Television Interview, ABC Insiders

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

Media contact

02 6277 7800

Defence Media

Release content

24 March 2024

SUBJECTS: Kevin Rudd, US Congress support for AUKUS, Defence spending, Tasmanian election, Religious discrimination 


DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Richard Marles, welcome to the programme.


SPEERS: So, when the government appointed Kevin Rudd as ambassador, was the thinking that there was little chance of Donald Trump ever returning?

MARLES: When we appointed Kevin as ambassador, we saw Kevin as somebody who has a lot of experience and skill in diplomacy, having really grown up as a diplomat, as somebody who would bring a lot of prestige to the relationship as a former Prime Minister. And all of that has been put into action since he's been the Ambassador to the United States. I mean, we have seen Kevin working at a pace in getting legislation or lobbying in respect of legislation in the Congress, across the political spectrum, with Democrats and Republicans alike, and he's doing a great job.

SPEERS: That may be true, but you knew he was a prolific critic of Donald Trump. I mean, the question is, how did you factor that in? Did you just not worry that Trump would be back?

MARLES: Well, the American election is going to play out. I think we have a sense of confidence that no matter what the result is in November, the relationship between our two countries will be strong. Obviously, the relationship has experienced a Trump presidency before, and the relationship went through that period of time well. You know, we do have a sense of confidence of being able to work across the political spectrum, and we had a sense of confidence that Kevin would be able to do that, and he has. His effort in the lead up to the congress vote last year was fantastic and again, across the political spectrum.

SPEERS. So, just on this question of, the bigger question here of how to prepare for a second Trump presidency, should it happen, what are you doing? Who are you talking to in his inner circle?

MARLES: Well, I mean, I'm hardly likely to go through answer that publicly.

SPEERS: Is there anyone, just, without naming names, are you talking to anyone?

MARLES: Well, we are doing everything you would imagine that we would do in the lead up to an American election. 

SPEERS: What is that? I'm just trying to imagine it.

MARLES: Well, again, I'm not going to go through that publicly. We work very closely with the Biden administration, as we will work closely with the incumbent administration in America at any moment in time. And that's where our efforts are at, in saying that we know they've got an election in November and we feel confident that we will be able to work with whoever the American people choose come November, and that's where it's at.

SPEERS: But surely you can tell us whether you're talking to anyone close to Trump?

MARLES: Well, we are doing everything you would expect us to be doing at this time. That's all I would say and I think it is sensible for me to start articulating to you all the conversations that happen in the background. But we work across the political spectrum.

SPEERS: And have you got any assurance that he would back AUKUS? 

MARLES: We need to work across the political spectrum, not just in terms of who ultimately wins elections in November, but because, given the American system, there is legislation which is in front of Congress. There was in November, December. You need the support of the entire political spectrum in America to get things done. And that's what we've mean in terms of AUKUS with a Trump presidency, we've got no reason to have any sense that it will be anything other than supportive, because, again, when you look at what occurred in Congress last year with historic votes in respect of both pillars of AUKUS, there was unanimous support, really, across the political spectrum, Democrats and Republicans alike, and within the Republicans, those who support Donald Trump as well. So, I mean, we have a sense of confidence about the support across the spectrum for AUKUS. It makes strategic sense for the United States.

SPEERS: Let's talk about these nuclear submarines. When you and your colleague, the Defence Industry Minister, Pat Conroy, announced the AUKUS deal twelve months ago, here's what we were told about how much we'd be giving the US and the UK.

MARLES: We will be spending slightly over $3 billion on industrial uplift in the United States and the United Kingdom over the next four years. The vast majority of that money will be in the United States.

SPEERS: So, slightly over $3 billion, the vast majority in the United States. Since then, you've announced more than four and a half billion dollars to upgrade the US submarine industrial base, and now more than four and a half billion dollars to upgrade british facilities. Has the cost already blown out?

MARLES: No time frame, David, we're talking about a period of ten years now. And so the 4.7 billion for the Rolls-Royce facility in Derby, which is where the nuclear reactors for our submarines will be built, something that we made really clear at the outset, that we wouldn't be building those reactors in Australia, for obvious reasons. I mean, it would take a long time to have that kind of technology in Australia and it would delay submarines dramatically. This 4.7 is over ten.

SPEERS. So, what's over the forward? What's over four estimates?

MARLES: Well, the profile of that 4.7 is, again, something that we'll work through with the UK. So, we've not announced the profile, so.

