Television Interview, Today Show

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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: National Defence Strategy and the Integrated Investment Program.

HOST, KARL STEFANOVIC: Welcome back to the show. Well, Australia will spend an extra $50 billion to bolster the Defence force over the next decade. As the threat of conflict with China rises in the Indo Pacific.

HOST, SARAH ABO: The Government will prioritise long-range missiles, new warships and undersea warfare in order to keep Australia safe. Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles joins us now from Geelong. Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, of course, you didn't mince your words yesterday, China is the big threat here. How does anything, though, that you announced yesterday help with the clear and present danger right now?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, I mean, China is engaging in the biggest conventional military build up that we've seen since the end of the Second World War that is changing the strategic landscape of Australia. But it's changing the strategic landscape for the region and the world. I mean, we are investing a significant amount of money in Defence over the next ten years, but also over the next four. $5.7 billion over the forward estimates over the next four years in this budget that will be announced in the next month. Now, to put that in context, that number is the single biggest increase in a four year budget cycle in Australia's Defence budget in decades and it is precisely so that we can get more capability into action as soon as possible. We do have challenges, you know. We inherited the oldest surface fleet in our Navy since the end of the Second World War from the Liberals. We inherited a ten year capability gap with our submarines from the Liberals. So, there's a lot of work to do here, but we think this spending is going to enable us to build a Defence force which can resist coercion and maintain our way of life.

STEFANOVIC: You couldn't be clearer yesterday in pointing out the challenges. We get that and you're going to be spending 5 billion, as you say, in the next four years, 90% of the spend over forward estimates. That's in your third or fourth term. So, you can understand some people out there going, well, hang on, he'll never have to worry about it.

MARLES: Well, we're spending money now, Carl. I mean, $5.7 billion, as I just said, is the biggest spend over a four year budget cycle right now in decades and that's what needs to be done right now. Like, I mean, right to say that the challenges that we face are such that the best time to have spent money on the Defence force would have been a decade ago. That's a question that you can put to the Liberal party. But the second best time is now. And so we are bringing capabilities forward. We are looking to how we can have a more capable Defence force ten years and hence. But we're also looking at what we can do right now. The general purpose frigate, for example, will see the speediest acquisition of a platform of that size again in decades, such that we'll have that up and running within this decade.

STEFANOVIC: But you have an issue. Again, sorry to interrupt.

MARLES: We are doing things in the here and now.

STEFANOVIC: I understand, but when you yesterday were at pains to point out a number of times that China is a clear and present danger now and we clearly don't have the capability to be able to deal with that if it was to transpire now. So, people lose confidence, I guess, in what the short term plan is.

MARLES: Well, again, though, I think we need to be clear about this strategic challenge. What we are trying to do is not be a peer with China or with America. I mean, you'll see commentators rush to the worst possible contingency in the next few years in terms of great power contests. I mean, obviously what we're not trying to do is solve the problem of being a peer of those countries because we could never be that. I mean, thinking that idea through, as some commentators have, frankly lacks wit. What we are trying to do is make sure that in a much less certain world in the future, we have transformed capability which enables us to be able to resist coercion and maintain our way of life. And again, to be clear on that, we do want to do everything we can to deter a conflict of that kind, which is why we are working so closely with the United States right now. We're doing a whole range of measures which are in seeing increasing forced posture of the United States Armed Forces on our continent right now in Darwin and in other places. And what that is doing is contributing to deterrence today. But what we're trying to do with these equipment purchases is making ourselves much more capable over the medium term and we can do that.

ABO: I mean, we may not be a peer, as you point out, but it is happening on our doorstep, it's within our region that we should be most concerned. And then you're making cuts to other Defence projects, including new fighter jets. Does that leave us vulnerable?

MARLES: I mean, what we're doing there is extending or delaying the purchase of the next round of F35s. Knowing that the 72 F35s that we have in place right now are in fact doing a much better job than we expected. And the super hornets, which were to be replaced prematurely are also doing a great job. And that what we can do now in terms of increasing their capability, rather than purchasing those F35s, is to be focusing on the missiles that we are placing on those airframes, which give them longer range. So, that is a prime example of where we are really focused on, the here and now in terms of the capability that we bring to bear, so that we are much more capable in the short term. And it's an example of the difficult decisions that we are making to prioritise capability, which gives us the power to project.

STEFANOVIC: We need everything we can to be on the table. Good on you, Richard. Always good to see you. And big game this weekend. Cats. Lions. Go the lions. Thank you very much.


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