Television interview, Today Show

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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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27 October 2023

SUBJECTS: Hamas-Israel conflict; Australia’s relationship with China; Prime Minister’s visit to the US; DJ Albo.

SARAH ABO, HOST: Well, more than 15,000 Australians are being urged to get out of Lebanon amid fears the conflict between Israel and Gaza could spread. Let's bring in Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles and Opposition Leader, Peter Dutton. Thank you both for your time. Richard, if I could start with you. What is the threat level currently for Aussies in Lebanon?

RICHARD MARLES, ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, all of us understand that in the region, and Lebanon is very much on the front line of this around Israel, this is a volatile situation and we have an anxiety about it escalating. We obviously hope it doesn't and that this is confined to Israel and Gaza. But we have a significant Australian population who live in Lebanon. And so, if there are Australians who are in Lebanon right now who feel that they want to leave, they should, and they should take what commercial options are available to them. Obviously, we spoke earlier in the week about steps the Australian government has taken to give rise to this contingency and as I say, we hope it doesn't happen. But clearly, this is a very uncertain situation.

ABO: Yeah. And the Australian government has done an incredible job to get those out who have wanted to in these past couple of weeks. Peter, if the situation escalates, would you support more rescue flights if necessary?

PETER DUTTON, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well, Sarah, I think people should heed the advice of Richard. Go to the DFAT website, look at the travel advisories, because they're updated regularly, but just at this point, that if there are to be missions to airlift Australians out of a war zone or out of a difficult situation that can turn sour very quickly, we then put at risk the members of the Australian Defence Force. So, I think Richard's advice is really sensible. Look at the commercial options. It does look precarious in the region. It can spread very quickly and that's why people should take the advice.

ABO: Yeah, absolutely. And you both know all too well the heat that is involved in a conflict of this nature. I mean, Penny Wong has had a fiery clash with the Greens after one Senator called her out for refusing to condemn Israel's ‘siege on Gaza as a crime against humanity’, quote unquote. Richard, some massive statements from the Greens here. What's your response to that?

MARLES: Well, I think we need to have a real sense of clarity about what has happened here. The attacks that Hamas undertook a couple of weeks ago now were acts of terrorism. They were acts not against combatants, they were acts against innocent people. The significant loss of life associated with that was murder and it needs to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. And there is nothing which justifies what Hamas did, and the government's been really clear about that. But everybody needs to be very clear about that. And that is why we say that Israel has a right to defend itself. I mean, any government in its situation would be seeking to ensure that its population is safe and that this kind of attack won't happen again. Now, we've also made clear that whatever ensues here must be done in accordance with the rules of war. It's really important that the protection of civilian life is front and centre in everyone's minds. Innocent Israelis and innocent Palestinians have died here and that has to be our focus. But the Greens are obviously getting this very wrong. But it's really important that people get the clarity of what has happened here.

ABO: Well, there also needs to be a limit, doesn't there, Richard? I mean, this is the issue that we're facing now, is where is that red line? I mean, Peter, I think Philip Coorey hit the nail on the head in the financial review today. Everybody has their own long held views on this debate and it makes it so hard to walk that diplomatic line, doesn't it?

DUTTON: Well, I think Richard's point is a very good one here, Sarah. The Greens have gone too far. Their hatred of Israel, it seems, has no limits. And Hamas as a listed terrorist organisation-

ABO: Well, it's not a hatred though, Peter. Shows how heated this is. I mean, people are disappointed by what's happening on both sides.

DUTTON: No, they do. And they're encouraging hatred because I spoke to some Jewish friends yesterday who are actually living in fear in our country at the moment, Sarah. So, these are people who, according to Hamas, should be driven into the sea. They don't acknowledge the existence of Israel or of Jewish people. That's the reality. And Jewish Australians are scared for their kids to be wearing school uniforms, to go to school in our country, and it's completely and utterly unacceptable. And what they're doing is whipping up that hatred. We don't tolerate violence or discrimination against any Australian, regardless of their religious belief or regardless of their perspective on life. And the Greens at the moment, I think, are playing political games and they should be rightly condemned for it.

ABO: Yeah, look, absolutely hatred on both sides and anything targeted to those two communities is heinous and shouldn't be happening. All right, let's move on. US President Joe Biden has warned Anthony Albanese not to fully trust China and to verify all promises made by Beijing. Richard, is that good advice?

MARLES: Well, I think that advice is right, but what we've been seeking to do from the moment that we've come to government is seek to stabilise the relationship with China. It is a complex relationship. China is a source of significant security anxiety for Australia. They're also our largest trading partner. And precisely because of that complexity is why we need to have diplomatic processes in place. We need to be able to interact with China and we need to be able to stabilise the relationship with China but we do this very much with our eyes wide open. We're in a much better situation now than we were in May of last year. But we are very, very clear about the security anxiety which is given rise by China and by China's very significant military buildup in the region. It changes our strategic landscape and we're obviously responding to that as well. This requires a nuanced, complex, sophisticated response and that's what we are seeking to do.

ABO: It's all very complex, isn't it? I mean, this is the thing; whether or not any promises from China are reliable, how you feel about the situation in the Middle East at the moment. But amid all of those discussions in Washington, there were some lighter notes. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese complimented for nothing else than his DJ skills by the US Secretary of State in Washington. Let's have a listen.

[CLIP PLAYS] ANTONY BLINKEN: The Prime Minister and I have a deep, shared affection for music. When it comes to the Prime Minister he's also known, besides Prime Minister, as DJ Albo. He's known to spin a mean disc.

ABO: Richard, you probably know better than most. Is that true?

MARLES: Well, it is true, but right here, this is way above my pay grade because I definitely do not spin a mean disc. But yes, Anthony has been a devotee of Australian music and he has been known to get behind the DJ desk and he has a particular affection and skill in that regard.

ABO: What about DJ Dutz? Hey, how would you go on the turntable?

DUTTON: As you can tell, no chance at all, Sarah. Richard and I, we formed a pact years and years ago for our appearances on the Today Show there's no singing, no dancing.

ABO: Oh, you two.

DUTTON: So your view numbers remain high. There's no DJing.

MARLES: We’re sticking to that, definitely.

ABO: We'll get it out of you eventually. I can't wait to see you both bust a move. We'll get onto that, Karlos, won't we?

KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: You know, Peter Dutton's actually one of the world's great break dancers. I was at a XXXX Christmas party a few years ago and he did the windmill, he did all that stuff. You should see him go.

ABO: Wow.

DUTTON: I know that footage is out there somewhere, Karl.

STEFANOVIC: I’ve got it in my back pocket.

ABO: Thanks guys.


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