SUBJECTS: Taiwan; Defence Strategic Review; Climate change bill.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Let’s go live to Geelong now. Joining us is the Defence Minister Richard Marles. Minister, good morning to you. Do you think China overreacted?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think Pete reports of the missiles being fired are deeply concerning. We really need to be moving down a path of trying to deescalate tensions around Taiwan. For Australia’s part, as I’ve said a number of times in the last few days, our position remains unchanged. We don’t want to see any unilateral changes to the status quo on either side of the Taiwan Strait. And we really need to be urging everyone to de-escalate the tensions that we see there.

STEFANOVIC: Does it look to you to be a dress rehearsal for what they could do down the track?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think it doesn’t serve to speculate on that from our point of view. Again, we want to engage in the most calm and measured way, which helps, from an Australian point of view, to promote a de-escalation of tensions around Taiwan. We really need to be seeing that. We obviously support a rules-based order and those rules applying in and around Taiwan as well. We are concerned about the reports of the missiles that have been fired by China, but it’s now time to be de-escalating those tensions.

STEFANOVIC: The G7 has spoken in stronger terms. The White House too, this morning, Minister. The G7 said there’s no justification to use a visit as a pretext for aggressive military activity. It is normal for legislators from other countries to travel internationally. Do you need to push back a little harder when it comes to China in defence of Taiwan’s democracy and its rights?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, the visit of Nancy Pelosi is a matter between the United States and Taiwan. That’s clear. We’re not about to tell people they should or shouldn’t go to Taiwan. Australia has good relations with the people of Taiwan. We want to see a de-escalation of tensions around Taiwan. And the way in which Australia will engage on these issues is in a calm and measured way which promotes de-escalation of tension.

STEFANOVIC: The island is currently surrounded by these military drills, is that a blockade? Does that look like the beginnings of a blockade?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, what’s really important here is that the rules-based order, which has been so important for the promotion of peace, but also prosperity around the world, but here in East Asia, is critically important around Taiwan as well. And freedom of navigation, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, all of those rules of the road, as they apply everywhere else, need to apply around Taiwan as well. And that is fundamentally important. Again, we want to see a de-escalation of tensions here. That’s what must be the pathway forward. And we will engage in a way which is calm and measured to promote that.

STEFANOVIC: Just on your review that you announced this week, Minister, Stephen Smith, he is one of the co-pilots of this review, but he contributed to the capability gap that we now have as a former Defence Minister. How can he be trusted as a co-pilot in this review?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don’t accept that assertion. I mean, we’re facing a significant capability gap, principally with our submarines, which is the most important platform that we have, because the former government walked down a path with Japan and then backed out. They signed a deal with France and then five years later, they ripped it up. The dithering of the coalition government is really why we are faced with the situation of a capability gap. Stephen Smith is an enormously qualified person having been both –

STEFANOVIC: He cut spending though.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, Stephen Smith, both as Foreign Minister and Defence Minister, saw how the system works from the inside. He has since then been a respected academic in this field. He is in a perfect position with Sir Angus Houston to be able to conduct this review, which is going to be a really important assessment of what our Defence Force needs to do, given the very difficult strategic circumstances that the nation faces. And we’re seeing those circumstances play out literally in the last few days and it’s critically important that we’d be ready to deal with whatever the world presents.

STEFANOVIC: Just a final one here, Minister. You had success this week, your climate bill getting through the Lower House, it’s now heading towards the Senate. But in a way, is the legislation symbolic because it can be wound back if you lose office in three years’ time?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, the legislation provides certainty and the legislation is a reflection of the mandate that we received from the Australian people on the 21st of May. That’s the important point to make here. What it does is end a decade of paralysis and uncertainty, which the former Coalition Government gave to Australia. I mean, their party room was so completely divided that they paralysed the country in relation to this and Australians voted them out in large measure because of that. And so what we have now is a breakthrough for the country and this is going to be good for the environment, but it’s going to be really good for the economy, it’s going to be good for jobs. Businesses are crying out for this because they want the certainty that comes with this legislation and this is going to enable economic growth, it’s going to enable great jobs to be created.

STEFANOVIC: Did the Greens have leverage over you now? They’ve said this is only round one. They don’t want any more funding when it comes to new gas or other projects. So do they have leverage over you here?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: No, the Greens will say what they say, but what we’ve sought to do is to honour the mandate that we received from the Australian people on the 21st of May and that’s based on the comprehensive policy that we put to the Australian people during the election. And this legislation completely reflects the policy that we announced last December that we took to the Australian people in May and the mandate that we received from them at the election. And that’s what this legislation is. The Greens are going to say what they say, but what we will deliver is what the Australian people asked us to deliver.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, so you won’t budge when it comes to new coal or new gas projects, the Greens can expect to fight on that?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Pete, we haven’t budged. I mean, what we’ve done is presented to the Australian Parliament exactly what we said we would do. People know our position and that is what we were going to do. That’s what they voted for and we are going to honour that. Australians can absolutely expect that what we presented to them before the election, what we said we would do if we were in government, is exactly what we will do in government.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. Richard Marles, the Defence Minister, coming to us live from Geelong. Thank you for your time this morning.


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