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The Hon Richard Marles MP
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for Defence
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
02 6277 7800
10 February 2023
SUBJECTS: Türkiye/Syria earthquake assistance; Cost of living; Political donations; Surveillance cameras.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER RICHARD MARLES: I think every Australian has been moved by what they have seen on their TV screens play out in Türkiye and Syria. This is a horrific event and I think our hearts are in our mouths about where this death toll is now going to go. When you think about those in Syria, where there is war, there's been a cholera outbreak, this is just an appalling set of circumstances. And our thoughts today are very much with the Turkish-Australian community and with the Syrian-Australian community. Australia has already announced that we will be making a contribution of $10 million to the aid efforts. This morning a C-17, will be leaving from RAAF Base Richmond with a team of 72 urban search and rescuers who will make a real difference when they get onto the ground in Türkiye. And we'll continue to talk with international authorities about how we can best assist in in this effort.
REPORTER: Richard, another meeting today to talk energy bill relief, why is it taking so long to sort this out with the states and how quickly will that relief flow through to concession cardholders and small business owners?
MARLES: We will continue to make cost of living priority number one for the Albanese Government. And it has been since the day that we've been elected. We understand the pressures that Australians are facing, and that's why we particularly sought to act last year in respect of energy prices by putting the legislation through Parliament that we did. Legislation which the Liberal Party voted against. We'll continue to work with state and territory Treasurers, as the Treasurer Jim Chalmers is doing today. This is not an easy process to work through, but we'll continue to do that because we want to make sure that we can do everything we can to relieve this pressure.
REPORTER: It was announced in December, will the subsidies flow at least before the coming winter?
MARLES: So the meeting is occurring today and it's part of an ongoing process of working with the states and territories to get this package occurring. But we are completely focused on dealing with these cost of living pressures.
REPORTER: Labor came to government promising to restore integrity. Do you think it's appropriate that the Minister responsible for gambling policy received donations from a major gambling company?
MARLES: Well, the Minister addressed this in Question Time yesterday, and she has made all the appropriate declarations in accordance with her obligations. We are very focused on the issue of problem gambling and the Minister is leading the government's efforts in respect of that in relation to online gambling.
REPORTER: Is there at least a perceived conflict of interest here?
MARLES: Well, there is a regime in place in respect of declaring donations so that we can be completely public about that, and the Minister is compliant with her obligations.
REPORTER: Just on cost of living again, New South Wales Treasurer Matt Kean is sort of saying ‘why can't we deliver these rebates now, why do we have to wait for detail in the May Budget?’ and not to flow, as your government has indicated, until June. Do you agree with Matt Kean, that it should flow sooner rather than later?
MARLES: Well, as I said, this is a complex process to work through. The Federal Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, will be meeting with all the Treasurers today to talk about how best to make this happen.
REPORTER: Do you think that your government can win the seat of Aston in Victoria? Are you still in a honeymoon period there?
MARLES: Look, we don't take anything for granted, it's obviously going to be a hard-fought contest. This is a seat which has been held by the Liberal Party for a very long period of time. So obviously, we start behind the eight ball there. But you know, we're very focused on this. And obviously, this is going to be a big test for Peter Dutton’s leadership.
REPORTER: How quickly will Chinese made cameras be removed from government departments and agencies? Yours first, and then will other Ministers follow suit?
MARLES: Well, I can only speak for Defence. But all the cameras that have been registered to that company that we are aware of have been removed. So we've done a database search of all those cameras. I've actually asked, in addition to that, for the Department to engage in a further audit, just to make sure we've not missed any, and if there are any, they will be removed. So those steps have already been taken.
I want to make this point, though. I mean, this is a significant issue, and it's one that we clearly need to deal with. The security of our facilities matters. But, we've watched Senator Paterson, Karen Andrews out there trying to make political mileage of this. We were not seeking to do this. But Defence were aware of these cameras back in 2018, so that not only predates the last election, but the one before that. I’m not sure how many Liberal Defence Ministers there have been since 2018 and the last election, but that includes the entire tenure of Peter Dutton’s time as the Minister for Defence and nothing happened. So we are the government which has actually dealt with this and are removing those cameras. We've not sought to make politics from this, but the idea that the Liberals are out there trying to make political hay on this really is a disgrace.
REPORTER: Are you worried about the implications that this move could have for Australia trying to restore relations with China? I know there have been comments overnight by a Chinese spokesperson suggesting that that could be the case.
MARLES: No, I mean, we take steps in respect of our own security, which countries are completely entitled to do. We really value a productive relationship with China. China is our largest trading partner. It's a point, even as Defence Minister, I've made consistently. I've met with my Chinese counterpart a couple of times, we've obviously seen the Foreign Minister visit China. We saw a really successful meeting with the Trade Ministers during the week. We want to stabilise our relationship with China. But obviously, we have a right to make sure that our facilities are secure. And I don't think that's about China, I think that's about the security of our facilities.