Doorstop Interview - Geelong

17 Sep 2022
Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Defence
China and Russia; War in Ukraine; Pension indexation; Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II; National Anti-Corruption Commission.

JOURNALIST: Acting Prime Minister, can I start by asking you what do you make of the meeting between President Xi and President Putin? And were you in any way surprised to hear that China has raised questions and concerns over the invasion of Ukraine?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: I think what we are seeing is greater cooperation between China and Russia and we've seen that throughout the course of this year. The comments that have been made by China we've heard in in other contexts, but we are seeing greater cooperation between China and Russia. And that is part of the landscape of strategic complexity which the country faces. It's not just the meetings that we're seeing between President Xi and President Putin, it's also the military exercises between Russia and China that we're seeing in the North Pacific. And for all these reasons, that is why we need to be building the most capable and potent defence force that we can and the defence strategic review is exactly aimed at ensuring that we do that to keep Australians safe.

JOURNALIST: It's probably something that is worrying the Ukrainians, particularly their President. In recent days we've seen the Ukrainian ambassador to Australia agree with calls for more support from Australia and other nations to continue their push back against the Russians. Where are we at in terms of delivering more Bushmasters to the Ukrainians? What additional support can the federal government provide?

MARLES: Firstly, let me say that what Ukraine has done in response to the appalling invasion of its territory by Russia is completely inspirational. As we sit here in September, I don't think any of us would have imagined that Ukraine would have been able to resist this invasion in the way that they have. And it's really important for Ukraine, obviously, but it's important for the world. And it's why we are there to support Ukraine. That's why Australia is the largest non-NATO contributor to Ukraine. We have supplied almost $400 million worth of support to Ukraine, and we will continue to provide support to Ukraine. We get that Ukraine needs to be supported over the long term. I've spoken with the Ukrainian ambassador, I've spoken with Oleksii Reznikov, my counterpart, the Defence Minister in Ukraine; we will continue to work out ways in which Australia can support Ukraine in an ongoing way. We see that our national interest is engaged in the conflict in Ukraine, because the principles which are at stake there, the maintenance of the global rules-based order, is as important for us in the Indo-Pacific as it is for countries of Eastern Europe and Europe generally.

JOURNALIST: Does that include the delivery of more Bushmasters, though? Is that something we can do? Is that something you're doing? Do we have any spare that we can we can lend the Ukrainians?

MARLES: Obviously, the Bushmasters that we've already provided to Ukraine are having a really significant impact on conflict in Ukraine. And it's very much helping Ukraine in the efforts that they are engaged in to resist this Russian aggression. We will work with the Ukrainian government, will work with the Ambassador, to look at ways we can continue to support. We are aware of the requests that Ukraine has made of us, will obviously consider them. But we will continue to work with the Ukrainian government to look at the ways in which we can best support them to sustain their effort in resisting this Russian aggression.

JOURNALIST: Big changes to the pension coming on Monday. Can you walk us through some of that? Also, is it enough given inflation is going up and cost of living is going up?

MRALES: We're really pleased that the Albanese government will be increasing a range of payments, including the pension, for 4.7 million Australians beginning on Monday. This is the biggest boost to the pension that we will have seen in more than a decade. And it's part of the efforts that we are putting in place to try and help ease the cost of living for all Australians. And we want to start in doing that with those who need that help the most. We're really pleased that we will see this increase take place for so many Australians as of Monday.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it's enough, though, with inflation tipped to go to 7 per cent? Pensioners will still be struggling.

MARLES: We're under no illusions as to the pressures that people are under and the pressures that the cost of living is placing on all Australians. But this is a really significant boost to the pension. It's the biggest boost that we will have seen in more than a decade. Along with increasing the minimum wage, along with making childcare more affordable, along with making medicines cheaper, these are all measures that the Albanese Government is engaged in right now to try and ease the cost of living for all Australians. What we're doing in respect to the pension is making sure that we are doing that for those who need this help the most.

JOURNALIST: You and the Prime Minister have both said that now is not the time to be having a conversation about becoming a republic. When will it be the time? Do you think it's appropriate to begin that conversation after the National Day of Mourning next week?

MARLES: Foundational questions about our nation are important. But right now it is about honouring Queen Elizabeth II. In terms of those foundational questions, what we've made clear is that our focus is on the Uluru Statement from the Heart, on putting in place a referendum to provide a Voice to the Parliament. That's our focus during the course of this term. But now is about honouring the life of Queen Elizabeth, a remarkable person who has given an unparalleled life of service. I think what we've seen over the course of the last week in the reaction across Australia to her passing, is that Australians, irrespective of their view about our constitutional arrangements, are really deeply moved by the Queen's passing. They see her as somebody who has provided so much to our nation and want to express their gratitude. And that's why it's so important that on Monday, for the Queen's funeral, Australia will be represented at this incredibly important event by both our Prime Minister and our Governor-General.

JOURNALIST: The government is due to introduce its anti-corruption legislation soon. There are calls for it to be independently funded to ensure that funding isn't cut by future governments. Is that something that the legislation will include – some mechanism for it to be funded independently and at arm's length of government?

MARLES: We have made clear the priority that the anti- corruption commission is for this government. And in doing so we made it clear that we seek to place this into the Parliament this year and our aim is to have a passed by the Parliament this year and we're on course to do all of that.