Television interview, Today Show

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; AUKUS legislation

KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well, we have some breaking news for you at home. The Australian government is deploying additional Australian defence force personnel and aircraft to the Middle East region as part of Operation BEECH.

JAYNE AZZOPARDI: Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles joins us now from Geelong. Good morning to you, Minister. Can you give us some context around this? How many resources are we sending and what will they be doing?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, we've sent an additional two aircraft to the Middle East, which takes the total to three, and the support crew for them, which is a significant number of personnel. And there's a small command detachment which goes with all of that. We're not saying where in the Middle East for operational reasons, but we are putting that in place really as a contingency to support Australian populations in the Middle East, bearing in mind that this is a very volatile situation and we just don't absolutely know which way it goes from here as the world really holds its breath watching it. But I think the message that I really want to give today is that if you are in the area, or in a place like Lebanon, for example, and you are looking and want to leave, you should be taking all the options that are available to you now. I mean, this is a volatile situation and if you want to leave, take the options that are available to you at this moment.

STEFANOVIC: I get the security aspects around the specifics, but generally on the logistics, the number of personnel. Can you give us any more information? Can you elaborate?

MARLES: I can't give you the specific number. It is a significant number of personnel, though, and they're there to support the aircraft and to support what that aircraft might ultimately have to do. But I want to emphasise, all of this is a contingency and the purpose of it is to be supporting Australian populations that are in the Middle East. If in fact this conflict gets worse.

STEFANOVIC: So what type of aircraft, then?

MARLES: We've got C-17 and KC-30 are the two types of aircraft and that's what we've had in operation in the Middle East up until now. The C-17 is the large jet airlift and the KC-30 is an air refueller, but it has a capacity to carry passengers.

AZZOPARDI: You say they're there to support Australians. Is that what their role will be, potentially bringing Australians out of the conflict? Or is there a chance, if this escalates that they could be doing more?

MARLES: No, it's the former, Jane. It's really about supporting populations, making sure that we're in a position to help, if that help is required. But again, in saying that the message that we really want to give Australians in the region right now is don't rely on that. Yes, we are taking these steps to put a contingency in place, but if you want to leave, leave. Take whatever commercial options are available to you now.

STEFANOVIC: But they're not based in Israel. Are you not going into it?

MARLES: No, they won't be based in Israel.

STEFANOVIC: All right. Okay. They're not based in Israel. All right. Four Australians have been evacuated from the West Bank overnight. This was incredible work by our diplomats. I'm sure that was really complex. How many more Australians have expressed their desire to come out and need assistance to get out?

MARLES: From the West Bank, that number is 51, and the number now in Gaza is 79. We're working with those in the West Bank, as you've just described, and it's difficult, but there are options there and we are trying to find ways in which we can assist people's departure from the West Bank. To be honest, the people we're really concerned about are those in Gaza, where it's a much, much more difficult situation. We're urging those people to move south within Gaza and we're working with the international community to try and establish that humanitarian corridor that we've seen operating in terms of getting humanitarian goods into Gaza through the Rafah border crossing from Egypt. But we're working very hard to try and find solutions for those 79 people who we're in touch within Gaza.

AZZOPARDI: Richard, you talk about the volatility of the situation on the ground there. We've heard the French President calling for an international coalition to take down Hamas, much like there was with ISIS. And then you've got to balance that too, with the many people who sympathise with the Palestinian cause here in Australia, we've seen the Canterbury-Bankstown Council vote to fly the Palestinian flag. Where does your government sit on what that council is doing and how you balance that with the international obligations?

MARLES: Yeah, look, it's a really good question, Jane. I think there are a few things to say in all of that. Firstly, if we just focus on the international side. I mean, we do respect and acknowledge that Israel has a right to defend itself and to move against Hamas. We've been making that clear from the very beginning. Obviously, in doing that, we urge Israel to adhere to the rules of war, to make the protection of civilian life front and centre in all that they do. I think coming back home, we really need to be looking after each other in this moment. We get that there are people on both sides who have very strong views about what's happening in the Middle East and that's completely understandable. But at the end of the day, we really need to respect each other as Australians. And it's really important that as we move forward, people have a right to express their view. But it is so important that we are respecting each other as Australians and that we're focusing on, in a sense, the peaceful society that we have in this country and that is based on a mutual respect that we have for each other. So, councils are going to make their decisions. That's ultimately a matter for councils. But we really do need to be, at this moment, taking special regard in terms of the way in which we're treating each other.

STEFANOVIC: What you're saying is maybe councils should just stick to their basics and get those things done right. My words, not yours. Just finally, Anthony Albanese is ramping up his push. To try and get AUKUS through Congress. I mean, a year ago it seemed like it was fait accompli. It's going to struggle from here, isn't it?

MARLES: No, I don't accept that. We remain confident about the situation in the US. I mean, obviously, you see heat and light around Parliament. You see that around our own. You always see it around the Congress and there's a lot going on there. But fundamentally, and this is why we have confidence across the political spectrum in America, there is both support for the alliance with Australia, but also support for this arrangement, the AUKUS arrangement by which Australia will acquire a nuclear powered submarine capability. And we've been speaking with congressional leaders across the political spectrum around the legislation which needs to pass. And we do have a sense of confidence from those conversations and obviously, we have confidence in the conversations that we're having with the Biden administration. I think you're going to see more heat and light, but at the end of the day, we are confident that this will pass.

STEFANOVIC: Very good. Good to talk to you. Thank you so much.


Other related releases