Television Interview, ABC Breakfast News

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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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17 February 2023

SUBJECTS: Balloons; Australia-China Relationship; Conduct after capture training

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Let's bring in the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles. Minister, good morning to you. So, do you hope that the fact that these three objects weren't Chinese spy surveillance equipment will hopefully reduce some of the tensions between the US and China?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think it's important that this statement has been made by the President to clarify the circumstances. I mean, there's obviously been a particular fascination about balloons over the last month, given the original spy balloon that we saw over the United States. I think from an Australian point of view, what's important to say is that we've had no advice of any balloon of that kind being over Australia. But we very much do have the capability to track such an object, if there was one, and to deal with.

ROWLAND: While we're speaking about China, the former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, will, we're told, give a speech in Japan today, calling on the Australian government to impose human rights sanctions on Chinese officials over the treatment of Uighur minorities and other people in China. What do you make of Mr. Morrison's call?

MARLES: Look, human rights matter, obviously, and need to be central in terms of the way in which we engage with the world and for this government they are. And we will always call out human rights concerns where we have them. And we've done that in respect of Xinjiang and in respect of the Uighur population. Indeed, I've done it publicly in China and forms part of the way in which we speak with China in our relationship. I think it's also important, though, that in doing that, we raise those issues in a respectful way with China and in the context of the broader relationship and in the context of seeking to take steps which actually make a difference. And it is important that we are stabilising our relationship with China. We value a productive relationship with China, and so pursuing that has been an objective of the government. But we can do that in the same context, raise our concerns about human rights, which we do.

ROWLAND: Okay, let's go to the ABC story this morning, care of court documents made public that the Defence Department knew some of the training that Australian soldiers underwent breached, actually breached Geneva conventions. Did you know about this training?

MARLES: Well, firstly, this relates to an incident back in 2019. It's obviously in front of the courts now, so I'm limited in what I can say about this specific event. But I think what I can say, Michael, is that the training which is undertaken today is seeking, obviously, to prepare people for an appalling set of circumstances. What matters is that this is done in a way which is voluntary for those who engage in the training, that there is an ability to tap out, at any point during the training- and that is the case. And that the safety of those undertaking the training is paramount at every point in time. And again, that is the case. If there are lessons to be learnt from this case, or indeed any case about how we can do this training with greater efficacy, but also with greater safety, well, then obviously we'll learn those lessons.

ROWLAND: But the documents, Minister, the Defence Department does say, your department does say some of the training actually breached Geneva conventions, that's not okay.

MARLES: Again, I'm not going to comment about the specific case. I think people need to understand that what training of this kind is seeking to do is to prepare people for an appalling set of circumstances. But clearly the safety of those engaged in the training needs to be paramount and, as I said, central to that needs to be- and there is- an ability to tap out at any point as the training is being undertaken. And of course, the training in the first instance is voluntary and that's the way in which it's conducted now. And I reiterate, I mean, if there are specific lessons to be learnt from this case or any case about how this can be done in a better way, then we will learn those lessons.

ROWLAND: Richard Marles, appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us.

MARLES: Thanks, Michael.


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