17 October 2023
SUBJECT/S: Hamas-Israel conflict; Voice to Parliament; National Skills Agreement.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: So overnight, there have been two additional flights that have left Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv for Dubai. My understanding is that they've now landed in Dubai. 194 People are on board those flights, that includes 96 nationals from the Pacific, we've been providing assistance to those countries. It brings, in total, to about 700 people we’ve assisted leave Israel on these flights, just under 600 of whom are Australians. We don't have any more flights planned. We believe that these flights do meet the immediate demand on the part of Australians to leave Israel. That said, we are keeping a couple of Air Force planes in the region as a contingency over the coming days.
JOURNALIST: Do you know how many Australians are still left there?
MARLES: Well, I mean, there's about 10,000 Australians who live in Israel, most of whom are dual citizens. We never anticipated obviously, that that whole population would want to leave when. In fact, we were sure that most of those would want to stay. But we knew that there would be a demand and that was always thought to be measured in the hundreds, and that's as it's turned out to be. Now in addition to that, we now have– we’re in contact with 45 Australians who are in Gaza and that number has grown in over the course of the last day, as people have reached out to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Obviously, we are working with those people to look at ways in which we can get them to safety. Clearly people that are in Gaza right now are in a very, very difficult situation. We are encouraging them to move south within Gaza, to heed the call of Israel in that respect and we're working with our friends in the international community to see whether a humanitarian corridor can be established out of Gaza, but at this stage that hasn't happened.
JOURNALIST: We're hearing that possibly if Iran gets involved, then there's going to be an impact on world petrol prices. Should we be bracing for something along those lines?
MARLES: Well, this is a very volatile situation. I think the whole world is concerned, we're certainly concerned, that this does not spread beyond the immediate conflicts between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. To that end, we would definitely be urging Iran not to involve itself. It's really important that this does not widen. But clearly there is an anxiety that all of us feel about where this may head.
JOURNALIST: National Cabinet met last night, it seems that things are moving ahead – skills, trade. Can you tell us why that's such a focus?
MARLES: Well, the announcement of the skills agreement with the states for the next five years, which will unlock across federal and state spending about $30 billion in relation to trade training, is a huge step forward for our country. I mean, we have faced a skills crisis and particularly coming out of the pandemic. But it's also a reflection on a failure of the former government to invest in trade training over the better part of a decade. We need to get more Australians taking up a trade. I think everyone out there understands the shortage in a whole range of trades and this is a massive step forward in respect of that. And this will do an enormous amount in terms of contributing to the economy, boosting productivity. And it's another example of the Albanese Government's focus on taking our economy and our country forward.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Government should still pursue truth and treaty, after the Voice?
MARLES: You know, we need to let the dust settle coming out of the weekend. And that's really been the call from Indigenous Australia, which is completely understandable given the result from the weekend. Our commitment is to closing the gap. Our commitment is to reconciliation. I think Australia has asked the Government to do this in a different way, given the result of the weekend's referendum. That's what we will be doing. And we are completely committed to doing everything within our power to closing the gap. We do believe that listening to Indigenous Australia is the key to that and we really need to now sit down, talk with them and work out what the pathway is forward.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of Peter Dutton walking away from his second referendum promise?
MARLES: Well, I mean, Peter Dutton has been all over the place in terms of his positions on this from the very beginning. I mean, it's been impossible to have any consistent line drawn through Peter Dutton’s behavior other than playing politics to the maximum possible extent. And that's frankly, what he's been doing since the moment that he has started leading the Liberal Party. I mean, he doesn't have any solutions, any positive plans to close the gap. He brings nothing to the table other than playing politics. And inevitably, what that means is that his actual positions are jumping around all over the place. Who knows what Peter Dutton stands for in relation to this right now, who knows what he'll stand for a week from now. But I know what we stand for. We stand for closing the gap, making sure that we do something about the fact that a group of Australians, our fellow citizens, by virtue of their birth, leading shorter and less healthy lives is fundamentally unfair and we will be doing everything we can to address that.