Television Interview, ABC 7.30

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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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9 April 2024

SUBJECTS: Appointment of Australian Defence Force senior leadership; AUKUS; AUKUS Pillar II; Death of Zomi Frankcom.  

SARAH FERGUSON, HOST: It's been a big day in Defence circles with the announcement of a new Chief of the ADF and Australia, the UK and US announcing they're considering including Japan in future AUKUS technology projects. Not the nuclear-powered submarines, but the so-called Pillar II of high tech military applications – ranging from artificial intelligence and quantum computing to hypersonic weapons. Joining AUKUS would require improvements in Japanese security practices, especially its cyber security. Richard Marles is the Defence Minister. I spoke to him earlier. Richard Marles, welcome to 730.


FERGUSON: You've just announced a naval commander, Vice Admiral David Johnston, as Chief of the Australian Defence Force. Is that because the potential next front line is in the Indo-Pacific?

MARLES: No, it's because David Johnston was the best person for the job. And as we have appointed our senior military officers over the years, we have looked to merit first. But it is right that Admiral Johnston will be the first admiral who's been the Chief of the Defence Force in 22 years – we go back to Chris Barrie when we last had an admiral as the CDF. And I think the fact that there is so much effort going into Australia acquiring a nuclear-powered submarine capability, there is so much effort going into renewing our surface fleet, I think it will be advantageous to have somebody with Vice Admiral Johnston's naval experience in the top job at this time.

FERGUSON: Now, there's news today that Japan may be considered for admission into AUKUS – not for nuclear-powered submarines, but as a partner in developing cutting edge military technology. Now, Japan, despite asking, has not been admitted into the Five Eyes security arrangement. Can Japan be trusted with military secrets?

MARLES: Well, we're talking about different things here and I think it's important that people understand what AUKUS is and what it's not. I mean, AUKUS is not– it's not a security sharing arrangement, nor is it a security alliance. AUKUS is a technology sharing agreement between–

FERGUSON: I'm just going to jump in there. We know what AUKUS is, but the need to protect the technology of AUKUS is one of the most fundamental parts of Pillar II. So, I'll come back to my question. Can Japan be trusted with military secrets?

MARLES: Well, we think there is opportunity for us to be cooperating with Japan in relation to technology sharing around Pillar II in the future and that's the step that has been taken. I mean, we have long said that as we prove up AUKUS Pillar II, as we start to get runs on the board, there may be opportunities to work with other countries who are wanting to work with us. I think the point here is Japan is a high tech country with high tech industry and high tech defence industry, and we already do cooperation with Japan in relation to technology, and I think there is opportunity to do that here and we've got no concerns around the security that would need to be associated with that.

FERGUSON: The idea is to create a counterweight to China's rapid military expansion. Could this expansion though, this potential expansion, also create tensions with China?

MARLES: Well, again, it's why I think it's really important that people understand what AUKUS is and what it is not. AUKUS is not a security alliance. I mean, we have an alliance with the United States. We established a Status of Forces Agreement with Britain over the course of the last month. But what AUKUS is is technology sharing. In that context, I think it's perfectly reasonable that we are working with countries that we are doing a lot of defence engagement with – we do a lot of defence engagement with Japan – who have a lot to offer in terms of the technological base that they bring to the table.

FERGUSON: You just said that AUKUS is not a security alliance but Kurt Campbell, the Deputy Secretary of State, said recently that AUKUS has the potential to have submarines from a number of countries operating in close coordination. So even though it's not a security alliance, it still has the potential to increase tensions with China, doesn't it?

MARLES: Well, I don't accept that. I mean, AUKUS, as I say, is three countries working with each other on technology sharing. We work very closely with the United States military already. I mean, we have a deep military-to-military relationship. And in the context of our alliance with the United States, the capabilities that we bring to bear in a whole range of joint activities, we do so in a sovereign way, meaning that any capability, any platform that carries an Australian flag is commanded and controlled by Australia. And that would be the case in respect of our future submarines as well.

