Television interview, Sky News First Edition

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

Media contact

02 6277 7800

Release content

25 October 2023

SUBJECTS: Operation BEECH; Israel-Hamas conflict; Port of Darwin; AUKUS legislation

PETE STEFANOVIC, HOST: The Acting Prime Minister, Richard Marles, will announce all of this today. And Richard Marles is with us right now, so let's go straight to him, the Acting Prime Minister, as well as the Defence Minister. Richard, good to see you. So, just elaborate on that point. What military assets and personnel are being sent to the region?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, good morning, Pete. We're sending two additional aircraft to the Middle East, which will take the total to three. We're not saying where in the Middle East for security reasons, but we are also then sending a detachment of personnel which goes with those aircraft. And that's actually a significant number of people. The point of this is to support Australian populations that are in the Middle East and it's really a contingency. We don't know exactly how this is going to play out in the Middle East. Obviously, the situation is volatile. We very much hope that it is contained to Gaza, but we are taking these steps now in the event that matters do get worse and we're then in a position to support Australian populations. But I think the point that we'd really want to make is that if you are in the region now and you want to leave, you should. You should take whatever commercial options are available to you, and you should be making your departure, because this is a very volatile situation and no one knows exactly how it will play out.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, so I sense some trepidation there in terms of this war being confined to Gaza. So, is there a stronger chance, in your view, or you tell me what the chances are of this widening into a broader Middle Eastern conflict?

MARLES: Well, obviously, I'm not going to put a number on the chance, and we very much hope that this is contained. But we're watching what the whole world is watching and we're doing it holding our breath as the world is. And clearly it's uncertain what happens here. And we want to make sure that if matters do get worse, that as a government, we are prepared and that we are prepared for any contingencies in relation to Australians who are in the region. But again, if you're an Australian in the region now, if you're in a place like Lebanon, don't rely on this. If you want to leave, leave. Take the commercial options that are available to you now, because this is a volatile situation.

STEFANOVIC: Unless you are one of those 77 people in Gaza.

MARLES: Well, so it's actually 79 now is the number of people that we are talking with or working with in Gaza. And you're right, they are in a very difficult situation and we continue to do everything within our power to try and find them alternatives. We're very much encouraging those people to move south within Gaza. We're working with the international community on a humanitarian corridor out of Gaza. We've seen that to a degree at the Rafah crossing point from Egypt with humanitarian supplies going into Gaza. But at this point, we've been unable to get those people out. But we are continuing to work very hard on that. And that group of people are obviously the group that are front of mind at the moment.

STEFANOVIC: Richard, if military assets and personnel are being sent to the region, or more assets and personnel, presumably a high ranking member of government would go to Israel, be it the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, or yourself?

MARLES: I mean, we've been making our position very clear, and we've been talking with Israel around this as well. The attacks that were made a few weeks ago by Hamas were acts of terrorism, and they were acts that were committed on not combatants, but innocent Israelis. And we have been making our position absolutely clear. Israel know that. And we've absolutely supported Israel's right to defend itself and to move against Hamas, obviously, in doing so, we've joined our voice to that of the international community around seeing the rules of war be respected. And we've been really clear with Israel in relation to all of that. I mean, at this moment, Israel's pretty busy with dealing with all that it needs to deal with, and that's their focus.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, we're squeezed for time, but I do want to ask you about China and some comments that came out of the US overnight. So, firstly, on this Port of Darwin review, another review has defended the Darwin Port. Why are you so comfortable with the status quo, with how things are in the north?

MARLES: Well, I've made this point over the last couple of days. This is not a decision that we would have made had we been in government at the time, and we made that clear at the time. In coming to government, though, you inherit the situation as you do. We put in place a review to really assess what the circumstances were, what the options are. And the outcome of that review is that with appropriate safeguards, the arrangements are able to be managed in the way that they are set up. And so that's what we will do. But I reiterate, this isn't the decision that we would have made if we had have been in government. But you find the world as you find it when you come to government, and we can make this work.

STEFANOVIC: Well, John Kirby has expressed concerns this morning about Chinese intimidation in the South China Sea. So, have your American counterparts refreshed any of their concerns over the Darwin Port, given its troops and its rotations in the Top End?

MARLES: We're in constant dialogue with the United States about every aspect of our posture. I mean, we compare notes all the time, but obviously in terms of the Marine rotation in Darwin and there are no issues there.

STEFANOVIC: Right. And just finally, on AUKUS, the US government, it's gridlocked, as you know, without a Speaker, Richard, have you been given any assurances that the AUKUS deal does go through?

MARLES: We're confident about it, and, yes, we're seeing a lot of colour and light in the US Congress. That happens. But in relation to our issues, our legislation, which will underpin the AUKUS arrangements, the reason we have confidence is when we speak to congressional leaders across the political spectrum in Congress, there is support for the alliance with Australia, but also for this arrangement by which Australia requires a nuclear powered submarine capability. Congressional leaders understand the strategic significance for the United States in Australia having this capability, and obviously, we have the same conversations with the administration itself. So, because of the position that everyone holds in the US, we are confident that at the end of the day, the required legislation will pass the Congress.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, Richard Marles, appreciate your time. The Acting Prime Minister and beautiful morning there in Geelong. Thank you, Richard. We'll talk to you very soon.


Other related releases