14 February 2023

Defence Minister to emphasise sovereignty despite increased international security cooperation

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles with his AUKUS counterparts, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and the UK Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace. Photo: Jay Cronan via ADF.

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles will outline Australia’s ambitious goals to maintain sovereignty over new capabilities while it strives to build and enhance its international security partnerships.

In a ministerial statement to the House of Representatives scheduled to be delivered today (9 February), Mr Marles will summarise how Australia plans to develop its international security partnerships, including through the AUKUS construct with the US and UK that was implemented by the previous Morrison government.

“The compact between a government and its citizens includes the defence of borders, a secure economic future, and the maintenance of the rule of law,” Mr Marles is expected to say, according to speaking notes released by his office.

“But at the heart of this compact is sovereignty: the capacity of a people, through their government, to determine their own circumstances and to act of their own accord, free from any coercive influence.”

The government is seeking to reaffirm that, despite Australia being drawn closer to the US and other partners in the region by sharing technology and hosting more exercises and permanent facilities such as Pine Gap, it is important that the longstanding policy of ‘full knowledge and concurrence’ as articulated by the Hawke Government, will remain.

Mr Marles: “The compact between a government and its citizens includes the defence of borders, a secure economic future, and the maintenance of the rule of law.” Photo: Jay Cronan via ADF

“These principles protect Australia’s right to know, understand and agree to foreign government military and intelligence activities conducted in, from, or through Australia, and through the use of our assets,” Mr Marles will say.

“Australia’s cooperation with the United States through joint and collaborative facilities is one of our most longstanding security arrangements. This includes intelligence cooperation and communications that help ensure Australia and our Five-Eyes partners maintain an ‘intelligence advantage’.

“These facilities also contribute to global counterterrorism efforts, verification and compliance monitoring of international arms control and disarmament agreements, as well as early warning of ballistic missile launches. These facilities are truly joint in nature, integrating both Australian and US operations under shared command and control by Australian and US personnel – which I have had the opportunity to see first-hand.”

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Mr Marles will also expand upon future developments within the AUKUS construct that he says will strengthen Australia’s sovereignty and be consistent with the principles and frameworks. In particular, he is expected to address claims by opponents of an Australian nuclear-powered submarine that such an acquisition would result in Australia surrendering sovereign capability to the US or UK.

“Some argue that Australia’s reliance on our partners for the acquisition of naval nuclear-propulsion technology gives rise to a dependence that undermines Australia’s sovereignty, yet the reality is that almost all of Australia’s high-end capability is developed in cooperation with our partners. Submarines are no exception. And that dramatically enhanced capability dramatically enhances our sovereignty.

“We need to leverage expertise from the United Kingdom and the United States to help us along our optimal pathway – and building capability with them means we are better able to shape, deter and respond within our strategic landscape.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles, Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the AUSMIN talks in December 2022. Photo: Jay Cronin via ADF.

Mr Marles is expected to reinforce the Commonwealth’s long-term commitment to building self-reliance that will enhance Australia’s agency to pursue its sovereign interests, describing it as “the essence of sovereignty”.

In recent weeks, the Defence Minister has hinted at a new nuclear-powered submarine design with cooperative development input from all three nations. A decision on how Australia will progress these ambitions is expected to be made within weeks and will possibly be announced during a visit to the US by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Mr Marles slated for March.

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