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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25 October 2023

SUBJECTS: Operation BEECH; Israel-Hamas conflict

MATT SHIRVINGTON, HOST: Returning to our top story and in breaking news this hour, the Federal Government will deploy Australian Defence Force personnel and two Royal Australian Air Force aircraft to the Middle East. It comes as the conflict between Israel and Hamas intensifies and the threat of a ground invasion into Gaza looms. For more, I'm joined by Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles. Good morning to you. Where are the ADF headed? Where will they be based and what is their mission?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, morning, Shirvo. We are sending another two aircraft to the Middle East. We're not saying where they will go for operational reasons, but they will join an existing aircraft, which is in the Middle East, so that takes the total to three. And with them will be a contingent of Australian personnel, which is a pretty significant contingent of personnel. They are there to support Australian populations in the Middle East. This is very much a contingency. We don't know how this is all going to evolve. We hope that it is contained to Israel and Gaza. But if matters do get worse, we want to make sure that we are prepared and that's why we are deploying these aircraft in this way. But in saying that, the message that we really want to give to Australians who are in the region is, if you want to leave, don't rely on this. Take the options that you've got on commercial aircraft and make your departure, because this is a very volatile situation and it's uncertain how it all plays out.

SHIRVINGTON: We know that the US has increased their presence over there at the moment. Is our relationship with the US that has caused this decision to be made?

MARLES: No, this is very much about Australian populations and it's about supporting them. We are unsure how this is all going to play out. The world is unsure. And so we want to make sure that we are ready. There are significant Australian populations in the region and if they need support, I mean, if there is a moment where we need to engage in evacuations, we want to make sure that we're ready, because this could happen all pretty quickly. So, that's why we've taken the steps that we've taken and it's really unrelated to the measures that the United States have taken.

SHIRVINGTON: Always concerning when you send Aussie troops to a war zone, right, is there a big risk to the Australian Defence Force personnel?

MARLES: Well, obviously, we take every precaution we can to make sure that our personnel operate in the safest way possible, but as we've seen so often, when you wear the Australian uniform in our Defence Force, there is risk. Our Defence Force personnel engage in dangerous activities and they do that on behalf of our nation. So, that is definitely the case, but at the same time we do everything we can to make sure that we are operating in the safest way possible. But we do need to be ready in the event that Australians need to be supported in the region and that's why we're taking the steps that we are.

SHIRVINGTON: Acting Prime Minister, how concerned are you that this could upgrade the terror threat level here at home?

MARLES: That is something that we are looking at very carefully and we have amongst the best security agencies in the world, our intelligence services, but also our police forces. We're confident again about the situation here in Australia, but we're not sanguine and this is a dimension of what's been happening that we are very focused on and making sure that security here at home is maintained to the highest possible level.

SHIRVINGTON: Can you update us as well? Some encouraging news, a further four Australians, one permanent resident, were able to leave the West Bank overnight thanks to the assistance from Jordan. What is the government doing to help those Aussies that are still stuck there?

MARLES: Yeah, so that was obviously really good news about those four. There's another 51 people on the West Bank who are in the West Bank who we are working with to try and provide them with assisted departure. And we're very grateful for the governments of the region who are helping us in that. There is a focus there. Obviously, the group that are a front of mind right now is now the 79 Australians and their families, who we are in contact with in Gaza itself, and they're in the most difficult situation. We're working with the international community to try and have that humanitarian corridor established. We have not been able to have that in a way which enables people to leave Gaza, although we have seen humanitarian aid go into Gaza through the Rafah crossing point in Egypt. We're encouraging those group of Australians to move to the southern part of Gaza, where in accordance with the Israeli warning, but they're in a very difficult situation and we continue to work very closely with them and they are top of mind.

SHIRVINGTON: Yeah, that is some good news. Hopefully, those 79, as you said, can be taken out safely. Acting PM Richard Marles. Thanks for your time. Appreciate it.

MARLES: Thanks, Shirvo.


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