Radio Interview - 3AW Mornings

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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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4 June 2024

SUBJECTS: Speechwriting; Expanding recruitment eligibility for the ADF; AFL

HOST, TOM ELLIOTT: Another subject is speech writing; it's been revealed today that NDIS Minister Bill Shorten has spent $600,000 of taxpayer’s money for a professional speech writer over two years. Kate says, I saw Richard Marles, who'll be joining us in a moment, give a speech at the Anzac service at Anzac Cove, this year. It appeared he wasn't reading from his notes and it was very good speech and very moving, says Kate. Well, on that bombshell, we are now joined by the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. He's also the Defence Minister, Richard Marles. Good morning.


ELLIOTT: Good. Do you generally write your own speeches?

MARLES: Generally I do, yeah. And that speech at Anzac day- I did that speech, but I actually didn't have notes, so I did that speech, as it were, off the cuff. But that's what I tend to do. But it's a very personal thing. There are, I mean, there are speechwriters in Defence because there's not just Ministers, but obviously the CDF and heads of the defence force services make speeches, so people do it in different ways.

ELLIOTT: All right, well, you know, at least one person, Kate, said, it was very moving. Now, look, we've known for a while we have a recruitment problem in the ADF. I think the goal is to get, you know, 65 to 70,000 recruits, maybe 80,000 over the next couple of decades, and we've only got, I believe, right now, 57,000. Firstly, why do we struggle?

MARLES: Yeah, it's a really good question. So, to put numbers on it- and you're not far off- We're just over 58 who wear our uniform today, or who are full time personnel. Next year, to give you a sense, in the financial year 24-25, we're funding the defence force at the strength of 63, 500. So, that gives you a sense of the gap and it does speak to the challenges that we're facing. Look, when I ask for advice about this, people will give the advice, which is not wrong, which is that when unemployment is low, it is tended to be harder to recruit people into the ADF, and that's certainly true. But in a way, it doesn't answer the question that you've asked- I find it a bit unsatisfying. Why don't people want to serve in this moment? And I think we need to be telling the story more about the opportunities that come with service, particularly as an outsider, which I would call myself, in the sense that I've never served in the Australian Defence Force, one of the things that really strikes me when I go around and I meet a lot of young people who are in Army, Air Force, Navy, the sense of team is just amazing and it's wonderful. And you and I are both footy fans- one of my great joys is to be able to, as the local member in Geelong, is to get to know the Geelong football club pretty closely. And obviously, they do teamwork, it's literally their profession. But I've never seen an expression of team in quite the same way as I do in the Defence Force. You know, it's caring, it's generous, it's fantastic. And I think we need to talk more about the opportunity to be a part of that team.

ELLIOTT: What about, I mean, going back to dollars and cents, though. I mean, I interviewed John Setka a couple of weeks ago after it was revealed that stop-go sign holders at state infrastructure sites getting over $200,000 per annum. Now, he defended that. He didn't deny it was happening. Is that part of the problem, too, that someone says, well, I might get 80 grand in the ADF, but I get 200 grand working on a building site?

MARLES: Well, that probably does come back to that first point, which is that the advice that when unemployment's low, we struggle to recruit and what people say is exactly what you just said, which is that the opportunities in the civil economy, there are lots of, and there are better offerings. Part of what we've done over the last couple of years is to improve the defence offering. We've done stuff in relation to housing, retention bonuses, and so we are focused on making the conditions of service better, but I think that is an issue. But there is ultimately something very special about wearing our nation's uniform, and I think we've got to be telling that story.

ELLIOTT: Is there another issue before we get onto your overseas recruitment plan about, you know, kids are taught at school and I've seen it with my own eyes, that Australia's evil, Australia's racist, Australia is a settler society. Really we have no right to be here. If we teach kids that sort of very black armband view of history, is it any surprise that they maybe don't want to join the ADF on mass?

MARLES: Well, I think the way you've just put it is a particularly negative perspective. I know the way in which you're suggesting it, but that is a negative perspective. I'd certainly hope that that is not something which is discouraging people from serving. I mean, it's a very proud thing to do to serve in the Australian Defence Force. And, in fact, there's an incredible indigenous history of service in the Australian Defence Force. And you go to the Australian War Memorial today and you'll see a lot of rightly celebration of that. This is about, obviously, defending our nation and our people, but it is fundamentally about serving our fellow Australians, and that's just a wonderful experience to have.

