Radio Interview, ABC Melbourne Drive With Ali Moore

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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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11 June 2024

SUBJECTS:  Exports to Israel; Climate targets; Chinese Premier visit.

HOST, ALI MOORE: So what does Australia send to Israel? Answering that question has not been so easy, but now the Government has released more details about Defence exports. Richard Marles is the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence. Richard Marles, welcome back to Drive. 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Good afternoon, Ali, how are you? 

MOORE: I'm good. Is it correct that all potential shipments to Israel will now come across your desk? 

MARLES: That is true, and it's actually been true over the last few months really. I mean soon after the events of October 7, I asked for all of these permits to be coming across my desk, and to put that in some context, we manage a pretty significant Defence export control system, which really operates by exception, which is to say I would not normally see a particular permit unless we were not approving it. 

But because of obviously the sensitivity of what was happening with the war in Israel and Gaza, from soon after October 7 I asked for a lot of those permits to come across my desk, and so I have had visibility of them since then. 

MOORE: And are you making that public now because of things the Greens have been saying both in Parliament and at the protests? 

MARLES: Yeah, that's right. And in essence, I mean, we ‑ there is a whole lot of reasons why this is not, you know, why not all the information is out there, and the most significant of those is of course commercial‑in‑confidence. I mean private companies are seeking these licences, and so that's why not all the details of them are out there, and that's pretty consistent with what would happen across Government in terms of information that private companies, or for that matter, private citizens give Government in the course of their engagement with Government. But given the really appalling misinformation that we have seen spread by the Greens, which has just been extraordinarily opportunistic, but actually really callous, because what this has been trying to do is, you know, leverage off what is just a human tragedy that is occurring in the Middle East to try and seek political gain here. Because of that, we have taken steps to put more details in the public domain and actually explain what is going on here. 

MOORE: So what is going on here? I mean we did hear Adam Bandt just state, you know, it's in your purview to stop two-way military trade. What does our two-way military trade look like with Israel right now? 

MARLES: Well, in terms of ‑ so to be clear, what the Greens are alleging is that somehow we are supplying Israel with weapons which are being used in the conflict in Gaza. That is absolutely false, and that is a total lie. They're taking half bits of information to try and concoct that story, which is just wrong. Most of the exports that have been approved since October 7 are for items which have gone to Israel to be worked on and then returned to Australia as part of our own, building our own Defence capability. And so there is a presence of a couple of companies from Israel in Australia's Defence industrial base making military equipment for Australia's use. There are a handful of instances where items have gone back to Israel, as I say, to be worked on, but then they are returned to Australia, and they don't go anywhere near the conflict in relation to Gaza, and it's actually those items which are at the heart of the numbers that the Greens are asserting are somehow weapons being supplied in the war in Gaza, which is just completely wrong. 

MOORE: You did say "most" there, not "all". So, what's in between? 

MARLES: Well, there is one ‑ well, to put numbers on it, of the eight licences that have been approved since October 7, seven of them are for items which have gone to Israel and then have or are coming back to Australia, so they are not staying in Israel, and the other is for one non‑lethal item, which again has got nothing to do with the conflict in Gaza. 

MOORE: What about licences that were approved prior to October? How many of them continue to hold? 

MARLES: There are about 66 licences that have been approved over the past two years, which would be still in existence, by which I mean, typically what happens with a licence is you're given a licence for a period of time, which can vary, but it's generally measured in years, we've had a look at all of those licences and we continue, I might say, to scrutinise those, but we're confident that those licences are for what we describe as dual-use technology, so that is an item which might be on the Defence Strategic Goods List, but is not a piece of military equipment, it's intended for civil economy, because you know, it might notionally have a military use, it's on that list. But the items that have actually been exported to ‑ or the licences or items to be exported to Israel are not related to weapons that would be used in this conflict. And so, when we're made it clear that there have been no weapons exported to Israel since we've come to Government, but not just since we've come to Government, really for the past five years and probably beyond, that is the absolute truth. 

MOORE: Dual-use, as you know is one of those incredibly fraught areas, and it can be, you know, have a really terrific civilian use and can be absolutely ‑ many things can then be turned to use that is terrible. Do you have, as a Government, a responsibility to try and ensure the end of the line for potential dual-use technology that might going or weapons ‑ not weapons ‑ equipment that might be going to Israel? 

