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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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18 April 2024

SUBJECT/S: Wakeley Church Incident; National Defence Strategy and the Integrated Investment Program.

HOST, PETER STEFANOVIC: Joining us live now is the Defence Minister Richard Marles, after this huge announcement yesterday regarding a Defence spend. But before we get to that, Minister, good to see you by the way. I want to start with the first arrest in western Sydney overnight that followed the stabbing of a Christian bishop. There has been a national security meeting yesterday or an updated one. Can you tell our audience what else is or might be considered that isn't already to stop this attack from catching fire elsewhere?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Obviously, I'm not about to go into what's been deliberated in the National Security Committee processes and Cabinet processes, but what I guess I can say is that the NSW Police have acted very rapidly in relation to this. The designation that they've had in respect of this incident has been based on all, you know, a vast amount of information about the incident and we can have a sense of confidence that they've got this under control, which is reflected by the steps that have happened in the last 24 hours.

STEFANOVIC: The terror warning still at possible, unmoved. That hasn't changed in the last couple of days, has it?


STEFANOVIC: Okay, that's it?

MARLES: That's it. I mean, look, it's obviously a very– It's a tragic incident that has occurred in western Sydney, but the NSW Police have acted very swiftly. We should have confidence in their actions and certainly at a federal level we do. And they've been acting to do everything they can to mitigate this as quickly as possible.

STEFANOVIC: All right, let's go to China. It's fired some shots at you overnight. It's accused Australia of having a cold war mentality and that it's no threat to anyone. That might be a surprise to Taiwan. But how do you respond to that?

MARLES: Well, you know, we face a very complex set of strategic circumstances, which is what's underpinned the decisions that we've made in the Integrated Investment Program, in the National Defence Strategy. Indeed, in all that we've done over the course of the last two years, which has seen a very significant increase in our defence spending. Part of that is that the global rules-based order is under pressure around the world, but it's under pressure in our region as well. And we are seeing a very significant military build-up in the region. China is engaging in the biggest conventional military build-up since the end of the Second World War. That is just a fact. And it does change the landscape of the strategic landscape that we are experiencing. And it's not just ourselves, but it's all the countries of the region and in fact, the world that are needing to deal with this and what we assess as a result of this is that going forward, we need to transform our capability. We need to be making sure that we are the most capable nation that we can be, such that we can resist coercion in the future and make sure that we can maintain our way of life. And that is what we are determined to do.

STEFANOVIC: We are still dangerously exposed in the short term, though, are we not?

MARLES: Well, it's often been said that the best time to act on defence procurement is ten years ago, because that's what the lead times are when you're talking about major platforms. But the second best time to act is now. And we inherited the oldest surface fleet since the end of the Second World War. We inherited a ten-year capability gap on our most important military platform, our submarines. That's what the Coalition did when they were in power. It really was a lost decade. So, we certainly are faced with a significant number of challenges. We are acting very quickly in relation to them. I mean, the acquiring of a general purpose frigate going forward, for example, will be the most rapid acquisition of a platform of that size that we've seen in decades. And that's precisely because we need to be making sure that we can bring to bear capability as soon as possible. But in saying that, I make clear that really, the problem that we are trying to solve here is not seeking to be a peer competitor with America or with China, because that's obviously never going to happen. But what we are trying to do is make sure that in a much less certain world in the future, we have greater capability and we can do that.

STEFANOVIC: The problem, though, and we've discussed this a few times, is recruitment. And I know you talked about this yesterday, but it's still a major difficulty. And I know you want to draft in troops from overseas, but why would they do that when they could just join their own respective militaries?

MARLES: Well, what we've said is that we need to be thinking about looking at non Australian citizens. This is a rubicon if you like, which has been crossed by our friends and our allies. If you look at Britain and America, both of those defence forces recruit non-citizens into their armed forces. Now, there's a lot of issues that we need to address in respect of those, and it depends on what people we're talking about. But, you know, for starters, there's 600,000 New Zealanders who are living in Australia right now. I mean, that is a starting point. But we really do need to be looking–

STEFANOVIC: But really increase wages?

MARLES: –at ways in which..

STEFANOVIC: Sure. Yeah. I mean, people can find, you know, more lucrative professions to follow. How do you make it more appealing to come and fight for your nation, so to speak?

MARLES: Yeah, that's a completely reasonable question. And we're doing a lot in relation to that. I mean, we have already put in place $50,000 continuation bonuses for personnel to stay on beyond their minimum service obligations. And so looking at ways in which we can improve the employment offer, if I can put it that way, is very central to what we're doing. We're doing more in relation to housing, more in relation to health benefits. So, we're very much focused on making sure that the offer is better, it's more competitive. We're looking at other mechanisms, such as streamlining the recruitment process because it's far too slow and we've made real advances there and this is having a positive impact. I mean, the separation rate in Defence is declining. This is a very good thing. And we're starting to see recruitment numbers turn around. So, this is– it is starting to move in the right direction, but we need to do more. I mean, a challenge is not just to retain those who are currently in service, but in fact to grow our Defence Force through to 2040. And to do that, we really do need to be drawing on a bigger pool of people. Now, I would say the starting point there, Pete, is to make sure that we have a defence force which reflects the full diversity of Australia, principally so that we are able to draw on the entirety of the talents of Australian society. But I do think it is important that we are looking at some of these other areas and, you know, those in our Pacific family, New Zealand, obviously, you could be looking at AUKUS partners, our Five Eyes nations. I mean, there's a range of countries that we could start to think about which would widen the pool and that will take some working through, but I think being open to that is really important.

STEFANOVIC: All right, Defence Minister and the acting– Deputy Prime Minister. Not quite acting. Richard Marles. Sometimes you are, but not always. Thank you, Richard. Talk to you soon. 


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