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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16 October 2023

SUBJECTS: Voice to Parliament; Hamas-Israel conflict

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Sorry to put this to you. Let's start there, Richard Marles, are you worried about losing your seat now, at the next election because of this?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Look, the referendum obviously wasn't what we'd hoped on the weekend, but we really do respect the voice of the Australian people and the result, and we won't be moving forward with constitutional reform now. But I actually think when you look at the way in which both the yes and no campaigns ran their arguments, there is an increased desire to look at ways in which we can move to close the gap of social disadvantage. I think everyone acknowledges how unfair that is and our focus now in going forward needs to be on that.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, but just on the Voice, I mean, you badly misjudged the mood of the nation with more time to reflect. How did you get it so wrong?

MARLES: We went to the last election saying that we would take the Uluru Statement from the Heart to the Australian people, and that was our commitment and that's what we did. We followed through on that commitment. Now, the history of referendums is that they are difficult to get up and there isn't a precedent where it's not bipartisan. So, we knew that this was difficult, but we felt that it was important to honour the commitment that we made to the Australian people at the last election and give Australians their say. And that's what we did.

STEFANOVIC: So, just on that, then, if you knew victory was unlikely, I mean, why pursue it and waste $400 million in a cost of living crisis?

MARLES: Well, firstly, we've been very focused on the cost of living throughout this campaign. It is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. Governments actually have to do that all the time. And so in the last few weeks, the last couple of months, we've seen an employment white paper, we've seen 60 day prescriptions come into effect which are going to save money for those who have chronic illnesses and use medication a lot. We've seen an increase in the single parenting payment, and I could go on. I mean, we've been completely focused on easing the burden-

STEFANOVIC: But was the referendum a waste of money?

MARLES: Mostly we've done that in the face of the opposition of the Liberal Party. No, it wasn't. We made a commitment to the Australian people that we would take the Uluru Statement of the Heart to a referendum. That's what we took to the last election. We followed through on that. We didn't take that commitment to the last election only on the basis of Peter Dutton agreed. We did this on the basis that we would take it to the Australian people. And that's what we've done. I think asking the Australian people their opinion is never wrong, but equally the Australian people always get it right and we acknowledge the result. We move forward now, not through constitutional reform, but looking at other ways in which we can act to close the gap.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. I mean, you all went along with it, but the question does need to be asked because it was the Prime Minister's baby. But does the PM still enjoy full support in the party, considering the size of the defeat?

MARLES: Of course, and everyone was committed to seeing this referendum happen. I mean, I passionately believed that had we altered the constitution to recognise Indigenous Australians through a Voice to Parliament, it would have made a real difference in closing the gap. That's what I believed and that's why I voted yes and campaigned for it. And I think in that my view is consistent with everyone in the Caucus. We understood this and we understood that it was difficult, but you don't shy away from issues just because they are difficult. But that said, the result has happened and now we need to look at closing the gap in a different way.

STEFANOVIC: And the PM has full support in the Party?

MARLES: I mean, he does, and this process did. And I think we hope that from this, there is an increased commitment throughout Australia to act on closing the gap. I think Australians do better realise now that a group of our citizens, by virtue of their birth, living shorter and less healthy lives, is fundamentally unfair and it needs to change.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. Does that mean treaty and truth telling? Or, like Jackie Lambie referred to last hour, more practical measures on the ground need to be prioritised?

MARLES: Well, we definitely need to be looking at practical measures on the ground and indeed, that has underpinned everything we've done up until now. I mean, as I said, the gap is fundamentally unfair. And, yes, getting symbols right matters. But what actually came from the Uluru Statement from the Heart back in 2017 is that the indigenous leadership of this country, while wanting to make sure that the symbols are done right, want that to happen in a practical way where we actually close the gap. That is the thing which is fundamentally unfair in this country. So, we will absolutely be focused on practical measures. The answer to your question is: we are committed to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. I think, in light of the referendum, it is now a moment to let the dust settle and to work out what the way forward is. But we are absolutely committed to closing the gap, and in doing so, we are absolutely committed to listening to indigenous Australians.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, now, we just heard the update from the Foreign Minister, Richard, just with your Defence hat on now. So, you had two RAAF flights that left Tel Aviv overnight. Is that it or is there more to come?

MARLES: Well, there was two RAAF flights and a chartered flight, so three flights in total. 255 people were able to leave last night. There is another flight planned today, but I emphasise this is a very changeable situation. We're dependent on airspace remaining open, we're dependent on being able to obtain a slot at Ben Gurion Airport, and so a whole lot of things can change at a very short moment's notice. And with that in mind, there were spare seats on the planes last night, so if there are Australians who want to leave Israel, we urge them to take the opportunity that is being provided to them. Don't wait for it to be convenient, because we don't know how long this window will remain open. We do plan another flight today. Defence assets will remain in the region, but this is, as I say, a very changeable situation and it could all change at a moment's notice.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah, no, that's fair enough. So, just to confirm, is that a RAAF flight or a commercial flight? This one more that's coming.

MARLES: Look, I'm not in a position to confirm that, but there is a plan to have another flight today. RAAF assets remain in the region, but we are very dependent upon a whole lot of circumstances remaining in Israel which allow this to occur, most notably airspace remaining open. And obviously, all of that could change literally in a moment's notice.

STEFANOVIC: Richard Marles, the Defence Minister. Thanks for your time this morning. We'll talk to you again soon.


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