Television interview, Sunrise

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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

NATALIE BARR, HOST: Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Richard Marles joins me now live from Parliament House in Canberra. Thank you very much for your time. How many Australians were able to flee overnight from Tel Aviv? And do you know how many Aussies are left trapped in Gaza?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, I don't have the precise numbers to the last question, Nat, but last night we had 255 Australians leave on three flights. One was a chartered flight and two were with the Air Force, but all three flights were then taken to Dubai for processing. I should say there were empty seats on the flights. And we have another flight, which we are planning to do today, and we just urge all of those Australians who are in Israel who want to leave, don't wait for when it's convenient. Take the first option that there is, because this is a rapidly evolving situation and it's not clear what will happen with airspace and the like. So, if you've got an option to leave, make sure that you take it.

BARR:  Yes, absolutely, because we're hearing, as you say, there are people still waiting, so get onto it. Now, the Prime Minister, when we talked to him last week, mentioned these 19 or so Aussies that are trapped in Gaza. We have just heard the head of the Israeli Defence Force say, we've given people 48 hours to get out of that northern zone. Otherwise we're going in and it's going to be a massive operation. Do you know where those 19 are?

MARLES: I don't have the details of that. We are working, though. The Department of Foreign Affairs is very much working with families and we are aware of groups that are in Gaza. I mean, we absolutely respect Israel's right to defend itself. Obviously, this happens because of the appalling terrorist attacks that we saw from Hamas the weekend before last. It is really important that the rules of war are adhered to. It's obviously important that everything is done to protect civilian life. I mean, this is a dangerous situation and it is a tragedy that we are watching unfold and obviously we will continue to work with all the authorities we can for the safety of all Australians who are caught up in this.

BARR: Yeah, look, the UN is begging for more time. Is that enough time, giving people 48 hours to get out of a zone? What if thousands and thousands of innocent people are killed in the northern part of Gaza? Do you think public sympathy will turn on Israel?

MARLES: Well, the protection of civilian life has to be a critical part of the way in which Israel does what it does, and I know that it will be focused on that. We do absolutely accept Israel's right to defend itself, to move against Hamas in the face of what occurred the weekend before last. Obviously all of our thoughts are with the innocent Israelis and innocent Palestinians who are caught up in this impending calamity. It is a desperately sad situation that we are seeing and it is really important that as Israel pursues its objectives that it does focus on the protection of civilian life.

BARR: Okay, now to the Voice. It has been called one of the worst run campaigns in Australian history. It was obviously a dismal failure. Who's to blame for it?

MARLES: I don't think it's a question of blame and I don't accept those assertions. Obviously, the weekend's result is certainly not the one that I'd hoped for. But ultimately this is the voice of the Australian people and we need to respect that. And as a government we do. We won't be moving forward with constitutional reform now, that's clearly what has been expressed by the Australian people. I think moving forward, our focus needs to be on really putting an even greater effort on closing the gap and on reconciliation. I don't take yesterday the weekend's vote as any vote against those objectives. In fact, quite the opposite. When you listen to the arguments of both sides. Yes and no. There was a deep concern for doing everything we can to close the gap. And I think moving forward now, it is a case of bringing unity to the Australian people on this question and looking at measures by which we can close the gap.

BARR: How can you say that this is anything but a massive failure of your government? You hung your hats on it. You failed to explain it. You didn't allay people's fears over land seizures, over payouts. You didn't even explain what it would do to Aboriginal people in this country. It's nothing more than a failure, is it?

MARLES: Well, I think we absolutely made that explanation in the sense that what we were-

BARR: Do you? Because Australia- look at that map. I don't think you did at all. I don't think anyone thinks you explained it well.

MARLES: What we made clear was that this was about listening to-

BARR: But you didn't make it clear.

MARLES: If I can finish. This was about listening to indigenous people on issues which affected them so that we could really change the way in which we do business to close the gap. I mean, the gap has been stubborn and persistent-

BARR: Yes.

MARLES: In the social disadvantage which it has given rise to for indigenous Australians. Look, we went to the last election with a commitment to follow through on the process which came from the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We went to the last election saying that we would take this referendum to the Australian people and give the Australian people their choice. And that's what we did. Now we respect the choice that has been made. We gave it our best shot in terms of making the arguments. I think the reality is that there hasn't been a referendum passed in this country without it being bipartisan and the moment that it stopped being a bipartisan issue, it was always going to be difficult. There was no historic precedent for a successful referendum in those circumstances-

BARR: So, why didn't you pull it?

MARLES: Just because it was difficult didn’t mean we weren’t going to push forward.

BARR: When you knew this was going to fail. Once Dutton pulled support and you knew how hard it was, why didn't you pull it?

MARLES: Because we went to the last election saying that we would take this referendum to the Australian people-

BARR: Okay.

MARLES: We didn't go to- but if I can finish- we didn't go to the last election saying we'll take it to the Australian people, provided that Peter Dutton agrees. There was no right of veto that was given to Peter Dutton in the promise that we made to the Australian people. And we have honoured our promise to the Australian people in having this question put before them. It's been put before them. They have answered it and we respect that answer and we now move forward and we move forward with an increased effort to close the gap.

BARR: Okay. I think a lot of people would agree with that one. Thank you very much, Richard Marles, this morning.

MARLES: Thanks Nat.



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