SPEERS: You don't know yet or?

MARLES: We have a sense, but we are working that through with the UK. But I'm, again, not going to go into that now. But the 4.7 is over ten, and that explains the difference in the numbers with the clip that you just played before. 

SPEERS: Yes, sorry, you go on.

MARLES: Well, the point I'd want to make is that what we said a year ago was that there would be 9 billion over the forwards, but 50 to 58 billion over a ten year period. And so what we have announced today, or over the last few days, is fully provided in the announcement that we made a year ago of that $50 to $58 billion over the next decade.

SPEERS. So, the 9 billion over the forwards, as you mentioned there, which was all to be offset by cancelling the french subs and then cutting some other defence programmes, is that still the case, or are you having to find more money now to pay for what you're announcing?

MARLES: No, that 9 billion is still the case. I mean, that's $9 billion over the forwards from last year, and so obviously there's another year added onto that now, when we go into this coming budget. But the budget is still where we expected it to be in terms of AUKUS. And so we've heard the opposition try to muddy this up. I mean, they can say what they say, but it doesn't matter how much they talk about money, it doesn't distract from the facts. And the facts are money has been provided and an increase in money has been provided to the Defence budget. One thing that happened last year with the Defence budget, which has not got a lot of airplay, is that we put an additional $30 billion into the Defence budget over the decade. Just a few weeks ago, when we announced the surface fleet review, we put another $11.1 billion into the budget over the course of the decade. When we measure that from this year over the next ten, it's something in the order of $50 billion difference compared to what we inherited when we came to power. And in simple terms, what that means is that through to about 2033, we're taking the Defence budget to 2.4% of GDP. What we inherited over that period of time was a trajectory of 2.1. That is a massive increase in the peacetime budget of Australia, as significant as we have ever seen. Right now, the Liberals are still stuck on supporting 2.1% of GDP over that timeframe, we're at 2.4. And no matter what they say and what their supporters say, the facts are the facts in terms of the budgetary decisions that we've made, we’ve increased Defence spending and the money is there for AUKUS. 

SPEERS: So the money that is going to the UK, some analysts are worried about the existing backlogs in British shipbuilding at the moment, your British counterpart says the dreadnought submarines in particular are the top priority. Will the AUKUS subs be at the end of the queue, if you like, for the British, when it comes to their astute and dreadnought submarines coming first?

MARLES: Well, no, it'll be for the appropriate time when our submarines are due. So, in the case of SSN-AUKUS, which is what will be built in Adelaide with the first rolling off the production line in the early 2040s, what we have done in the money that we have provided is to enable the Rolls-Royce factory in Derby to operate at an increased rate of production, which will enable the first of those will enable a reactor to be able to put into that submarine on time. And thereafter, they keep having these delays.

SPEERS: And overruns in their shipbuilding. Are you worried about that?

MARLES: Well, we knew that the industrial base, both in the UK and the US, was stretched, which is why we made the decision last year to make a contribution to the industrial bases of both countries in order to allow them to do what they needed to do to enable Australia to acquire this capability, in the case of the UK, to have the nuclear reactors built in an appropriate time frame, in the case of the United States, to see that their production rate of Virginias was such that we could see three Virginias being provided to Australia during.

SPEERS: The Pentagon only wants to make one next year. So, there's an issue there, too.

MARLES: Yeah, but again, well, there's not an issue in the sense that it speaks exactly the points I'm making, David. I mean, the one that is there for 2025 speaks to the stretch of the industrial base in the US that we understood a year ago, which is why we are making a contribution to the American industrial base. But in the last couple of days, the US Navy has put out its regular shipbuilding programme. Over the next decade and beyond. AUKUS is entrenched in that. It makes clear in that that there will be a provision of three Virginia class submarines to Australia during the 2030s. It is entirely factored in to how America is now thinking about their own construction of Virginia class submarines. And we knew that the production rate needed to be increased in the US, which is why we're making the contributions that we're making. Perhaps, in a sense, people can't have it. But can I make this point, David? People can't have it both ways. You get critics saying, we're giving too much, and then, on the other hand, you get people saying, well, will it happen? We understood there was a stretched industrial base in both the UK and the US. That's why we made the decision to make the contribution. But the contribution gives us a sense of confidence that this will happen in a way which will enable Australia to acquire this capability.

