12 January 2024
SUBJECTS: Strikes in Houthi-Controlled areas in Yemen; Papua New Guinea.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: This morning, Australian time, the United States and the United Kingdom engaged in a number of missile strikes on Houthi military targets in Yemen. This action was supported by four other nations; Canada, Bahrain, the Netherlands and Australia. Australia’s support of these actions came in the form of personnel in the operational headquarters. These are very important actions. The actions that have been taken today, supported by Australia, are about maintaining freedom of navigation on the high seas, they are about maintaining global trade, and that is completely central to Australia's national interest. This decision was not taken lightly. On the 4th of January, Australia was part of 14 countries which issued a statement warning the Houthis that if they continued to attack maritime activity in the Red Sea, there would have been consequences. Since then, the Houthis have continued their attacks on both civilian maritime and naval assets. As a result, the attacks today have occurred. Australia will continue to support any actions which assert the global rules-based order, which assert the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and which assert freedom of navigation on the high seas, be that in the Red Sea, be that in the Indo-Pacific, be that in other parts of the world.
JOURNALIST: A few questions. First off, when was the government told by the US or the UK, these attacks were carried out?
MARLES: Well, I'm not in a position to divulge that information. We're obviously in close contact with our partners in the United States and the United Kingdom.
JOURNALIST: What exact support is Australia providing in these attacks?
MARLES: Again, I'm not in a position to go into the precise support but our support has come in the form of personnel in the operational headquarters for this activity.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned this is going to further escalate tensions in the region?
MARLES: Well, the Houthis have been engaging in a disruption of maritime activity. They've been engaged in a disruption of the rules-based order. Freedom of navigation and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea are utterly central to Australia's national interest and it is fundamentally important that Australia stands up for the principles of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and freedom of navigation.
JOURNALIST: A Houthi leader has said these attacks will be answered at a greater scale than the current drone attacks in the Red Sea. What is the risk to Australians and Australian personnel in the region?
MARLES: Well, again, Australia must stand up for the rules-based order. Australia must stand up for freedom of navigation. When you consider who we are: an island trading nation, much of our prosperity is based on sea lines of communication, is based on the freedom of trade on the high seas. And it is absolutely essential that Australia stands firm in the principles of freedom of navigation on the high seas.
JOURNALIST: Now that the ICJ hearings have begun, will Australia support South Africa's case accusing Israel of genocide?
MARLES: Well, today I'm what I'm making absolutely clear is Australia's participation in these activities. Australia is absolutely committed to maintaining the global rules-based order on the high seas and it is absolutely essential that freedom of navigation be central to that.
JOURNALIST: And there was one on PNG. Has PNG asked Australia for assistance? Or has the Australian Government offered to provide assistance?
MARLES: The circumstances today in PNG have improved somewhat on the events that we were seeing yesterday. Obviously, the government is monitoring this very closely. There are no reports of Australians being caught up in these activities, but we are clearly keeping a close watch on that. We're in constant dialogue with the PNG government. There have been some small requests for assistance; a contracted helicopter to the PNG Defence Force, accommodation for some PNG police, and we will continue to work with PNG and to meet any requests for assistance as a close friend.
JOURNALIST: And I think this is the final one, can you provide an update on Australians impacted by the violence?
MARLES: Well, at this stage we are being advised that no Australians have been caught up in what has occurred in Papua New Guinea.