Radio interview, 6PR, Perth Live with Oliver Peterson

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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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13 December 2023

SUBJECTS: Return of HMAS Toowoomba; Hamas-Israel conflict; Mid-year budget update.

OLIVER PETERSON, HOST: Acting Prime Minister, Richard Marles, good afternoon. Good to have you in Perth.

RICHARD MARLES, ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Oly, great to be with you on this fantastic Perth afternoon.

PETERSON: It must have been a mix of emotions welcoming back HMAS Toowoomba a little earlier today?

MARLES: Well it was a really happy day. I mean, this had been a three-month deployment, so you were looking at families who hadn't seen their loved ones for a long time. They're obviously coming back just before Christmas. We've had a taskgroup out doing a regional presence deployment which has included two other ships, HMAS Stalwart and HMAS Brisbane, who are returning to other parts of Australia in the next couple of day. But HMAS Toowoomba has had a particularly eventful few months and so it was really great to see them back here and to have the opportunity of just saying how much we appreciate their service.

PETERSON: How are those divers who were forced to exit the water over the sonar pulses from those Chinese warships?

MARLES: Look, I think they're good and they're in good spirits. I mean, that was obviously a very concerning event. Those divers, though, absolutely did our country honour in the way in which they handled themselves. I mean, it's a tricky thing to free a ship of nets around propellers, which is why they were in the water, because fishing nets had got caught around the propellers of HMAS Toowoomba. But to then have the interaction that occurred with the Chinese Navy is obviously a pretty confronting experience. But they did a fantastic job. They kept the ship safe. They're in good spirit and I think, you know, rightly they feel proud of the service that they've been able to provide. Certainly, from our point of view, we could not be prouder. But I think one of the things that it highlights is those ships which are doing this work, which is really about– we talk about asserting the rules-based order in our region, it’s freedom of navigation, but the point of this is that we're an island trading nation. Most of our trade, the vast bulk of it, goes by sea to the rest of the world. We really rely on those open channels of navigation on the high seas and it's our Navy who asserts that, who does those freedom of navigation operations. They are, in so many ways, on the front line and that's becoming a risky business. And what they do is very much in our national interest, but what they do is very much in the service of our country and we really felt proud of them today.

PETERSON: We certainly do. Budget update by your colleague, the Treasurer Jim Chalmers, a little earlier. Its bottom line is improving. Households, though still facing the squeeze. You didn't want to give Australians a little bit of a Christmas bonus, Acting Prime Minister?

MARLES: Well, I mean, in all the expenditure that we've done, really since coming to office, we've been focused on cost of living measures. Be it more affordable childcare, cheaper medicines, the measures that we put through this time last year to put downward pressure on energy prices, and they'd be much higher now but for what we did then, and we really have done that in the face of the opposition from the Liberal Party. But what we need to do is wage a war on inflation. I mean, this is being experienced around the world. It's obviously being experienced here. Hopefully we are getting to the other side of it, that's what the Reserve Bank is saying. But there's still a way to go. And the most significant thing we can do to putting a downward pressure on inflation is to make sure that we are managing the budget prudently. And so there are $10 billion worth of savings, reprioritisations in the mid-year– in MYEFO, that brings to a total $50 billion since we've come to office. In the last Liberal budget there was nothing. And what this means is that peak debt is going to be much less than it was going to be, we're talking about hundreds of billions of dollars over the decade being saved in interest payments for the federal budget. This is the most important thing we can do in terms of putting downward pressure on inflation and that's what Australians desperately want to see.

PETERSON: Wages predicted only to go up .25%. So households are going to continue to feel that pinch. Well, I guess you say inflation is hopefully on the way down. ACOSS, I see as well, is calling for a boost to income support, they want to see you lower the cost of energy bills, they want you to scrap the stage three tax cuts, which it says will only further fuel inflation. Are those options you are considering?

MARLES: We've put a lot of measures in place right now in putting downward pressure on energy bills, which we did this time last year. In terms of wages, one of the very first things we did in coming to office was to seek an increase in the minimum wage, which is what occurred through the Fair Work Commission and we've seen that happen twice now. So, at the lowest end we've seen two minimum wage rises which– keeping at pace with inflation. But the key thing we really need to do is to be waging a war on inflation. I mean, inflation is what is driving cost of living pressures. That's what's impacting everyone and we need to be making sure that the steps that we take are contributing to an environment which helps put a downward pressure on inflation. And that's what we are doing by managing the budget prudently. We all understand that in our lives in terms of our household budgets, you’ve got to make the bills add up and that's what we are doing in terms of how we're managing the national budget. And really, that stands in stark contrast to the Liberals over the decade prior to us taking up government.

PETERSON: The Australian Government, the Canadian Government, the New Zealand Government are calling for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to be increased and sustained to Palestine. Why is Australia taking this stance now?

MARLES: Well, from the get go, in what is just an appalling tragedy that is playing out in Israel and Gaza, we have been focused on the loss of innocent lives. We were focused on that on October 7 with the loss of innocent Israeli lives, with what was an appalling terrorist attack by Hamas, which we condemned in the strongest terms. But we're also focused on the loss of innocent Palestinian lives and that's what's been happening since. And while we totally acknowledge Israel's right to defend itself, and it definitely has that right, it is really important that humanitarian concerns are front and centre in the way in which Israel acts, but obviously that's been front and centre in terms of our global advocacy. We were talking for a long time about the need for a humanitarian pause, that happened and a lot good happened in that time, including the release of hostages that had been held by Hamas. We are talking now in terms of– as we move to try and have a sustainable ceasefire, obviously that has to be done in a way which is not one sided. We need to see Hamas release those hostages unconditionally, but we need to get to a point where we stop seeing the loss of innocent lives. Now, the support that we provided to the resolution in the United Nations General Assembly last night and the statement that we've issued with New Zealand and Canada to explain our position really is consistent with what I've just described–

PETERSON: Well, Julian Leeser indicated, the Liberal MP, that the immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza doesn't mention Hamas. And he says it's a “tawdry” move to prevent its inner city seats falling to the Greens, a decision about “Grayndler not Gaza”. Has he got a point here? Why doesn't it mention Hamas?

MARLES: Well, we supported an amendment to the resolution last night which would reference the October 7 attacks and we've made very clear in the statement that we've issued with Canada and with New Zealand in explaining our position last night that we condemn Hamas in the strongest possible terms. So, there's no doubt about where the Australian Government lies in relation to Hamas. We could not have condemned them in more significant terms because their conduct has been utterly appalling. They are a registered terrorist organisation by Australia, in the sense that Australia sees Hamas in those terms. Rightly so. And their conduct in this has been completely appalling. And not just on October 7, but since then, in terms of using innocent civilians as human shields. And so we will continue to do that. But it is important that innocent Palestinian lives are considered in just the same way as we think about innocent Israeli lives. And the way in which Australia is using its advocacy globally is to support humanitarian efforts and place the well-being and the protection of innocent civilians front and centre in terms of all that occurs.

PETERSON: Richard Marles, appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

MARLES: Thanks, Ollie.


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