Radio interview, ABC Melbourne Drive

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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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10 October 2023

SUBJECT/S: Hamas-Israel Conflict.

ALI MOORE, HOST: Richard Marles is the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister and joins us now. Richard Marles, welcome to Drive.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon, Ali. How are you?

MOORE: Well, thank you. Can I get your reaction to the latest events in Israel and Gaza? Of course, it’s early morning over there, so we're just going into a new day.

MARLES: Well, obviously what we saw on the weekend was an act of terror that was wrought upon innocent people and we've now seen the lives of more than 900 innocents be taken as a result of this and that number is growing. Firstly, we very much, in this moment, stand in solidarity with the people of Israel. This is an appalling situation that they are experiencing. In these circumstances, I think we can understand Israel's right to act in a way that defends itself, but also to seek to protect, and to liberate its citizens and to act against Hamas. They face an appalling situation where there are a significant number of their citizens who are being held hostage within Gaza. It’s a tragic set of events. It obviously has a long way to play out. In this moment, though, my thoughts are very much with the people of Israel.

MOORE: Just before I go to the right to defend, can I ask you if you've got any updated information about whether Australians have been caught up in this?

MARLES: Look, all I can tell you is that to this point in time, we've got no confirmed reports of any Australians either being killed or hospitalised. There is quite a lot of Australians who live in the region, about 10,000 Australians live in Israel, a number of them are dual citizens. But we are monitoring this really closely to obviously ascertain their welfare which we're doing through the embassy in Israel and also through the community here in Australia and we'll continue to do that.

MOORE: You and the Prime Minister, and indeed, you just made it clear there that you believe Israel has a right to defend itself. How far do you believe that right goes?

MARLES: Well, it's obviously difficult to answer that question now, and we are considering these events within, really a matter of hours of the incidents on the weekend. What's clear is that, given what occurred on a weekend, given that this was clearly an act of terror and that we're not talking about combatants here, we're talking about innocent people who are going about their lives, who lost their lives at music festivals, at home, in their villages. That's what happened. Hamas stands condemned in this moment and they are an organisation that is registered as a terrorist organisation by successive Australian governments. In this moment, Israel has a right to defend itself. Now, I'm not sitting in the chair in Israel and they need to make the decisions they need to make, in terms of how to deal with what is a deeply complex and difficult situation for them. But that they have a right to defend themselves in this moment is completely clear.

MOORE: I guess my question, though, relates to the Israeli Prime Minister. He's vowed to change the Middle East. He has said what we will do to our enemies in the coming days will reverberate with them for generations. You talk about innocent people in Israel going about their lives and then being the subject to these horrific terror attacks. There are also innocent people in the territories in Gaza who also have been going about their lives and suddenly found their apartment building disintegrated.

MARLES: Well, I mean, we understand that the events that are playing out in Israel and in the Middle East, that there is a long history and a context, but nothing justifies or excuses the acts that we saw undertaken by Hamas over the course of the weekend. I mean, nothing excuses that kind of terrorist activity wrought against innocent people. And it's really important that in this moment that that be called out and spoken for what it is. And that is why we've been really clear in making clear to the Australian people, and indeed to Israel, that we stand in solidarity with the people of Israel in this moment. I was at an event last night at the Caulfield Synagogue where there were lots of people from the Jewish community, many who were in that room, who had family and friends who they had deep anxieties about, as people can understand. I mean, this is very much affecting people here in Australia in terms of their concern for their families. And whilst there is a context to these events in the Middle East, nothing excuses what we saw on the weekend and it stands condemned.

MOORE: At that event last night, Senator Paterson, the Shadow Home Affairs Minister, said that even if global support wavers, Australia's support for Israel would not. I'm quoting him now, “Israel cannot live any longer with the existential risk of an event like this happening again. The response must be decisive and when that response comes, we will stand with you through what needs to be done because we are not fair weather friends.” Do you support that sentiment? And I just go back to the point, and I accept what you're saying, that this is unacceptable terrorism and we stand with Israel, in your words. But at what point do you urge restraint? At what point is standing with Israel no longer palatable to the Australian government? Or is there no point?

MARLES: Well, last night I made clear, as I make clear now, that Israel has a right to exist in peace and with security. And I might say, the Palestinian people have a right to exist with peace and security as well. But Israel has a right to live and to exist with peace and security. What we saw was that peace and security shattered over the course of the weekend. And last night I made clear, and again, make it clear now, we absolutely understand that Israel has a right to defend itself. It has a right to protect and to liberate its citizens, particularly referring to those who've been taken hostage, and it has a right to act against Hamas. Now, they are the rights that belong to Israel in this moment, given what has occurred over the course of the weekend. And in that, we absolutely respect that. And as I say, we stand in solidarity with Israel and its people.

