Television interview, ABC News Breakfast

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

Media contact

02 6277 7800

Release content

28 August 2023

SUBJECTS: US Marine Corps Osprey incident; Detention of Yang Hengjun; Voice referendum.

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: We're joined now by the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Richard Marles. Richard Marles, good morning to you. The Australian Government has also extended its condolences?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: We have and I've been in contact with Ambassador Kennedy yesterday and again overnight to express our condolences, to give our thoughts and prayers to the families of the three Marines who lost their lives, along with those who are still recovering. There are five who are now in the Royal Darwin Hospital of the 23 who were on board. This is a very tragic event. Obviously, we've been reminded ourselves of the risks involved in defence exercises and the costs that Defence personnel pay, and we are very much standing with the United States in this moment and doing everything we can to help.

ROWLAND: Do you have any idea of the conditions of those five injured Marines this morning?

MARLES: Look, I don't. I know that some of those have been serious, but they are being well cared for in the Royal Darwin Hospital.

ROWLAND: It is a fairly tight-knit community, the Marine rotation force in the Top End, as you well know, Richard Marles. The impact of this would be absolutely devastating, wouldn't it?

MARLES: It would be, and I think it's a really important point, Michael. These are very tight-knit communities and this will be felt throughout the Marine rotation that is happening in Darwin and it will be felt very much amongst Australian Defence Force personnel who work side by side with the US Marines during the course of the dry season. This occurred as part of Exercise Predators Run, which is an exercise that we do with the United States, along with Indonesia, the Philippines and Timor-Leste. And I think for all of those who are involved, it will bring home the risks that there are in engaging in defence exercises. But in articulating those risks, I'd also really want to be making clear just how important these exercises are in making sure that our defence forces are match fit, but also demonstrating the capabilities that we have in working closely with each other. And there is a deterrent effect associated with that, which is really important.

ROWLAND: Have those exercises been suspended now?

MARLES: Look, I'm actually not sure of the circumstance of the full exercise. What I do know, obviously, is that the Defence Force were – our Defence Force obviously – was providing support around the crash immediately, as were agencies of the Northern Territory Government. And we were doing everything that we could to make sure that we got people to the care that they needed as quickly as possible, and also doing everything we can around the recovery of the crash site.

ROWLAND: It was a US Osprey helicopter that went down. They have a pretty bad track record. Richard Marles have any Australians been on these choppers during this exercise? Or for that matter, any joint exercises with the Americans?

MARLES: Again, I'm not 100 per cent sure of the answer to that question. It is the case that the Ospreys operate throughout the Marine rotation, so they're a familiar part of the United States presence in Darwin during the Marine rotation and during exercises of this kind. I mean, Ospreys are operated by the United States Defense Force around the world, and so they are a very unique platform and obviously bring an extraordinary capability to what the United States does. And it's an important part of the Marine rotation in Darwin.

ROWLAND: Okay, so I know you're not aware of the fine details of the exercises, but would you like Australian servicemen and women not to go on board these choppers for at least the time being?

MARLES: I mean, I think the operation of the Ospreys is a matter for the United States. When we're talking about any of these platforms at any moment in time, they're always certified to fly. And we would rely on the certification and safety processes of the United States when we're operating with the United States. Now, I think we've got to allow the investigations to play out in relation to this particular incident before we start making judgments around an entire platform. What will happen now is that there will be a number of investigations which will be triggered as a result of this accident, and that will include from the United States themselves. And we'll obviously work with the US around the jurisdictional basis for them. But I think we need to let those investigations play out so that we properly understand exactly what has happened here.

ROWLAND: Yeah, sure. Okay, let's just go to another topic here. Australian writer Yang Hengjun. His supporters say that he's very ill. The Australian writer has been in a Beijing prison for four and a half years, and they fear he'll die if he doesn't get proper medical care. What's the Australian Government doing about this situation?

MARLES: Well, we make representations to the Chinese Government whenever we can, and that literally means constantly, in respect of all the consular cases that exist with China, and that includes this individual. And we will continue to advocate on behalf of this person to the Chinese Government and do everything we can for his circumstances.

ROWLAND: How often, to your knowledge, do Australian consulate officials get to see Yang Hengjun?

MARLES: Look, I'm not aware of the detail of that as well, but proper consular access to people who are in prison is a critical part of the rights that our citizens have in any given country, and we always seek to assert those rights with the government's concerned, and certainly with the Chinese Government in this case.

ROWLAND: Okay, just one final question to the domestic situation. The starter's gun is fired this week by the Prime Minister for the Voice referendum, assumed to be held sometime in mid-October. As you know, the yes vote is sagging in all the main opinion polls. What, in your view, Richard Marles, does the yes campaign need to do to sharpen its message and win more support?

MARLES: Well, we will continue to make the argument around the recognition of our first peoples in our constitution, and to do that through a voice to Parliament, which is the form of recognition that First Nations people have sought through the Uluru Statement from the Heart. I actually think that there is a yearning around Australia to see a proper recognition of our First Nations people. We need to be doing this in a way where we do close the gap. The fact that a part of our population, by virtue of their birth, end up living shorter lives, less healthy lives, receive less education and are poorer, is simply not acceptable. It really flies in the face of what we see as the Australian ethos of a fair go for all. And I think when you give that message, it resonates with Australians, and I know that we will be and the yes campaign will be giving that message each and every day between now and the referendum. This is an opportunity to unify the nation just as the apology of the Stolen Generations was back in 2008. I think that the day after a referendum is successful, it will be a huge moment for our country, and we're going to be doing everything we can to try and deliver that moment.

ROWLAND: Richard Marles, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

MARLES: Thanks, Michael.


Other related releases