Television interview, Sunday Agenda

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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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12 November 2023

SUBJECTS: Caulfield protest; Hamas-Israel Conflict; Remembrance Day; Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union; DP World port closures; Optus.

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: A short time ago, I spoke with the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles, beginning on the matter of the Caulfield protests. I asked him whether he's worried where some of these things are headed right now.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I am worried where it's headed. If we look at the events of Friday night specifically, Jewish Australians have a right to feel safe and be safe in their own country. This demonstration on behalf of Palestine in the heart of the Jewish community was unacceptable and it's welcome that the Free Palestine movement have acknowledged that it was a mistake. I think it's fair to say that right now Jewish Australians have never felt less safe, and that is a real problem and we need to be moving to fix that. Clearly, anti-Semitism doesn't have a place in our country and it's very important that we are able, no matter what is happening elsewhere in the world, to maintain social cohesion here in Australia. I mean, clearly people have a right to protest what's happening in the Middle East. What's happening in the Middle East is an unfolding tragedy. And people have a right to put pressure on their country's government, on us, but there shouldn't be demonstrations which are aimed at other members of the community. And Jewish Australians, as all Australians, clearly have a right to feel safe within their country.

GILBERT: Members of that community were unable to pray at their synagogue on Friday night. Should the police have stopped that protest from happening in the first place?

MARLES: Well, I think the police were present and obviously these are difficult moments to manage for law enforcement agencies. It is completely unacceptable that the service at the synagogue was cancelled on Friday night. I think this is a moment where we really have to be thinking about each other as Australians. People do have a right to protest what's happening in the Middle East. It is an unfolding tragedy, as I said. But I've spoken a lot with Jewish Australians, I've spoken a lot with Muslim Australians, including in my own community and what everyone has in common is the desire to live in this country is about wanting to live in a country where there is peace and where we do have social cohesion and we can't take that for granted. It's really important that we focus on that and that goes across the board. I know that there are Muslim Australians who I've spoken to in my own electorate over the course of this week who feel a sense of isolation in this moment. That's unacceptable as well. And we really need to be standing with all peoples, of all faiths at this moment, just on the basis of our being Australian and looking after each other, as we express our legitimate views about what is taking place overseas. But social cohesion has to be paramount and there must be a real focus that we all have on this and we cannot take it for granted. We've got to remember that the focus of political expression is about what's happening in the Middle East, and obviously on the government as well, but not on other members of the community.

GILBERT: You mentioned that the group that organised it had apologised, they claimed they didn't know there was a synagogue nearby. The Opposition Leader, Peter Dutton, has described that protest as a deliberate act of incitement designed to end in violence. Do you agree with his assessment?

MARLES: Well, I think we need to be careful about our language and I think we do need to welcome the apology that has come forward from the Free Palestine group. What matters for those of us in positions of leadership is that we are using our voices to turn the temperature down. I mean, that's actually how we get social cohesion and how we ensure that peace is maintained here in Australia. And that's certainly how we intend to exercise our voice as a Government. I mean, we're really completely clear that when we look at the events of Friday night specifically, Jewish Australians have a right to feel safe and to be safe in their own country. No ifs, no buts. And that standard applies to every Australian. But right now, it is Jewish Australians who are feeling that sense of insecurity. We need to focus on that. But as we work through what's going to be an unfolding tragedy in the Middle East, and it's got some time to run, we really need to be doing so on a basis where we do actually seek to look after each other and to acknowledge that other Australians are not the focus of the protest. Protesting the events in the Middle East and indeed even putting pressure on government, we understand that, but not on other members of the community.

GILBERT: And that social cohesion question, trying to keep the temperature down, I totally understand that. But in that context, I do want to ask you about these pictures we've received from Montrose– it's from the Yarra Ranges Council in Victoria, the Montrose War Memorial. It's been there for 100 years and then defaced on the eve of, of all days, Remembrance Day. You can understand the torment of some of the volunteers and the veterans in that community.

MARLES: And that is clearly unacceptable as well and people need to be thoughtful about the basis on which protest is being made. I mean, Remembrance Day is a very sacred day in our calendar. It acknowledges, in commemorating the anniversary of the end of the First World War, it acknowledges the 103,000 Australians who have lost their lives wearing our nation's uniform. That is a deeply sacred act in the context of our society and we should be able to do that act on its own terms. And, yes, this is a very distressing set of events which is playing out in the world right now, but it's very important that Australians are able to commemorate significant moments and Remembrance Day is right up there, it's one of the most significant moments in our nation's calendar on its own terms, and it serves nothing to protest what's happening in the Middle East, it serves nothing to put pressure on even the Australian government to deface a war memorial of that kind. That is completely unacceptable. And we get back to the point that people have a right to protest, the issues that are being raised are absolutely legitimate and their voice needs to be heard and we live in a country where there is freedom of expression and where it's really important that that expression occur. But people need to take responsibility for the way in which that is occurring. Defacing a war memorial does nothing to advance the cause of what's happening in Gaza. It does nothing to advance the cause of the humanitarian situation facing the people in Gaza. But what it does do is add enormous distress to people who are seeking to commemorate what is a very sacred moment in our country's history.

GILBERT: Yeah, it certainly does that. Let's move on to the agreement signed by the Prime Minister with the tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu. Is that country now an Australian protectorate, essentially?

