Television Interview, Sky News - Newsday

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

Media contact

02 6277 7800

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21 February 2024

Subject/s: Surface Fleet Review, Immigration, Border Security

HOST, KIERAN Gilbert: The Surface Fleet Review has been announced and released by the Deputy Prime Minister. He joins me now. Richard Marles, thanks for your time. $11 billion more over the decade. How much more in the forward estimates? And how much of this delivery depends on you achieving that culture of excellence that you're hoping to drive within Defence?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, thank you, Kieran. It's $1.7 billion over the forward estimates, as you said $11.1 billion over the decade. And what that does is make sure that the $54 billion which it will cost to deliver this surface fleet is fully funded. There's an existing provision of $43 billion in the budget. We're focusing a lot on the budget numbers because part of the answer of ensuring delivery here is that this is actually paid for and provided for. We've seen a lot of defence announcements over the course of the former government, where there were big announcements, but the money just wasn't there. A lot of work has gone in over the course of the past few months to make sure that this is properly paid for, properly provided for. And I'm very grateful to the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Finance Minister for the support they've shown in terms of developing the new surface fleet. There is no doubt that we will need to see a culture of absolute excellence within our defence force and our defence industry in order achieve this. But given that this is fully funded, given that there is certainty, and I think there's an enormous amount of excitement around about what this will mean for our Navy going forward. This is the sort of project and announcement that people can get behind, and you see that happening. So, I'm confident that we will see the culture that we need to see in order to deliver this for our nation.

GILBERT: But it seems to me so much of it depends on that issue that you raised in parliament, and it's that ability to provide taxpayers with value for money. As this announcement is made, you've also revealed that the Hunter class had blown out by $20 billion. A perfect example of where these blowouts have occurred. It's time. Obviously, you're providing the vision, but you've also, and I know this is obviously top of mind for you. The complacency has to be driven out of the system as well.

MARLES: Look, it is right that we need to see excellence. And I make no apology for demanding that of the Department of Defence, and of the Australian Defence Force. And I think the Australian people would expect me to do no less than make that demand. And it's been somewhat of a surprise to me that there has been any controversy, actually, about the fact that I'm seeking excellence from our defence forces. But an important part of the delivery of this, as I said, is that we are providing for the money. That side of the equation has been sorted through in making this announcement, which we've failed to see in the past, but we're also making pragmatic, prudent decisions. I mean, the general class frigate that we seek to bring into service, we've down selected to four frigates, which are currently operating, which are currently being built. We will be buying that off the shelf. This will be the fastest procurement of a frigate of this kind that we will have ever seen but we're able to do that because we're looking at buying something which is in service right now. And that follows through on the philosophy of the Defence Strategic Review of looking to have minimum viable capability, not getting all the bells and whistles and having things blow out in time and cost, but making sure that we actually get practical, real capability into service as soon as possible. And that's the philosophy which has underpinned the announcement that we made today.

GILBERT: To get it in there as soon as possible, but do you think, as Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, at times, when you look at how much instability there is in the world, the flashpoint in our region, that some of what you're planning for might be all too late?

MARLES: No, I don't accept that. I mean, we have a capable defence force now that can perform a range of functions, and it does. And it serves our nation with honour and with enormous capability. And clearly our nation is indebted to the service of those who are in our defence force. But what comes out of the Defence Review is that we do need to change the direction, the strategic setting of our defence force. It needs to be more focused, it needs to be more capable, because we are watching great power contests play out in the world and indeed within our region. How that plays out is uncertain. And as we look forward into the future, we are going to need greater capability. I mean, we might all want but a lot of decisions that have been made five-ten years ago which would put us in a different position today. But ultimately, you inherit the world as you find it, and the next best thing you can do is make the decisions now for the future. And that's what we are doing. But we are confident that we will grow our capability from this moment forward, and that by the time we get to the early to mid-2030s, we will be talking about a Navy with an entirely different level of lethality, of capability than what we have today. I mean, if you look at the decision that we made last year in relation to a meaningful pathway by which we acquire nuclear-powered submarines, combined with the decisions that we've taken today, pragmatic decisions to build our surface fleet, these are the most significant decisions that we have seen in our Navy, backed up by real money since the end of the Second World War. And that's what we need to be doing as a government.

GILBERT: I know, obviously, you've been in very close contact with Lloyd Austin, your US counterpart, your British counterpart and other allies. Have you and the government also briefed major nations in our region, like Indonesia, like China, as to what was going to be included in this document today, in this plan?

MARLES: Yeah, it's a really important question, and the answer is that we've been engaging in extensive diplomacy and briefings around the announcement today. We have provided briefings to all our friends, our allies, our neighbour, to, obviously, the United States, as you said, to a country like Indonesia, for example, where all of that has happened. We have offered briefings to China in relation to the announcement today, and we stand ready to provide those briefings. But it is really important that you get the diplomacy right when you're doing an announcement of this kind and that people don't misunderstand what we're trying to do here. I mean, this is defensive in nature. We don't have any ambitions in terms of territorial expansion or the like. This is about maintaining our way of life into the future and making our contribution to the collective security of the region in which we live, the Indo Pacific. And that's at the heart of why we are taking the decisions that we are taking in respect of nuclear-powered submarines, but in respect of building the surface fleet, as we've announced today and making very clear that ours is a peaceful objective, it is about providing for the collective security of our shared region. Making sure that message is heard within the region is really important and I believe that it is being heard.

GILBERT: Mr. Marles two other issues before you go, I know you have a busy afternoon, my colleague Sharri Markson reported last night that some of the screening of those holding Palestinian travel documents were in the Palestinian territory were given visas, sometimes with screenings of only one hours, can you reassure our viewers that appropriate screening is taking place for visa recipients in Gaza as this conflict continues?

MARLES: Well obviously I am not going to respond to the suggestions that were made last night but what I would simply say is this: we run an immigration program which ensures that there are proper security checks which apply to people who have ordered a visa to come to Australia and Australians can be confident that that happens in every case but in this particular case.

GILBERT: And just finally, again, Sharri reported that she was told by a Defence source that defence was aware of that boat arrival on Thursday of last week. Why was the Prime Minister only notified on Friday?

MARLES: Again, I am not going to provide commentary bout unnamed sources. What is important here is that we have responded to this moment expeditiously. That those who arrived by boat, who came to Australia are now in Nauru. That is as the system is mean to work. We have all the border security settings in place that we inherited from the former government and we have done them in terms of ensuring we are robust in relation to our border security and those people who arrive as I said have been dealt with and are now in Nauru.

GILBERT: Deputy Prime Minister, a big day for you, thanks for making some time. Appreciate it.

MARLES: Thanks Kieran.


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