Television interview, ABC Breakfast

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

Media contact

02 6277 7800

Release content

29 February 2024

SUBJECTS: ASIO Threat Assessment, Red Sea, Dating App Safety 

HOST, MICHAEL ROWLAND: Being recruited by operatives from a foreign regime. Delivering his annual threat assessment overnight, the ASIO chief, Mike Burgess, revealed the unnamed politician wanted to introduce his handlers, part of a shady spy network dubbed the A team, to a Prime Minister's family member.

HOST, BRIDGET BRENNAN: The intelligence chief also sounded the alarm on the threat posed to Australia by foreign sabotage, particularly cyber attacks. The deputy PM and Defence Minister Richard Marles joins me now from Canberra. A very good morning to you. Do you know who this is that Mike Burgess is referencing? Is it one of your former colleagues?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Look, I don't know the specific facts which underpin this scenario, and I don't think it helps to speculate exactly what this scenario is. What I think is important here is to understand that for those of us who are involved in public administration, and that's politicians, but not just politicians, there is a threat of foreign interference out there and there are people seeking to influence what we do, not on the basis of the national interests of Australia, but on the basis of the national interests of other countries. And it's really important that we're mindful of that in what we do. And I think in that sense, this scenario, this event being brought to light, is very important for us to understand.

BRENNAN: Former coalition Minister Joe Hockey saying this morning that in his view, this person should be named, because otherwise many former politicians are being smeared. That's his view. What's your assessment of that?

MARLES: Well, again, I think there's a whole range of reasons why individuals would not be named, and that detail is not out there. So, I respect the decision that ASIO have made in relation to this. Again, I think what we take from this is just the threat that exists and the importance for all of us who are involved in what we do, but not just politicians. As I say, all of everyone involved in public administration. Our duty is to be acting in respect of Australia's national interests, and we need to be really vigilant in respect of actors who, in a covert way, are seeking to achieve the interests of another country.

BRENNAN: Richard Marles, would this former politician have committed a crime?

MARLES: Well, I think they would have in terms of what the scenario that Mike Burgess has outlined. But much more than that, as the Director General has said, they've completely undermined and sold out both their colleagues and their country. And that's really the issue here. But the issue also is we've got a threat out there. We need to be mindful of that and we need to be really careful in all that we do to ensure that our focus, our primary interest, is on serving the people who put us here, and that's the Australian people.

BRENNAN: Are you personally aware of other politicians who've been targeted?

MARLES: Look, we've had briefings from ASIO about the threat. I'm not aware of specific people that have been targeted, but I am aware of other efforts to target Australian politicians, which, again, is why I think it's really important that this situation has been brought to light in the assessment that the director general has made. It is something that politicians obviously need to have in mind. And we do. We get briefings about the importance of being very careful in the way in which others seek to engage with us. But it's not just politicians, I emphasise it's across those who are serving the public and a whole range of matters of public administration, those in the public service, but those in other agencies as well. I mean, foreign espionage is taking place in this country, and we live in a world where other countries have interest in influencing what happens here. And it's really important that in protecting our sovereignty, we are very focused on our own behaviours, our own interactions, so that we are always acting in the interests of the Australian people.

BRENNAN: Let's go to activities in the Red Sea. Now you're announcing that there'll be more Defence force personnel sent to the Middle east. How many Australian defence personnel are there at the moment and what are they doing?

MARLES: Well, this is a commitment of an additional six people to the headquarters which is supporting the US UK strikes on houthi targets in Yemen. And that is a specific mission which is distinct from the combined maritime force, which Australia also contributes to. We've got 16 people in the CMF headquarters in Bahrain, and we've had people in those headquarters for a long time, but we increased that number last year in response to the disruption of shipping in the Red Sea. But the specific strikes on Yemen is its own mission with its own headquarters, and it is to that headquarters that we've increased our contribution by six. And we announced that we were participating in that headquarters earlier in the year. So, this is a mission that we've been a part of, along with a smaller number of countries relative to those that can participate in the Combined Maritime Force. But it's an important contribution. It's certainly one which is welcomed by the US and the UK. And I think the thing to understand here is we make decisions, again based on where Australia's national interest lies. We're an island trading nation which is deeply invested in the rules of the sea. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, freedom of navigation is really everything for us in terms of our national prosperity. That's what's being disrupted by the Houthis in the Red Sea. And it's important that Australia is flying its flag, that it is participating in this effort to protect international shipping in the Red Sea.

BRENNAN: Minister, I want to take you to a concerning story where we have heard that a number of people on dating apps, an increasing number of people are being targeted by would be predators, asking them to provide images of children. Is the Federal Government aware of this and what are you doing about it?

MARLES: Look, I'm not aware of that specifically, although obviously that kind of online activity is something that we are very concerned about and we are doing all that we can in terms of raising awareness for people so that they can maintain their own safety when they are online and obviously this is a very very disturbing report. 


Other related releases