Radio Interview, ABC AM

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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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16 October 2023

SUBJECTS: Hamas-Israel conflict; Voice to Parliament; Cost of living.

DAVID LIPSON, HOST: Well, more Australian government assisted evacuation flights have now left the Israeli city of Tel Aviv bound for Dubai. Richard Marles is the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, and we spoke earlier.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, last night, David, there were 255 Australians who left on three flights. Two of those were Air Force flights, one chartered, all heading to Dubai. There were actually empty seats on the flights, and so we would really encourage Australians who are in Israel now, who want to leave, to take the options that are being made available to them. We plan to do another flight later today, but this is a very movable situation. Obviously we need to get slots, there are moments where airspace can be closed at short notice. So if there are Australians who want to leave Israel, it is really important that they take the options which are being provided to them.

LIPSON: And what's your advice to Australians in Lebanon now?

MARLES:  Well, the travel advisory has been changed for Lebanon. I mean, clearly what we're seeing play out in Israel-Palestine, but beyond, is very volatile and things can change really quickly. And it's with that in mind that we have changed the travel advice to Lebanon to not travel unless you absolutely have to, and to avoid any unnecessary travel. If there are Australians who are in Lebanon wanting to leave, again, we would urge them to make those decisions now because it is uncertain what will be happening with the existing commercial options going forward.

LIPSON: There is clearly concern of a spillover here. Iran has warned other countries could get involved. The US has moved a second aircraft carrier group into the region. How real is the threat of an escalation and what needs to happen to avoid this spilling over into a broader conflict?

MARLES: Well, I think clearly there is a deep anxiety which is being felt in the region and, to be honest, around the world, and you can see that in the movements that you've just described. And clearly we would be urging all parties in the Middle East not to be getting involved. We do absolutely respect and support Israel's right to defend itself in the face of the appalling terrorist attacks by Hamas the weekend before last. But there is a genuine risk of this escalating and it is obviously why we are enormously concerned about the welfare of Australians in the region and as I say, why we have, as an example, changed the travel advisory to Lebanon.

LIPSON: To the Voice referendum. There won't be constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians. Do you support the idea of a short-term policy advisory group on Indigenous issues?

MARLES: Look, we will take our time to let the events of the weekend settle and work out the best way forward. I think there are a couple of points, though. For me, obviously the referendum was not what I had hoped in terms of its outcome, but we absolutely respect the decision of the Australian people. But I think when you look at the way in which both the yes and no cases were being argued, there is a resolve to do more in relation to closing the gap, and I really hope that coming out of this referendum, there is an increased appetite to do initiatives and programs which close the gap, and we want to look at that –

LIPSON: Do you need advice, though, to help achieve that? This idea that's been written off today in The Guardian, a short term policy advisory group on Indigenous issues, do you have a view on that?

MARLES: Well, as I say, we will take our time to assess exactly the way forward, but the second point I was going to make is that in doing what we do in terms of closing the gap, we absolutely are committed to listening to Indigenous Australians and Indigenous voices. Obviously that was what underpinned the proposed change to the Constitution, but we need to be listening to Indigenous Australians to make sure the programs that are put in place are done with the greatest effect – people who are affected by them have the best idea of how they can work to the greatest outcome. And that's what we will do in the way in which we frame programs going forward. So, we really understand there are going to be a range of suggestions at this moment and that's understandable, we'll look at all of those, but we are going to take our time in the aftermath of this to work out what are the next steps forward. But we are absolutely committed to doing everything within our power to closing the gap, because the idea that there is a group of Australians who, by virtue of their birth live shorter and less healthy lives is fundamentally unfair.

LIPSON: And just briefly, more broadly, what issues are most important for the Government now that this referendum has passed, is done?

MARLES: The same issues that have been critically important from the moment that we were elected and for that matter, right through the process of the referendum. I mean, the cost of living and the challenges associated with that are impacting Australians each and every day. So, even while this referendum was taking place, we were utterly focused on putting in place measures which helped ease the burden of the cost of living. I mean, in the last few weeks and months we have seen increases to the single parent payment, we've seen the 60 day prescriptions which will save money for people who use medicine in an ongoing way. We saw affordable childcare become the law of the land in July. I mean, these are all part of measures that we've been taking from the get go around easing the burden of the cost of living. And I might say most of this has been done in the face of the opposition of the Liberal Party, but that'll be our focus, as it has been our focus. So, there's no shortage of issues going forward, and it is what we have been doing since the moment that we came to power.

LIPSON: Richard Marles, thank you.

MARLES: Thanks, David.



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