MARLES: Yeah, we absolutely do, and not just to Israel, to every country, and that's part of how the export permit system works, and so permits are only given in relation to those items where there is an assurance that they're going to be used in a proper way, and that's the case in relation to Israel.  But what we've done, you know, since October 7, is gone back over each of those licences that were approved prior to October 7 to give ourselves a sense of ‑ exactly the sense of assurance that you've just described, and we're confident about that. Now, you know, we're continuing to review all of those, to be clear, but having had a, you know, reasonably good look at it, we are confident that we're not talking about weapons here, but they are exports that have gone for civil use, and that the claims that are being made by the Greens are absolutely false. But going back to what the Greens are doing, they have taken absolutely no effort at all to try and verify the claims that they have been making. I mean this is a really distressing set of circumstances that is playing out in the Middle East, and there are many Australians who have connections with the Middle East, or not, who feel that this ‑ you know, who are deeply seized of what's occurring, and that's totally legitimate. But what matters here is that people are, you know, the information that people are given in terms of forming their opinions is actually correct, and what we've seen with the Greens is just the most shameless and at the same time shameful attempt to try and politicise the Government's actions in a way which is utterly, utterly false. 

MOORE: You're listening to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, Richard Marles, and we're talking about Australian exports to Israel. 

Richard Marles, I've just got a few texts here saying that you keep using weapons, whereas one of the points that the Greens have been making is parts. Do you use them interchangeably in the sense that if they're ‑ you know, it's not just that we don't send weapons, nor do we send parts that might be used for military purposes? 

MARLES: Well, I mean, again, this has got some ventilation that ‑ look, I am saying we're not sending parts. Now the one point I would make there is that we are a part of the F-35 Program, and we've not hid from that, that is the Joint Strike Fighter which is at the heart of Australia's fast‑jet capability, and they are the fast fighter planes that we use today. 

MOORE: And we are part of that ‑ we're part of that supply chain, aren't we? 

MARLES: It's a supply chain, but it's also countries which use the capability, and you know, one goes with the other, if you like. This is a capability which is completely fundamental to the Air Force, and it's really the heart of the Royal Australian Air Force today. But again, this is a program that's been in place for the better part of two decades. There are 18 countries which participate in it, countries like Norway and Denmark and the Netherlands. Israel is one of those countries. In truth, the last two decades we've been working to encourage Australian businesses to participate into the supply chain in relation to F-35s. There are a number of what I'd describe as non-lethal parts that are provided to the F-35s. So I mean that is happening, but ‑ and to be clear as well, that is a, the program is prime, meaning the company which manages it is Lockheed Martin, based out of America, and so as we engage in that program, we are really engaging through Lockheed, and when I say "we", the companies that are participating into that supply chain ‑‑ 

MOORE: I guess though at a time of ‑‑ 

MARLES: And it is a story, but you know, again, I think that's worlds away from what the Greens have been asserting over the last few months, which is that somehow we are directly supplying weapons to Israel, which is just a falsehood. 

MOORE: Is there any ‑ again, I just go back to the question of whether there's any responsibility ‑ I note that Pat Conroy makes the point that in defending our role in that supply chain for the F-35, he makes the point that the use of military equipment is the responsibility of the Defence Force involved. 

Is there any sense that Australia should share responsibility for being part of a supply chain for an aircraft that is then potentially used in war, or is that, you know, we're part of a larger supply chain, and you don't think that gives us any responsibility? I'm just trying to get a sense of how you feel about that. 

