Television interview, Sky News First Edition

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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; Voice referendum; Detention of Yang Hengjun.

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well, investigators will travel to the Northern Territory today to determine what caused a US military aircraft crash, killing three Marines. Joining us live now is the Defence Minister Richard Marles. Minister, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. So, are we any closer at this stage to learning what caused the crash?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: No, Pete, it's early days, obviously, it’s still within 24 hours of the crash having occurred. But as you said, investigators are on the way and what is now triggered is, in fact, a series of investigations that will occur around the crash of the Osprey, which will include an American investigation as well. And we'll work with the United States around the jurisdictional basis of them. But right now our focus is on providing all the support that we can to the United States. I’ve been in contact with Ambassador Kennedy yesterday and again overnight to express our condolences to her on behalf of the Government and the nation for the loss of those three Marines. Five are in the Royal Darwin Hospital as we speak, receiving the attention that they need and in due course, we will understand exactly what's happened here.

STEFANOVIC: Do you know if all five of those will pull through?

MARLES: I don't know the condition of the five, so it'd be wrong of me to speculate about that. I do know that they are receiving all the care that they need at this moment.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, you talked about this in your first answer there. So, the US takes the lead with this investigation. How does it get carved up and what sort of support do we offer?

MARLES: Well, in fact, there'll be a number of investigations, which is what happens in an incident of this kind. Australian authorities will look at this as well, given that the deaths have occurred in Australian territory. But we'll work closely with the United States around the jurisdictional basis of the various investigations. And inevitably, when we have an incident of this kind, the various authorities which have jurisdiction here and are required to investigate the accident work very closely together, and we'll make sure that that happens with the United States as well. We obviously need to understand what's occurred here. The US operate this platform, the Ospreys, and so clearly they are going to want to understand exactly what the circumstances of this are as well. But this investigation will be thorough.

STEFANOVIC: We don't have them, do we, Ospreys?

MARLES: No, we don't. But I mean, they're a unique capability. They're effectively a helicopter which turns into a plane in flight with the rotors which pivot. They are operated by the United States Marines and form part of this exercise, Exercise Predators Run, which we do with the United States, the Philippines, Indonesia and East Timor. But the Ospreys are also part of the Marine rotation that is in Darwin during the course of the dry season. So, they're a familiar feature around Darwin at this time. And they've also participated in Exercise Talisman Sabre. So, we don't operate them, but they are very familiar to us and we work closely with the United States in the operation of them.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah, and a fatal crash has happened involving one before here. Are you convinced that they're safe?

MARLES: Well, look, they're a very unique platform and they provide an incredible capability to the United States. Obviously, all aircraft that the United States operate and that we operate are certified as being safe before any flight takes place. We know that and we're comfortable with working with the United States with this platform, and we have done over many years now. And again, I think it's important that we allow this investigation to take place, to actually understand what has happened. But I think what it does say, Pete, is that there are risks involved when defence forces exercise, but it's really important that defence forces do exercise. We don't have a capable defence force unless we engage in exercises and training of this kind so that we are match fit and doing exercises of this kind with other countries, obviously between ourselves and the United States, but with the other countries involved in this particular exercise, also demonstrates the capability of us to work together and that has a really significant deterrent effect. So, this is critically important work that we engage in, but it does carry risk, and it's a reminder of the sacrifice and the significance of all of those who wear our uniforms each and every day.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, just a couple of quick ones, if you don't mind. On the Voice, I just want to ask what gives you confidence that you can reverse polling and pull the soft voters your way?

MARLES: Well, I think Australians want to see the recognition of our First Nations people in the Constitution, and they want to see that in the way that our First Nations people have sought, which is through a Voice to Parliament, so that we can make a practical difference to closing the gap. If you go and speak to anyone out there, an ethos of the Australian people is the idea of a fair go all round. But right now we've got a situation where a group of Australians, by virtue of their birth, live shorter lives, they're less healthy, they receive less education and they're poorer. And as long as that gap persists, it really stands totally against the idea of a fair go for all. And having a practical recognition in our Constitution through a Voice to Parliament is a means by which we seek to change the way our governments have done business so that we can really start to close that gap. Now, we will give that message, those of us who are supporting the yes campaign, the Government Yes 23, we will give that message each and every day between now and the referendum. And I still think very much that Australians want to see this change. It will be a great, unifying moment for our nation if this referendum can pass, just as the apology to the Stolen Generation was back in 2008. And we're going to work each and every day to try and see that moment occur.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. And just finally Yang Hengjun. He fears he'll die in a Chinese prison after doctors found a ten centimetre cyst on his kidney. As the Prime Minister prepares to fly to China later on this year, is there any prospect of him getting out of jail?

MARLES: Well, we continue to advocate on behalf of Yang Hengjun and we share the concerns of his family and friends. This is a case where we are advocating on behalf of him to the Chinese Government at every opportunity, and we will continue to do that. We want to see Yang Hengjun returned to his family and friends, and we will continue to make his case to the Chinese Government.

STEFANOVIC: All right. Richard Marles, the Defence Minister. Appreciate your time as always, we'll talk to you soon.


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