ELLIOTT: Well, I'll just point out that Laura Tingle, who is a very senior person at the ABC, went in front of a writer’s festival over a week ago and said that we were undeniably a racist nation. So, I'll just leave that. Now, your plans, as I understand it, if you're what we might call a friendly foreigner, so a kiwi, or maybe from the UK, the US, Canada or Fiji or places like that. If you're living here but you're not an Australian citizen, you'll soon be able to join the ADF.

MARLES: Yeah, that's essentially it. And so from 1 July for Kiwi specifically, if you've been a permanent resident for longer than a year, but you're not yet an Australian citizen, then you will be able to join the defence force. And then from 1 January that opens up, and you're right to describe it as friendly countries, we talk about the five Eyes, which is ourselves, New Zealand, Canada, Britain, America, and then really we're looking to the Pacific beyond that. And it is about those who have been here for a year- or not been here for a year- being a permanent resident for at least a year, there'd be an obligation to become an Australian citizen within 90 days, and that's facilitated so in fact, for some people, that might enable you to get to your citizenship quicker and that might be an attraction to join. All the security checks, of course, that apply to Australian citizens would apply to these people as well. And there is a heavy element of that right now. You go through quite a significant security process before you join the Australian Defence Force, so none of that changes. But I think this does open up the field for who we can have into the Australian Defence Force. And just one of the comments that was made by one of your listeners, I mean, it is right that this is a pretty significant Rubicon that we're crossing here, so we're not denying that. But to put it into context, Britain have Nepalese, the Gurkhas or Fijians who are serving in their defence force, and they actually never become british citizens. The United States have Micronesians who serve in their defence force and again, they don't end up being Americans. Of course, you've got the French Foreign Legion, so other countries do this. And I think it is about we have challenges, we want more Australians to join the defence force. We are doing a whole lot to turn around the issue of recruitment and retention and we're doing that. But as you said in your opening, it's not just about having the numbers we've got now- through to 2040 we are wanting to grow the defence force, and I think unless we kind of open this gate and we start walking down this path, that's going to be a challenge and we need to have a bigger defence force.

ELLIOTT: And do you think once this program really gets going from next year onwards, do you think it will make a substantial impact on the number of recruits into the ADF, or will it be sort of minor?

MARLES: Well, I suppose the answer to that question is, I hope it has an impact, because we need to grow the defence force through to 2040. Again, to give you some kind of number in the first year of 24-25, our target is for 350 people to come into the Australian Defence Force this way. And I'd emphasise that we're talking about people who are living here, who've already been permanent residents for a year, who would therefore be on a pathway to citizenship and we would be requiring them to become Australians once they join the Australian Defence Force. So, I mean, ultimately, these are, in one way, it's speeding up a process which was already happening. But we do think that, you know, this does open up a larger number of people who we can have join the defence force and we just need to be looking at every way we can to deal with the issue of recruitment and retention. It's one of the really big challenges facing our defence force today.

ELLIOTT: Now, final question. Your team, which you just completely threw into the mix early in the conversation, the mighty Geelong Football Club, third on the ladder, but they take on Sydney at the SCG this Sunday. Can they win?

MARLES: They can win. That has got to be the big challenge in footy this year. I feel like its Sydney and then there's clear air between them and everyone else. But, you know, I'm hopeful your boys are looking all right too. Do you have hope?

ELLIOTT: Oh, there's always hope springs eternal in the human breast. But we struggled badly against Sydney up at the SCG too.

MARLES: I think you've got Essendon?

ELLIOTT: We have Essendon at the MCG and if there's a bigger game this year, I'll be very surprised. It's going to be massive.

MARLES: As you know, I'm a massive fan of Brian Cook, so through Brian, have got a soft spot for the Carlton. So, good luck. I'll be barracking for the Blues against Essendon this weekend.

ELLIOTT: Well, I'll barrack for Geelong in Sydney. Richard Marles there, Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and Defence Minister.


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