Radio interview, ABC Darwin

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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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28 August 2023

SUBJECTS: US Marine Corps Osprey incident; Northern Territory infrastructure.

JOLENE LAVERTY, HOST: Richard Marles is the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence. Good morning and thanks for joining us on ABC Radio Darwin.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: It's a pleasure, thanks for having me.

LAVERTY: Can you please give us an update of what you know this morning?

MARLES: Well, there are five personnel who are in the Royal Darwin Hospital, as you reported one is in a critical condition, I don't know the circumstances of their health beyond that. Three sadly lost their lives. And as I'm listening to you reporting, what's really clear is that emergency personnel were on the scene almost immediately, along with the Australian Defence Force rendering assistance. I was in contact with Ambassador Caroline Kennedy yesterday and again overnight, and there couldn't be more gratitude from the American Government for the service that has been provided by the Northern Territory Government agencies and the Defence Force in providing assistance in this moment. It is deeply appreciated and obviously we work very closely with the United States, not only in this exercise, but across the dry season in Darwin with the Marine rotation, and we feel very keenly the loss of these personnel's lives.

LAVERTY: Yeah, well, in fact, I can only imagine what it was like crashing on Melville Island in some pretty remote and dense landscape. And it was the local health services that were first on scene, wasn't it, Deputy Prime Minister?

MARLES: Yeah, I mean, there were agencies who were on the scene locally, as you said, almost immediately. And I think that's played a really important part in making sure that we've been able to have as many people survive as possible from this crash. I mean, 23 people were on board and 20 people have survived the crash, which is remarkable. And that is in no small part due to the assistance that was able to be provided by those who are on the scene almost immediately.

LAVERTY: What can you tell me about those who have lost their lives?

MARLES: Well, obviously they were US Marines. We now will work closely with the US Government around the repatriation of their remains. I don't have the details of those people individually and that'll be a matter for the United States Government to release in due course. What now happens, of course, is that there will be a number of investigations, actually, that will be triggered by virtue of this accident and that process is already underway, and we'll work closely with the US around the jurisdictional basis and interaction of those investigations. But clearly it's important that we what happened here and I know the United States will be very keen to understand that as well.

LAVERTY: Richard Marles is Deputy Prime Minister and Federal Minister for Defence. For those listening, and there's been a lot of commentary about these Ospreys in particular and that they have a bit of a bad track record, don't they?

MARLES: Well, the Ospreys are a remarkable capability. I mean, for those who don't know, they are effectively a helicopter which then turns into a plane in flight as the rotors were able to tilt. They’ve become a familiar feature of Darwin during the course of the dry season because they're used by the Marines as part of the Marine rotation, they were being used in this exercise, and they've been used in other defence exercises that we do with the United States. They're used by the US around the world, and we routinely work with the United States with the United States with the Ospreys. So, I mean, we need to let this investigation and the investigation process play out to understand exactly what has happened here. But I think we see this as a very important piece of capability and we've been happy to work with the United States with the Ospreys.

LAVERTY: So until the investigation has been completed, are you going to let Australian Defence personnel onto an Osprey?

MARLES: We will work with the US in ensuring that we work with whatever platforms they have, provided they are certified to fly. And that is now a matter for the US in relation to the specific Ospreys which they're operating in Darwin. But as I say, this is a capability that the United States operate around the world and we will work with them with whatever platforms they operate, provided they have the appropriate certification. And that's now a matter for the US.

LAVERTY: Yeah. And so you're comfortable with Australians getting on Osprey after?

MARLES: Look, we work really closely with the US with Ospreys. Australians do get on board Ospreys and have done so during the course of a Marine rotation, that's pretty standard. The US are the operator of the platform, it's a matter for them now, in terms of the particular safety certification of the Ospreys in Darwin. And again, we don't know what's happened here, and so it's really important that we allow that investigation process to take place. But we rely on the US to provide the safety certification for all the equipment that they use, and we would be satisfied with that.

LAVERTY: Yesterday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had this to say.

PRIME MINISTER (CLIP): Look, we will be making further statements later today. Obviously, this is a regrettable incident. I'm unable to give further information at this time. We do follow protocols at a time like this, and the Australian Defence Force are cooperating with our friends in the United States Defense Force to make sure that we provide every assistance possible.

LAVERTY: And this morning, the Federal Government and the Northern Territory Government have received some criticism for not disclosing that there were fatalities. Why did it take nearly 10 hours for the public to be told there were multiple fatalities, Minister?

MARLES: Well, we want to respect the protocols here, and that's really a matter for the United States to ultimately to make those announcements. I think there was an appropriate concern to work in with the United States before any of those announcements were made. And so that's the answer here. But it's always a sensitive and a difficult matter when an event of this kind occurs. There is the notification of the families, and in this instance that will have been across very different time zones. And we would have been very keen to ensure that the US had complete control –

… (Continued later in program)

LAVERTY: Richard Marles is Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. And I also asked about a Code Brown at Darwin Hospital, which came soon after the Code Yellow, putting significant pressure on the patient list. I asked, given defence training will continue to grow in the Territory and risk continues to increase, will the Defence Minister or the Federal Government have any plans to better resource our hospitals?

MARLES: Obviously, all of those matters will be considered separately to this incident, so I'm not about to comment on that now. We really appreciate, though, the efforts that have been undertaken by all of those at the Royal Darwin Hospital to render assistance to the injured and the five who are currently in the Royal Darwin Hospital now. And it is a reminder of how important Darwin is actually as an asset for our national security. And all the facilities and capabilities which exist in Darwin are critically important for the defence of the nation and I think it reminds us of that again.

LAVERTY: Do you think that will translate to more funding, for example, for the hospital, just to make sure that it's ready for this kind of thing in the future? We heard from patients who had spent a couple of days at a Code Yellow in Emergency, and then Code Brown meant that they had to move from the hospital into other accommodation via minibus. And as we move towards more of a warlike posture, which we seem to be, perhaps this kind of incident is going to be more likely.

MARLES: Well, look, again, I'm not in a position to answer questions about the funding of the Royal Darwin Hospital going forward. I think the point I would make is that Darwin more generally is a really important asset for the country, and as a Government, we are investing significantly in Darwin and the infrastructure and the capabilities around Darwin because of what the city means to our national security. And that's an important part of the Defence Strategic Review. The focus on our northern bases, which Darwin is very much at the heart of that. And we'll continue to make sure that we are putting the appropriate investment in so that Darwin can continue to play the really important role it does for the security of our country.

LAVERTY: Do you know what's going to happen now for, say, this contingent of Marine rotation that we have here?

MARLES: Well, Exercise Predators Run, which, as I said earlier, the exercise between ourselves, the United States, the Philippines, Indonesia and East Timor, has been suspended for the moment while the recovery is in place in respect of the Osprey aircraft. There will be investigations which now take place, as I've articulated. The Marine rotation will continue and no doubt there'll be some impact in respect of how that continues over the coming days and weeks. But the Marine rotation is a very important part of America's presence in Australia and a very important part of our own national security and so that will continue.

LAVERTY: Before I let you go, was there anything else that you wanted to add?

MARLES: I just really want to thank all of those who were on the scene immediately. The support that has been provided by those agencies has been really important in terms of saving lives. I know that our partner, the United States, is incredibly appreciative of that. As a Government, we are as well. And listening to you broadcast this morning, the sentiments that are being expressed by the entire Darwin community in solidarity with those who lost their lives yesterday and those who were on that Osprey, I think, says a lot about the sense of community in Darwin and the friendship and solidarity that we have with the United States.

LAVERTY: Richard Marles, thank you so much for your time this morning.


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