SPEERS: There are critics who worry the whole thing is too much of a gamble and spending too much money. One of those is Paul Keating, the former Prime Minister. Now, he met the chinese Foreign Minister on Thursday in Sydney. Chinese state run media were allowed in to capture the moment. Australian media were not. Richard Marles, what did you honestly think of this meeting?

MARLES: Well, I don't think there's anything really remarkable about the meeting. It's quite common for people to come and meet former leaders. So, the government's not worried about. I mean, obviously Paul Keating is an honoured former Labor Prime Minister, but equally, he doesn't speak for the Government today. But we're not concerned about the meeting. The meeting that mattered to us was the meeting that happened between the two foreign ministers.

SPEERS: After the meeting, the Chinese Global Times was citing Paul Keating's views that AUKUS is the worst international decision the submarines will see. Australia surrendered sovereignty to the US, called him an insightful Australian. Was this just a propaganda exercise?

MARLES: Again, we're not really concerned about the meeting with Paul Keating. Well, we're not because Paul Keating doesn't speak for the Australian Government. That's the fundamental point here and we're not going to stop people from meeting former leaders if that's what they want to do. The meeting that mattered was with our Foreign Minister and in that meeting, the process of stabilising our relationship with China continued. But can I just make the point in relation to those who speak about AUKUS, I mean, the biggest gamble of all would be to not seek to acquire a capable, highly capable long range submarine capability for the future. This is the single most important military platform we have. We need it in the future and walking down the path of nuclear propulsion is the only way we get it.

SPEERS: Just a couple of other issues. The Tasmanian election result last night, do you think there's any realistic prospect that Labor could form a government?

MARLES: Well, I think we're still in the hunt. Rebecca White made that clear. Obviously there is a way to go in terms of firstly the counting, but then there's clearly going to be a process of negotiating the formation of government, given the way in which Tasmanians so.

SPEERS: They should look at governing with the Greens.

MARLES: We know well, the one thing that really comes out of last night is that we've seen a 12% swing against the incumbent Liberal government and that's where the key message is I'm not going.

SPEERS: So Labor governing with the Greens, you wouldn’t have a problem there?

MARLES: That is all going to be a matter for Rebecca White. You'd hardly expect me to weigh in on that. Rebecca is going to do what she does over the next couple of weeks. No doubt she's going to be busy on the phone, as I'm sure all Tasmanian politicians are going to be.

SPEERS: They will.

MARLES: One thing is we will work as a Commonwealth Government with whoever forms government in Tasmania.

SPEERS: Finally, deputy Prime Minister, should religious schools be allowed to hire and fire a teacher based on whether they're gay?

MARLES: Look, we've seen the Law Reform Commission report. We're obviously looking at it. What we want is to see amendments to the Sex Discrimination act so that there is not discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation identity. Equally, we want to see legislation which prevents discrimination on the basis of faith. Now, we've been working through what is obviously a sensitive issue. The point that we've made really clearly is this. We are only going to move forward on a bipartisan basis. We've provided draft legislation to the Opposition for them to consider. For us to do anything other than that. Let me just finish. For us to do anything other than that, David, would be to move down a pathway of division.

SPEERS: We need to just get back to the question.

MARLES: We see it on this now for the opposition to work out what they're going to do.

SPEERS: Should religious schools be able to hire and fire based on whether a teacher is gay?

MARLES: People should not be discriminated against in their employment on the basis of their sexual identity. That is really clear and that is a clear answer to that question.

SPEERS: And so have you seen the draft legislation the Government has drawn up and shared with the other side?

MARLES: We've had that presented and that we've shared that now. We've shared it with the Opposition.

SPEERS: Have you seen it? You’re the Deputy PM. 

MARLES: It is now, David, the legislation has been presented to Cabinet that what we will do is it is now a matter for the Opposition as to what they do, because we are not going to walk down this path on the basis of.

SPEERS: Why the secrecy around this. Why can't we all have a look at it?

MARLES: Well, because we're in the process of seeking to negotiate this through and what we want to do is try and achieve consensus. And when you're seeking to achieve consensus, you want the greatest space possible in order for that to occur. Because we don't want to see division or to walk down a path of division in this country. And that is the one point that we've made absolutely clear here. We need to have bipartisan support. We provided nation to the opposition. It's now a matter for them.

SPEERS: All right, Richard Marles, we'll have to leave it there. Thanks for joining us this morning.

MARLES: Thanks, David. All right.

Other related releases