of the need to get capability into service quicker than what we imagined. I mean, we inherited a declining Navy. We inherited from the former government the oldest surface fleet that had been operating in Australia since the end of the Second World War. HMAS Anzac specifically was a ship in a pretty terrible state. And so it’s for that reason that we are accelerating the acquisition of a new general purpose frigate that we want to see the first of which being in service by the end of this decade. And that’s about as quick an acquisition as you can see happen.


MARLES: And, again, to put that in some context, what we inherited from the former government was that the first new surface combatant in our Navy would come to pass in 2023, and that would be the first of the Hunter class frigates. That timing remains the same. But by accelerating the purchase of a general purpose frigate, we will, in fact, have another three surface combatants in service by that date. So one turns into four. And that’s precisely because we do think we need capability in place much sooner than was previously imagined by the former government. And so when you actually strip back what the Surface Fleet Review said and the government’s response to it, right there is a need to accelerate the acquisition of warships, and that is what we are doing.

GOODINGS: Minister, a lot of the really big work for SA is going to come when AUKUS kicks in with the subs. Is the Albanese Government confident that the AUKUS Treaty is Donald Trump proof? And are we getting our embassy at the moment – led by none other than the esteemed former PM Kevin Rudd, to undertake some sort of charm offensive with conservative Republicans to keep the Donald in the tent on the AUKUS question?

MARLES: Well, you know like I do that Kevin is very charming and he has been doing a great job in the US Congress. And we saw across the political spectrum in America support for the alliance with Australia but support for the AUKUS deal. And so that actually ends up being the answer to your question. And to be serious, what we achieved and in the legislation that was put thorough the parliament – through the Congress in December – and Kevin really did work very hard on seeing this happen really quickly – was an unprecedented expression from Republicans, from Democrats alike about how they value Australia and how they value the specific AUKUS deal with Australia by which we will acquire nuclear-powered submarines. And that goes right down to the specifics of the question of America selling Virginia class submarines to Australia to be in operation from the early part of the next decade. Now, I mean, when you look at the bipartisan commitment in the United States to that, it does give us a sense of confidence that no matter who is the President of the US after the next presidential election there’ll be support for this arrangement and there’ll be support for the alliance with Australia. And, indeed, you know, President – when President Trump was President he was supportive of the alliance with Australia. So we do have a sense of confidence about what the future holds in America no matter what that future is. And I think we’ve seen the evidence of that over the last few months.

GOODINGS: Deputy PM and Defence Minister Richard Marles, thanks for joining us this morning on FiveAA.

MARLES: Thanks for having me.


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