Television Interview, ABC News Breakfast

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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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17 October 2023

SUBJECTS: Hamas-Israel conflict; Voice to Parliament.

LISA MILLAR, HOST: As we've been reporting this morning, hundreds of Australians have been flown out of Israel, while the 19 confirmed to be in Gaza are being strongly encouraged to move quickly to the border with Egypt, that Rafah crossing we've been talking about. More Australians are still thought to be on the ground looking for a way out. We've got this question mark over a possible ground offensive. The Deputy Prime Minister and Australia's Defence Minister, Richard Marles, joins us now from Parliament House. Deputy Prime Minister, good morning, and welcome to News Breakfast.


MILLAR: What's the latest on these flights? What can you tell us this morning?

MARLES: So, there were a couple of flights overnight, Lisa, which I haven't actually had confirmation, but I think they’ve literally just touched down in Dubai. But they left Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv airport, during the night. 194 people were on board. 96 of those were actually from the Pacific. So, we've been providing assisted flights to other countries and other friends. What that means now is we've provided assisted flights to about 700 people, just under 600 Australians. There were empty seats again on the planes last night, they were slightly more full than the night before. But this right now is as much as we are planning to do. So, we don't have any more planned flights. We will keep Defence assets, RAAF planes, in the region as a contingency as things develop, in case there is a greater need. But as of now, there are no more planned flights.

MILLAR: Okay, so the warning from Penny Wong yesterday saying, this is it, there's not going to be more flights in a few days or another week or two, at this stage – and I realise plans can change, but that's because you feel that you have met the initial emergency demand that's there.

MARLES: Yeah, so, that is right. We feel that we have met the need that is in Israel on behalf of Australians to leave. The other point that obviously we've all been making is this is a very volatile and changeable environment and we don't know whether Israeli airspace, for example, will remain open. There's always an issue about getting slots into Tel Aviv Airport. It needs to remain open. So, there's just a whole lot of variables, which is why we were keen to get people out when there was an opportunity to do so.

MILLAR: Okay, and what about the 19 Australians that you are aware of who are in Gaza?

MARLES: Yeah, it's more than that now. We have about 45 Australians who have made contact with us in Gaza. Their situation is obviously extremely difficult. We are looking at ways in which and working very hard to find ways in which we can get those people to safety, and that obviously includes working with other countries around the establishment of a humanitarian corridor out of Gaza. That hasn't happened yet, but we are doing what we can in very challenging circumstances.

MILLAR: What can you tell me about the 45? Are there children among them?

MARLES: Look, I don't have the precise breakdown of that, Lisa, but these include families, so I'd imagine that's the case, but we are working very closely with them. But this is clearly a very challenging situation and at this point, there isn't a humanitarian corridor out of Gaza, but we continue to work with others in the international community to see that established.

MILLAR: Have you been able to establish whether they've been able to make their way down towards that border crossing?

MARLES: Yeah, no, I asked that question as well and so I don't know the answer to that. And it's an important question about whether essentially they're in the north or the south of Gaza, so I don't have the full details on that. Clearly, we have been encouraging them, however, to move south, given what Israel has said. That has been part of the work that we have been doing with them. But I can't actually confirm where all of those 45 are right now.

MILLAR: It seems that everything's hanging on this border being reopened just temporarily to let aid in, to let foreign nationals out. Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State, made it appear that it was going to happen, but the Israelis have said, well no deal's been done. What involvement has Australia had in those conversations about that border?

MARLES: Yeah, look, we've been working with our international partners around this and you're right, it has been led by the United States. It's obviously a really delicate issue and that diplomacy is continuing at a pace and where we can we are lending our voice to all of that. And our Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, I can tell you, has been extremely active on the phones in relation to all of this. I mean, obviously, opening some kind of corridor which would allow people to leave Gaza would be a massive step forward. It would provide the key answer for those Australians who are in this situation. But clearly there are many, many more people who are caught up in this as well. So, we'll continue to put our efforts into that.

MILLAR: Richard Marles, just a couple of quick questions on the Voice, because, of course, as we go through the next few days, weeks, months, there's going to be lot of reflection about what happened with that referendum. One of the things the Opposition has raised is this audit that they want on the spending. We had Catherine Liddle on the program this morning. She's the head of a group called SNAICC, which looks after Indigenous children's rights. She said, bring it on, because you'll find that there hasn't been this misspending. She genuinely encouraged the government to agree to an audit. Would you?

MARLES: An audit in spending in relation to programs for Indigenous Australians?


MARLES: Yeah, well obviously we're completely transparent in the way in which we engage in spending and we're really confident about the manner in which money has been spent in programs which are supporting Indigenous Australians, so we have no issue with transparency. Clearly, it's a challenge. I mean, we have been working very hard to close the gap. We do need to be listening much more to our Indigenous Australians. I think coming out of the weekend, clearly it wasn't the result that I wanted, but I think to be positive and to be looking forward, I feel like there is a greater call to action now around closing the gap. It seems to me the logic of the arguments on both sides –

MILLAR: And what about a treaty process and truth telling though, Deputy Prime Minister? There's a lot of focus on closing the gap and rightly, but other promises that had been made in regards to the truth telling, the treaty process, what happens with that as far as the Government's concerned?

MARLES: Well, I think we really need to be sitting down now with Indigenous Australia, its leadership, listening to them and working out what is the way forward now coming out of the weekend around pursuing a path of reconciliation, around pursuing paths to close the gap. Now, Indigenous Australia have said they want to remain silent for a week. I think we can all understand that. We do really need to let the dust settle coming out of the weekend, but our commitment is fundamentally around making a difference when it comes to closing the gap. We do think that listening is a key ingredient to fundamentally making a difference. But as I said, I think coming out of the weekend, there is an increased call to action. If we're not moving forward on the basis of constitutional recognition, the question now is, well, how are we going to move forward? But that we do move forward is something that all Australians agree with and that does seem to me to be the outcome of the weekend. And the idea that a group of our fellow citizens are living shorter and less healthy lives by virtue of their birth is fundamentally unfair. And we need to really, really address this in the biggest way that we have as a nation and that's going to be our focus in terms of plotting a pathway forward from here.

MILLAR: Richard Marles, thanks for your time this morning.

MARLES: Thanks, Lisa.



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