Television interview, Today Show

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

Media contact

02 6277 7800

Release content

21 February 2024

SUBJECT/S: Surface Fleet Review; Operation Sovereign Borders; Biden Administration.

HOST, KARL STEFANOVIC: Well Australia will acquire a fleet of drone ships under a multi-billion dollar military upgrade. It will be the largest fleet since World War II, but they won't be in the water until the end of the decade. Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles joins us now from Adelaide. Welcome back to Today, Richard. Peter Dutton's been pining for you like a jilted lover.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: That is Peter’s way. Well, I miss you, Karl. I'm not sure I miss Peter, but, no fair enough. Nice to talk to you this morning.

STEFANOVIC: It is an ambitious plan. Will it actually happen, though?

MARLES: Well, it will happen. And actually, that is exactly the right question, because what sets the announcement that we made apart from announcements that we saw under the former government is that yesterday we also announced the money for it. This is $54 billion over the decade, right now, there's $43 billion in the budget for our surface fleet. We announced yesterday we will increase Defence spending by $11 billion over the decade in order to pay for this. And that does give people a sense of confidence that this will happen. But to your other point, you know we've been left with a declining surface fleet from the former government. We've got to get ships in the water as quickly as we can, and that's why we're going to accelerate the purchase of a general purpose frigate, buy that off the shelf, get it into the water as quickly as humanly possible.

STEFANOVIC: So if there's an attack on Australian soil in the next six years, what do we do?

MARLES: Well, I don't think there's anyone who is out there suggesting that that is the threat and obviously we have our alliance arrangements with the United States and our relationships with countries around the world. But what we need to be doing is making sure that we are building a much more capable Navy. The strategic threat is this: as we are watching great power competition happen, as you know, frankly, as we are seeing China engage in the single biggest conventional military build up since the end of the Second World War, it raises the prospect of coercion for a country like Australia, an island trading nation where we're dependent on sea trade. We need to be making sure that we have an ability to deal with that coercion. And we have a much more capable Navy, and that's what we're building.

STEFANOVIC: But we're going to reduce the capacity of our fleet over the next five years, right and it will be 15 years before we have these vessels fully operational. Aren't we completely vulnerable if we're attacked?

MARLES:  Well, again, I wouldn't use that language. It is true that we have inherited a declining fleet. We inherited the oldest surface fleet since the end of the Second World War. That's what the Liberals gave us. HMAS Anzac was a ship in really a terrible state. That's exactly why we need to accelerate the acquisition of a general purpose frigate. Get it into the water as quickly as possible, and we'll do that over the next few years. We'll have the first of those in the water by the end of this decade so it's much sooner than what you're saying. And again, to just put some numbers around this, the Liberal Party's plan was to have our first new surface combatant in the water in 2034, which would be the first of the Hunter frigates. We will do that. But in that period of time we will have four surface combatants in the water, not one, and so we are absolutely accelerating the purchase of these ships.

STEFANOVIC: So to put it in the context China has 350 ships and subs in its Navy alone. If they press the button, we’re cactus, aren’t we?

MARLES:  Well as I say, no one is suggesting and the threat is not about some imminent invasion. It is about being able to maintain our way of life, being able to put forward a credible projection in a world which is uncertain and that's why we are looking at more than doubling the size of our warships. Right now, we have 11.Take Anzac out and you've got ten. We're going to take it to 26 and that will be as capable a Navy as exists on the planet for a country of our size.

STEFANOVIC: The uncertainty obviously is from China. Just to move on to a couple of quick ones. Forget about a boatload of asylum seekers arriving, what about a plane load? 23,000 arriving last year – where did they all go?

MARLES: It is really important that we are having an immigration system that sees the whole circumstance and, you know, again, we inherited from the Opposition, from the now Opposition, from the then government, an underfunded immigration system. We are working through all of that and making sure that we are funding visa processing and the way in which those claims are handled so that here is a deterrent for people who come by plane. But we're also making sure our borders are completely secure and that's where our funding is going.

STEFANOVIC: Do you know, though, where the 23,000 asylum seekers who came by plane go? Where are they now?

MARLES: Well, I mean, people who come into this country under a visa, you know, I obviously don't know where every one of those people are-

STEFANOVIC: All right, just quickly, one final one-

MARLES: But let me just make let me just make this point, Karl, if you are claiming asylum, you are engaging with the system so it's not as though there are people who are out here who are undetected. The very act of claiming asylum means that we are engaging with those people.

STEFANOVIC: Quickly on this one. Paul Keating says Joe Biden is, quote, ‘too infirm to run for office in his 80s.’ Would you be supporting those calls from a Labor legend?

MARLES: Well, obviously I'm not going to comment on American politics, but what I am going to say is that I think Joe Biden has been an incredible President and we work very closely with him as the President of the United States. We have complete confidence in him as the President of the United States. I think the Biden Administration has been a fantastic Administration for us to work with but has certainly acted in a way which I think very much suits Australia. You know President Biden is a great President of the United States.

STEFANOVIC: All right, there's nothing like PK throwing a grenade on a Wednesday morning. Thanks Richard - appreciate it.


Other related releases