Television interview, Sky

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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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29 February 2024

SUBJECTS: Red Sea, ASIO Threat Assessment

HOST, PETER STEFANOVIC: Well, the Albanese government will increase ADF support for us and UK actions targeting Houthi rebels in the Red Sea. Let's go to Canberra. Joining us is the deputy PM and the Defence Minister Richard Marles. Minister, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. So, what does this increased contribution mean? How many new officers will be going?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, this is an increased contribution to the headquarters which are directing the strikes that the US and the UK are doing on the Houthi rebels. It's another six people who will be going into that headquarters. We don't describe where the headquarters are, but it's an important contribution to this mission, which is ultimately about protecting international shipping. And I think the point that Australians need to understand here is that as an island trading nation, we're deeply invested in the rules of the sea. The UN Convention on the law of the Sea, freedom of navigation is utterly essential to our way of life, and that is what is being disrupted by the Houthis in the Red Sea. And so it is very important that we are making our contribution to this and we're very pleased to be doing that.

STEFANOVIC: So, is this in addition to the previous operation, Minister, and that they will be based in Bahrain as well?

MARLES: Yeah, they are going to be based, but just to make sure that there is a clear understanding of this, the strikes that are being undertaken by the US and the UK are separate to the Combined Maritime Force, which was the earlier contribution that we made last year. So, that remains in place. We have 16 personnel who are at the headquarters of the CMF in Bahrain. This is a separate mission and a separate headquarters that are involved in these strikes. And we had been contributing to this headquarters previously. We announced that earlier in the year but this is an increase in what we are doing in respect of that specific mission.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, so there'll be folks out there who say, today, six, is that all we can afford?

MARLES: Well, I mean, this is a contribution to the headquarters. It's a significant contribution.

STEFANOVIC: Doesn't sound like many, though.

MARLES: Well, headquarters are of particular size, so it's a non insignificant contribution to those headquarters. But I think the important point to make here is we are playing our part, along with a smaller number of other countries relative to the CMF that are supporting the US and the UK in these strikes.

STEFANOVIC: So, they'll be helping to direct attacks?

MARLES: Well, they'll be undertaking a range of functions within the headquarters. And obviously the headquarters do a whole lot of functions in terms of directing the attacks. The strikes that are being undertaken by the US and the UK, we're not going to describe specifically what the Australian personnel are doing. 

STEFANOVIC: Hey, got to move on to this other issue of Mike Burgess and his warning last night. Minister. It's his annual threat assessment. Australians are being offered cash for reports on the government, and that includes Defence and Infrastructure with an aim to sabotage. How shocked are you about what he said last night?

MARLES: Shocked isn't the word because I think we've all understood that these threats exist, but I think it is a very timely reminder about the importance of being extremely vigilant in relation to foreign interference and also to understand what threats are out there, which we have understood, which is why I'm not shocked by this. But it is a reminder of the threat that we face. And it is very important that people certainly doing what I'm doing, but who are engaged in and around government, understand just how important it is to maintain our sovereignty, to make sure that government at every level, and public service and public administration at every level, is being undertaken with only one national interest in mind, and that's the Australian national interest, and we need to be very focused on.

STEFANOVIC: Alarmingly, he said, Australia is in the sights of a particular spy network. I'm assuming that's China, is it not?

MARLES: Well, I'm not about to confirm that. But again, we are very mindful of efforts of espionage within Australia from other countries. We're very clear about that threat and the need to be vigilant about that. And I think this is not something for Australians to overreact to, in the sense that Australians can go about their everyday life with a sense of confidence that we have some of the very best agencies in the world protecting us. But it is to say that we need to be really vigilant, and we are about the way in which we go about our Public Administration and the service of the Australian people.

STEFANOVIC: He also said a former politician sold out his country. And it begs the question, who is it?

MARLES: Well, look, I'm actually not aware of the facts which underpin that scenario. Which Mr. Burgess, is he referring to.

STEFANOVIC: Someone like Sam Dastyari there, or is it someone newer?

MARLES: I have no idea. And I don't think it helps to start speculating about that. I think the importance of the scenario that has been put into the public domain again underlies what I've just said. All of us who are involved in government in any way need to be really vigilant about the fact that there are actors out there that are seeking to influence the way in which government and public administration is undertaken in this country and to influence it not in respect of Australia's national interest, but the interests of other nations and so we have to be very very careful about the way in which we engage in what we do. It is very important in that sense that this threat is described in the way that Mr Burgess has, and those of us not just doing the work of a politician but anyone in who is involved in public administration needs to be really mindful of this. 


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