MOORE: Are there any rights for the Palestinian people who don't support Hamas and who have nowhere to go?

MARLES: Of course, of course that’s the case. And, as I said, Palestinians have a right to exist in security and peace as well. What Hamas has done, though, has given rise to a situation which obviously has created the circumstances that we now find and does put Israel in a position where it's seeking to defend itself. But of course, there are Palestinian people who don't support Hamas and who are innocent of themselves. Of course they have rights in this moment. But this is an act of Hamas, which is an act of terrorism and it is an act that has been wrought against innocents and it stands in the strongest condemnation. And that's the moment that we're in right now.

MOORE: You're listening to Richard Marles, Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, obviously, and Defence Minister as well. Richard Marles, can I ask you about a couple of other issues connected to this? Opposition Leader Peter Dutton spoke earlier this afternoon and he made this point:

PETER DUTTON (GRAB): I find it remarkable that the Prime Minister hasn't held a national security meeting yet. I mean, the threat to people of Jewish faith in our country is very real.

MOORE: Do you have a response to that?

MARLES: Well, from the moment that this incident occurred and we became notified on it, which was on Saturday afternoon, we have been working closely with our agencies that are responsible for our national security abroad, but also at home around well, first of all, seeking to ascertain the safety of Australians who were in the region, but also the situation of domestic security at home. Now, we've been doing that from the moment that we became aware of this situation and we've been monitoring it closely and we've been making the decisions that governments need to make. I mean, frankly, this is playing politics and I'm really surprised that we are seeing this in this moment from Peter Dutton. If there was ever a moment where we need to be above the political fray and above partisan politics in Australia, it is right now. Because fundamentally this is not an issue about what's going on in Australia, albeit that we definitely need to be maintaining domestic security here. And we are doing that. This is fundamentally about what is happening in the Middle East and making sure that we stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Israel, and that is what we are doing and that is the only thing that we should be focused on.

MOORE: And as part of that standing shoulder to shoulder, has there been any request for any physical support? I know earlier the Prime Minister yesterday said there had not been, but does our standing shoulder to shoulder amount to anything more than the words?

MARLES: Well, there's been no requests from Israel and there's certainly been no talk of any military support for example, which has been questions that have been asked of me during the course of this day, there's been no talk of that. We are though constantly talking with Israel and I've been in touch with the Israeli Ambassador, as I know the Foreign Minister has been, and the Prime Minister has been reaching out as well –

MOORE: Have you offered anything? Is there something that's on the table?

MARLES: Well, nothing has been sought and there's not any talk about providing any assistance of this kind. What matters, I think, is that we stand with the world, frankly, in condemnation of Hamas and the actions which occurred on the weekend, and we could not have been more clear in respect of that. And we are very much monitoring the domestic situation in Australia as well. But I think what we've heard from Peter Dutton doesn't meet the moment. This should be a moment which is above politics, and frankly this is looking for political angles at a time when really there are far bigger issues at hand.

MOORE: And do you think though, just to go to what he was saying, do you think that there is a heightened security risk now in this country?

MARLES: Well, we will continue to assess that with our domestic agencies. There's limits to what we would discuss publicly in relation to that but we're really confident that the agencies that exist to maintain our domestic security, our intelligence agencies and our police are amongst the best in the world and we're confident about the security situation in Australia.

MOORE: Richard Marles do you still think a two state solution is a viable possibility?

MARLES: I do and it remains my view, it remains the Government's view, and in fact it's really been bipartisan policy in this country for a long period of time. We need to be playing a role where we are seeking peace between the Israelis and the Palestinian people. I mean this is a very difficult moment but ultimately the long term solution here has to be some form of peace and I do believe that that is still where the Middle East should head.

MOORE: Last year the ALP passed a motion at the party's platform at the state conference – at the national conference, I should say – essentially, aspirationally the party has a policy of recognising Palestine. It's an aspiration, it's not a specific policy target. But has the possibility of that now essentially become a pipe dream?

MARLES: Well, that question, and it's understood by the national conference, that that question is always one that will ultimately reside in the hands of a Labor Government and a Labor Cabinet. And it's not the place that we have been at and that we're at the moment. What we see as being the role of our country right now is to do what we can to support efforts which move towards peace. Now, I well understand that in the context of all that has occurred over the course of the weekend, peace in the Middle East seems distant. But clearly that has to be our focus. But again, as we talk now, we really are in the immediate shadow of an appalling event. And right now our focus is on those who have borne the brunt of that, and they are the more than 900 people who have lost their lives in Israel. Innocent people, their families. And our focus is very much about standing in solidarity with the Israeli people as we speak.

MOORE: Richard Marles, thank you very much for joining us.

MARLES: Thank you, Ali.


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