MARLES: Well, firstly, the primary responsibility for how military equipment is used is by the Defence Force which uses it, we accept that responsibility when we use the military equipment that is within the Australian Defence Force. So that is absolutely the case. You know, we are eyes wide open in terms of the role that we play in Defence Industry generally and specifically in relation to the Joint Strike Fighter, but I think if we're going to walk down this path we need to be really clear about how complex this becomes very quickly. I mean Qantas and Virgin, for example, purchase Boeing aircraft. Boeing supplies military planes as well and supplies military planes to the Israeli Defence Force. What are we now saying if we walk down this path in respect of Qantas and Virgin? I mean the reality is that in the world today we live in a very complex global supply chain, that is actually very much the case in relation to the F-35s. We are not saying that we are divesting or disassociating from Israel in terms of trade, that is not the policy of the Government. We are absolutely saying that we need to be maintaining Australia's own Defence capabilities, because we need that for our own purposes, and to keep Australians safe. But in saying all of that, we're really clear we are not supplying weapons to Israel, we are not doing that in the way which is being alleged by the Greens, and in a way which is so cynically being alleged by them, and I think when people who, you know, are out there thinking that somehow we're making bullets or missiles, or whatever, and we're packing them off to Israel, actually understand the facts of what's going on, it is a world away from what the Greens are suggesting. 

MOORE: You're listening to the Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles, on 774 ABC Radio Melbourne Drive, at 6 minutes to 6. 

Richard Marles, just another ‑ two other very quick questions. Do you think that we're in for another round of climate wars? 

MARLES: Well, I don't know what the Coalition are going to do. It would be hard to predict that given when they were in office they had 22 energy policies and now they are essentially saying that they're walking away from Australia's 2030 targets, which in essence means they are walking away from the Paris Accord which is genuinely breathtaking. 

MOORE: But are they? I mean if you don't meet your 2030 targets, and I understand that Chris Bowen has said he's confident that you will, but the current trajectory suggests you won't, so if you're not going to meet them, you know, is it still important that they're there? 

MARLES: Well, I don't accept that assertion about the current trajectory. I think the current trajectory is that we're on track to meet our 2030 target in terms of emission reductions, and the point I would make is that, you know, we went to the last election with a very clear policy of 43 per cent emissions by 2030, that was our target. We are on track to meet that target. We've had one energy policy, and we are pursuing it.  Now to say, as the Coalition are now saying, that they're not going to have targets, which is what they are now saying, is to walk away from Paris. Now to give people a sense of what that means, is you're looking at countries like Yemen, Iran, Libya, any other countries that are not part of Paris, to walk away from Paris is to walk away from the way in which all our major trading partners, all our major allies are engaging in the world. It is an astonishing act, and I think, you know, what the Liberals do, what the Coalition do, is genuinely a day-by-day prospect. But what we know, having watched them in power for a decade, is that they are unable to put this country on a path to net zero emission by 2050, whereas the Albanese Government, for us it's core business and we are doing it. 

MOORE: And I should say that we have invited the Opposition on to the program, they weren't available this afternoon. Just a final question, Richard Marles. The Prime Minister has held a press conference this afternoon, he's announced that the Chinese Premier, Li Qiang, is coming to Australia, I think he arrives this weekend. I suppose the question for you with your Deputy Prime Minister hat on is, the timing of that visit and particularly when we still have the Australian writer, Yang Hengjun, in jail under horrific circumstances in China. 

MARLES: Well, I mean the circumstances of Mr Yang are circumstances that we continue to advocate about, and in all our meetings with our Chinese counterparts, and indeed I did so the weekend before last when I was in Singapore, I met my Chinese counterpart, Admiral Dong who's the Chinese Minister for Defence.  

I think in terms of advocating on behalf of Australians in these circumstances, maintaining our relationship with China is advantageous, and we have seen that in terms of where we've managed to get to with consular cases up until now. 

It doesn't serve anybody ‑ and it won't serve Dr Yang to be in a situation where we wouldn't have a dialogue with China. And our relationship with China is clearly complex. It is important that we are being really frank with China when we speak with China, and we do that. I certainly did that a week and a half ago. But it's also important that we're cooperating with China where we can, and we shouldn't forget China is our largest trading partner, and we do value the relationship with China, and we want the most productive relationship that we can have with China, and we very much welcome Premier Li's visit, it's going to be a good visit, and it's the highest level visit that we've had from a Chinese Member of Government since former Premier Li came here in 2017, and I think that is fundamentally a good thing. It is demonstrating that we are bringing stability back to the relationship and that stability is enabling us to achieve outcomes in consular cases as well. 

MOORE: Richard Marles, thank you very much for your time. 

MARLES: Thanks Ali. 


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