FERGUSON: Let me talk about some exercises that took place recently. Australia has just taken part in military exercises with the Philippines, US and Japan in the South China Sea. The president of the Philippines, Marcos, said recently it would be in Australia's interests to join the Philippines responding to a Chinese attack on the Philippines maritime area. Would Australia do that?

MARLES: Well, I'm not going to speculate about hypotheticals. We are growing our relationship with the Philippines in defence cooperation, and the reason we're doing that is because we have shared values in terms of being democracies, but we also are two countries that are completely committed to the assertion of the global rules-based order within the region in which we live. And that's very much in our national interest, it is very much in the national interest of the Philippines as well, and something that we share.

FERGUSON: Would it be in our national interest to go to the defence of the Philippines were they under attack?

MARLES: What's in our national interest is to assert the global rules-based order within our region, because as an island trading nation with a deep economic connection to the world and a growing economic connection to the world, we are very dependent on the rules of the road at sea, if I could put it that way. The Philippines is the same. And we are cooperating at a higher level now with the Philippines than we ever have and that's a relationship that we place an enormous amount of store in.

FERGUSON: I want to talk about Israel. The government said yesterday, the Australian government said yesterday it was not satisfied with the information provided by Israel on the killing of Zomi Frankcom and the other aid workers. What information was withheld by the Israeli Defence Force?

MARLES: Well, we need, obviously, to understand completely, fully, and thoroughly what has happened here and the circumstances in which this has happened. The killing of these aid workers is an outrage. It is wholly unacceptable. And in the killing of Zomi Frankcom and her counterparts, obviously, Australia has an interest here, a deep interest, to understand exactly what has occurred. And that's why the Foreign Minister and I wrote the letter that we did last Friday to our Israeli counterparts and obviously we will continue to engage with Israel so that we can properly understand what has happened here and be assured that proper accountability is provided.

FERGUSON: I just want to get a bit more specific because after they released the report into the event, the Australian government said it was not satisfied with the information it had received. So, if you're not satisfied, something must be missing in what they provided. What was it?

MARLES: I mean, it's not just the information over the last few days – this event only happened a few days ago – it is properly understanding every detail that has occurred here. Israel needs to get to the bottom of this, but we need to have a full understanding of this as well. And then we need to be satisfied with the proper accountabilities that play out in respect of this event, that those who engaged in whatever has happened here are held properly to account. So this is not something that can be satisfied in the course of a few days. This is a matter that needs to play out over a period of time. But it is critically important for Australia that we see full responsibility taken here, that we see the most thorough investigation and that we are given access to that to. And I think this is, you know, that this all happens, is a critically important fact in our relationship with Israel.

FERGUSON: Do you expect there to be criminal prosecutions of the people responsible for the strike on the vehicles?

MARLES: We expect full accountability is the answer to that question. And that, without seeking to preempt where investigations go, requires a full and thorough investigation. And, of course, our appointment of Mark Binskin as a special adviser to the Australian government in respect of this, I think is a real opportunity for Australia and Israel, actually, to have a common understanding of exactly what has happened here and what are the processes of accountability once the facts are absolutely determined. And we very much expect and hope that Israel will work closely with Mark Binskin in investigating this matter.

FERGUSON: And have you had assurances that Mark Binskin will receive total transparency?

MARLES: Well, we've not had a response to our letter as yet, but we would hope and we would expect that Israel would work very closely with Mark Binskin in respect of this incident.

FERGUSON: Why haven't you had a response to the letter? Is that satisfactory?

MARLES: Well, that's not a question for me. You know, we've written the letter that we have to Israel. We obviously expect a response. And I can only say to you that we– I mean, we expect a full, thorough investigation with proper accountability at the end of that process and we expect full and total cooperation with Mark Binskin in this process.

FERGUSON: You said you wrote that letter on Friday. It's now Tuesday and you've had no response from the Israelis. Does that sound like a defence force that is cooperating with Australia?

MARLES: Look, I can only reiterate what I have said. I can only say what we expect. I can't answer for Israel in relation to this, obviously. But I'm very clear about what Australia expects here and that this is a critical issue in the context of our relationship with Israel.

FERGUSON: Defence Minister Richard Marles, thank you very much indeed for your time.

MARLES: Thanks, Sarah.


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