Television Interview, ABC News Breakfast

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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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15 November 2023

SUBJECTS: Annual Cyber Threat Report; access to GPs; Israel-Hamas conflict

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: The Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, joins us now from Canberra. Richard Marles, good morning. It just really underscores, doesn't it, what a serious problem cybercrime is.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, good morning, Michael. The cyber threat continues to grow. That's the message that comes out of the annual cyber threat report. We've seen a 23 per cent increase in the number of reports of cyber incidents. And for every one of those reports, as you rightly say, the cost of them is greater, an increase of 14 per cent. So, more reports of incidents and those incidents are costing more to small businesses. And we're also seeing a greater interest from state actors in Australia's critical infrastructure. So, across the board, in terms of making sure that we are a more resilient community, that our cyber public health is in good shape, this becomes a pressing priority.

ROWLAND: You mentioned state actors. We're, of course, talking of countries here. Rachel Noble, the head of the Australian Signals Directorate, points the fingers squarely at China. Do you do too?

MARLES: Well China - we have done an attribution of China, which we did in May of this year. There are a number of state actors out there which have also, at times, engaged in activity. So, what we're making sure that we do is that we are as robust as we can be in terms of the defence of our own critical infrastructure. And that's why we're seeing a $10 billion investment over ten years in the Australian Signals Directorate, which effectively doubles the size of ASD. I mean, it is a huge uplift in our cyber capability and our cyber defence.

ROWLAND: Does it worry you though, at a time, as we saw last week, that pretty successful trip by the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese to China, Australia trying to mend relations with China. But at the same time, we're getting evidence of China's bad behaviour towards Australia.

MARLES: Well, the relationship with China is complex. I mean, we've made that point from the very start. It's actually why we need to be making sure that our diplomacy is excellent with China and that we stabilise the relationship. But we've never pretended that this relationship is easy. We value, clearly, a productive relationship with China. They're our largest trading partner, so it's right to be investing in that relationship. But China has been a source of security anxiety for our country and we prepare for that as well.

ROWLAND: A couple of other issues this morning while we have you. Our other main story this morning is that report out from the GP's peak body, pointing to the cost of living pressures faced by patients increasingly as they go to a GP, the cost of an average consultation jumping close to 20 per cent in just twelve months, also pointing to a rapidly declining number of GPs. They welcome the federal government's recent Medicare boost, but they say more needs to be done. Will the government step up to offer more to GPs to help them see more patients?

MARLES: Well, I mean, the answer to that is that we are investing heavily in primary care. We're investing heavily in general practice. As you said, we've seen the biggest increase in the bulk billing incentive in the entire history of Medicare. We've increased Medicare rebates, which makes it more possible for GPs to charge less fees on top of that, where they're not doing bulk billing. And that obviously comes on top of what we've done in relation to cheaper medicines from the beginning of the year and the 60 day script which means that for those who have chronic illnesses and are frequent users of medicine, there is a cheaper scripts available as a result of that. So, all of that is really about making sure that we are investing in primary health care. The bottom line here is we really understand the pressures that are on household budgets, on the budgets of businesses. And for people who are struggling with the cost of living, the single most important thing they need to be able to access is healthcare and at that instance, primary health care. And that's why it has been such a focus of what we're doing in terms of cost of living relief.

ROWLAND: To the Israel-Gaza conflict. The situation at one of Gaza's main hospital is getting so bad that there are reports it is running out of body bags to treat those killed. Would you echo your colleague Penny Wong's call for Israel to stop the attacking of hospitals?

MARLES: Well, everything that we have been doing publicly and behind the scenes is about trying to use whatever power we have as a country to minimise the loss of life here. I mean, the whole world, I think, wants to see this come to an end. Now, the humanitarian pauses that Israel have put in place are obviously welcomed. We've made clear that walking down a path to a ceasefire, that cannot happen in a one sided way, October the 7th did happen. It was an attack by Hamas on innocence. Israel does have a right to defend itself against that and clearly has a right to recover its citizens. And we've always acknowledged Israel's rights here. But it is profoundly important that as Israel acts front and centre in terms of its actions, minimising the loss of innocent Palestinian lives, obviously minimising the loss of innocent Israeli lives as well, but minimising the loss of innocent Palestinian lives. And that has been a focus of what we've been saying publicly, but very much a focus of our private diplomacy as well.

ROWLAND: Richard Marles, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

MARLES: Thanks, Michael.



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