Doorstop interview, Jakarta, Indonesia

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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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24 February 2024

SUBJECT/S: Borders, Australian-Indonesian relationship; Defence Cooperation Agreement, Ukraine, Prabowo Subianto

JOURNALIST: I know you didn’t give too much away in the joint press conference but obviously Australians are very interested, the Opposition is putting a lot of pressure on the government about that boat arrival. Can you tell Australians as much as possible what are you actually talking about with the Indonesian side when it comes to boat arrivals?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Obviously, we spoke about the issue of people smuggling today. The basis on which we approach this is that it is a challenge which is being shared by both Australia and Indonesia. And that the cooperation that we engage is in enormously valuable to both countries. And that we place that as the highest priority. And so we talked about ways in which we can cooperate, I won’t go into the detail of that but other than to say the level of cooperation on the question of people smuggling and people trafficking has never been higher between Australia and Indonesia. And we’ll continue to work with them very closely.

JOURNALIST: Minister when we saw boats coming from Sri Lanka, I think it was a year ago, perhaps a little less than that, Claire O’Neil went over to Sri Lanka, she came with some inducements to help Sri Lanka crack down on the boats I think it was a $50 million dollar package. Did you come with anything this time around to help with capacity building, perhaps?

MARLES: Again, we do a lot of work under the Regional Cooperation Agreement which has happened across governments of both persuasions over a long period of time. And so, in that sense there’s a very mature program spanning over decades actually between Australia and Indonesia. We talked about ways in which we can extend the cooperation. We talked about the contemporary nature of the challenge which both countries are facing. I mean, we face the issue of human trafficking, people smuggling over a long period of time, but its precise shape does change from time to time. And it has a particular shape now, we spoke about that. And ways in which we can work together.

JOURNALIST: Have the Indonesians managed to pinpoint where the boat came from? Have they got any clues? Or have they arrested anyone yet?

MARLES: Look I’m not going to go into the specifics of that, again other than to say there is a high degree of visibility that both of our systems have about this. And that is a function of the degree to which we are cooperating together. On intelligence and also operationally. And so, there is a very clear sense of what is happening here but I’m not going to go into the detail of how we’ve been dealing with that.

JOURNALIST: On the Regional Cooperation Agreement, just casting forward is Australia going to maintain existing funding levels for that? Increase? Decrease? What’s the future of it?

MARLES: Well, the Regional Cooperation Agreement is very important for both of our countries. It’s the most obvious manifestation of the cooperation that exist between us in relation to human trafficking and people smuggling. But it’s not the only cooperation, but it is and will remain a core part of what we do together. But the cooperation between our two countries goes a lot further than that, I mean, intelligence sharing is an example of it, and we believe there’s more that we can do.

JOURNALIST: Some people (inaudible) have been reporting seeing surveillance planes hugging the coast in the last day or so. Are you expecting more boats to arrive?

MARLES: Again, I’m not going to go into the operational specifics of what is occurring. Clearly, we treat these issues very seriously, but we have been since the moment we came to government. And we dealt with this in an appropriate manner. The important thing for Australians to understand is that those who came on that boat, who arrived in Australia are now in Nauru. And that is how the system works. And they won’t be resettled in Australia. And so, we are very focussed on maintaining the integrity of our borders. We have in place all the settings that the former government had in place and we’re working to make sure that those settings are evolving for the contemporary challenge that we face.

JOURNALIST: Do you know that the asylum seekers who made it, were they new arrivals to Indonesia, or do you know if they come from established communities of refugees?

MARLES: Look, again, I'm not going to go into the details of that. We obviously understand the journey of the individuals but I'm not about to detail that publicly.

JOURNALIST: I was just going to ask about the Defence Cooperation Agreement. So you know, Pak Prabowo said today, three months he wants it, it would seem the ASEAN Summit in Melbourne would be a good date for such a thing. But we're talking about an upgrade. Can you just explain why anyone should care about this. What’s the category, the Government is very excited, why should our readers and viewers be excited and interested in this? 

MARLES: Well, we are looking at the deepest, most significant defence agreement between our two nations in our respective histories. First time this will have occurred at a treaty level. And it is profoundly important in terms of what it provides around being the platform for our two defence forces to exercise together, for Indonesians to exercise in Australia and vice versa. It is a very a significant statement about the strategic direction of both Indonesia and Australia. And I go further and say that the speed with which this is happening, I mean, these are agreements which normally take many, many years, and we are very hopeful of being in a position to sign this in the next few months, as Pak Prabowo said. If we can achieve that, that is a lightning-fast agreement. Which speaks to, again, the seriousness and the priority of the intent of both of our countries to be working so closely together in relation to defence.

JOURNALIST: Prabowo has been very firm about how he doesn't sort of like alliances, doesn't want to be too cosy with anyone. So it can’t be that significant, can it? if he's willing to sort of cosy up to Australians and I mean how significant can it really be?  I'm still trying to draw out some practical examples of what this will mean. You mentioned the training and exercises.

MARLES: Yeah, I mean the training, exercises, the opportunity for both our defence forces to do more in each other’s country. This is the platform for that very practical engagement. But I think the point I make is that Australia and Indonesia, in a security sense, clearly have a shared destiny. I mean, we are neighbours. Our security is entirely tied up in the security of Indonesia. The defence of Australia is entirely tied up in the defence of Indonesia. We have a collective and shared mission. We can see that. Indonesia can see that. And having a treaty level defence cooperation agreement speaks to the shared intent of both our countries to achieve that. And as I said this would be the deepest, most significant defence agreement between our two countries in our respective histories. And in that context, it is a milestone in the bilateral relationship.

JOURNALIST: On another note, is Australia going to give old Abraham tanks to Ukraine?

MARLES: We’re working with Ukraine very closely to make sure that we are providing practical assistance which is making a difference and we announced recently a $50 million contribution to the fund operated by the UK in support of Ukraine. That is not on the agenda – what you’ve asked. But we will continue to be working closely with Ukraine, talking with them about how we can best support their needs, because it is absolutely essential that Ukraine is able to resolve this conflict on its terms, and we understand that it will be protracted. We’ve been saying that for a long time now and we will stay with Ukraine for as long as it takes.

JOURNALIST: With Prabowo, it is only about a decade ago according to report that Australia was so concerned about his human rights past that weren’t even going to (inaudible) him a visa. Now that he is going to be the president, what happens now and how are you going to deal with that situation? Does Australia just forget about all that?

MARLES: Look, we have a very close relationship with Indonesia. And we see Pak Prabowo as very much a friend of Australia. He knows our country well. He did his officer training at the Royal Military College in Duntroon. I had the honour and pleasure this time last year of accompanying Pak Prabowo to a lunch at Duntroon which I know was a very emotional experience for him and it was great for those in the room to see an old graduate in a country which is so important to us. As my counterpart Defence Minister, we have worked really closely together, we’ve been talking about the product of that work today. We really look forward to continued excellent relationships, which certainly exists under President Widodo which has manifested in the relationship between President Widodo and Prime Minister Albanese and we see that very much continuing when Pak Prabowo takes over the Presidency of Indonesia. Thank you.



Deputy Prime Minister’s Office: | 02 6277 7800

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