MARLES: I wouldn't describe it like that, but this is a very big moment, obviously, in our relationship with Tuvalu. But it's also, I think, a watershed in our relationship with the Pacific. What this agreement represents is a much greater commitment for Australia to be providing more of Tuvalu's defence. There's a $16 million commitment around coastal enhancement which will see an additional 6% added to the land mass of Funafuti, which is the main island in Tuvalu. It's a small place, Tuvalu, and it's a small island, the population is about 11,000. And it will provide for 280 visas every year for Tuvaluans to come to Australia to work, to study. And again, that mightn't seem like a large number in the context of Australia's immigration program, but for a country of 11,000 people, that's a huge number. What this really means, though, is that we are deeply focused and it is a much greater commitment to the human development of Tuvalu. And from the perspective of Tuvalu, this is easily the biggest step forward that has been taken in its history around its own human development. But in making that commitment to Tuvalu, what then becomes completely clear is that we are the natural partner of choice for Tuvalu in terms of their international affairs. This is the most comprehensive agreement we've ever had with a country in the Pacific, arguably the most comprehensive agreement we’ve ever had with another country.

GILBERT: Will we sign other ones with countries like Kiribati?

MARLES: Well, we want to get this right. So our focus is on this agreement for now. We will continue to work with other countries in the Pacific and focus that work on the development of the Pacific, that has to be the key. And do so in the context where we seek to be, we are, I think, but we seek to be the natural partner of choice for countries in the Pacific. But clearly this is a demonstration of what Australia can do. And I think this is a very, very big moment in the history of Tuvalu, in the history of our relationship with Tuvalu, but this is a watershed in our relationship with the Pacific.

GILBERT: How will it be received in Beijing?

MARLES: Well, it will be received in the way in which it is. I mean, this is about Australia working with countries in the Pacific, our neighbours, countries which have seen us as their natural partner of choice to improve the human development of countries in the Pacific. And I hope that that is something which is welcomed around the world. The development story–

GILBERT: But it’s about pushing back against China’s influence?

MARLES: Well, we are very focused on improving the human development of the Pacific. Yes, the Pacific is a place of greater geostrategic contest, there's no doubt about that. And we seek to be the natural partner of choice for countries in the Pacific. And I think this helps us walk down that path in respect of our relationship with Tuvalu. And I think it does, as I said earlier, demonstrate to the Pacific what Australia can do. But as I have long argued, at the forefront of all of that needs to be our commitment to the human development of the people of the Pacific, in this instance, the people of Tuvalu. And this will absolutely, radically change the trajectory of human development in that country. And that is a very good thing which I would hope is welcomed by the world.

GILBERT: Did the Government brief other nations in the region that this deal was coming? And in that, I ask did it brief countries like China, for example?

MARLES: Well, we were engaging with countries in the region and we spoke with other countries in the region about what we were doing. As we have seen, obviously this has been announced in the context of the Pacific Island Forum. I think this is a step which I hope will be welcomed within the Pacific, because it does represent a very significant step up in Australia's already significant engagement in the Pacific. It makes very clear our demonstration of wanting to work with the Pacific very closely around questions of development. The Pacific is the place where we have seen the slowest rate of development anywhere in the world. We can't let the Pacific become the least developed part of the world and it's really important that Australia plays its part and ultimately, that's what's involved here. And so I very much hope this is welcomed in the Pacific. But at the heart of it is Australia stepping up and that is a very good thing.

GILBERT: Finally, there was a cyber hack, a breach at some of our major ports, managed by DP World, that major international company. They've shut down the ports for incoming goods. Have you got an update in terms of what the source of that cyber attack was?

MARLES: Look, I don't have the details on that, Kieran. But obviously, the world that we are living in now is one where cybersecurity, in terms of our critical infrastructure, in fact, right through the private economy has never been more important. It is a huge focus for us in what we do in terms of, in many respects, our national defences through the Australian Signals Directorate, ASD, but also the way in which, with ASD, we work with the private sector economy to bolster the cyber security of the private sector and that really applies in the case of areas of critical infrastructure. I mean, incidents like this just highlight how dependent we are upon the cyber realm and telecommunications and how important it is that we have as robust an ecosystem as possible.

GILBERT: That company moved quickly, Optus could have done a lot better, couldn't they, in terms of their communication? Speaking of critical infrastructure.

MARLES: I think what we saw during the week with Optus, what was very much put in sharp relief, just how dependent we are on the cyber realm. So many companies, so many large organisations which are managing critical infrastructure are reliant on a constant interaction– telecommunications interaction with the cloud. To see outages on Wednesday of up to 14 hours was enormously disruptive. It's really incumbent on Optus to make very clear to its customers exactly what has happened here. And I think the lesson that we learned from that is that it's very important for telecommunications companies to be communicating with their consumers almost immediately when outages happen. The extent of the disruption and the lack of information that we saw flowing in the early hours of Wednesday as this outage took place really gave rise to an increased confusion in a circumstance where people's telecommunications were down. It's why we've implemented a review into what happened with this outage with Optus so that we can learn the lessons of that for Optus, but in fact, for all telecommunications companies and indeed for the Government in terms of how we interact with those companies.

GILBERT: Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, appreciate your time. We'll see you soon.

MARLES: Thanks, Kieran.



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