Television interview, Today

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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, KARL STEFANOVIC: More now on our breaking news, Australia will be increasing its military presence in the Middle East – sending more troops to the Red Sea to assist allied forces in fighting Houthi rebels. Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles joins us now in Canberra. Good morning to you, Richard. Nice to see you. What are the details?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Good morning, Karl. We're sending an additional six personnel, which will happen in the next couple of days, to the headquarters which is supporting the US and UK strikes, specifically on the Houthi positions in Yemen. So, there are a couple of activities going on here. There's the Combined Maritime Force, which has been in place for a long time, we've had an increase in the number of people in that headquarters, which is based in Bahrain, and we announced that last year. This is in addition, but separate to that, which is a headquarters specifically supporting the US UK strikes. Now, we announced that we were participating in that earlier in the year. This is an additional contribution of six people to that headquarters and it's really important, because–

STEFANOVIC: Is it going to make a difference? Six people?

MARLES: Well it does make a difference. I mean, these headquarters aren't huge places, and it's certainly a contribution which is very much welcomed by both the US and the UK. But it's very important that we are a part of this mission, because our national interest is completely tied up as an island trading nation with freedom of navigation, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and that's what's being protected here in terms of protecting international shipping from the Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.

STEFANOVIC: The strategy so far on the Houthi rebels doesn't seem to have made any particular dent, at this point. Clearly, we might be there for the long haul. Would it involve any military hardware, any increase in the number of personnel?

MARLES: Well, a few points there. Firstly, I think actually, there has been a really significant impact that has resulted from the US UK strikes. It certainly has had an impact on Houthi capability. But I do agree with the proposition that this may be something that needs to be in place over a longer period of time. I mean, our focus in terms of our contribution now is in the people that we can help in assisting this. We've got people with excellent skills that are certainly highly valued, and this is the best way in which we can help this effort.

STEFANOVIC: Look, the deeper we go, the more we become a target. Our top spy warning overnight terror attacks are a real threat here at home and it couldn't be more serious.

MARLES: I think that's right. I mean, there's a few points here as well. I mean, Mike Burgess pointed both to the threat of terrorism and, I think, an increased temperature, if I could put it that way, since October 7. And it's a bit of a reminder, I feel, for all of us to be doing what we can to be promoting social cohesion, to try to bring the temperature down in Australia. And that's not denying anyone's right to have their freedom of expression about what's happening in the Middle East, but we do need to be thinking about our own social cohesion and our own way of life here in Australia. Of course, the other thing that he spoke about was state actors, foreign espionage here in Australia, and that is a really big threat, too. And those of us who are involved in public administration; politicians, but not just politicians, senior public servants, those engaged in a number of our critical agencies, we've got to be really focused about those who seek to influence what we do, and that what we do is always based solely on Australia's national interest.

STEFANOVIC: I mean, I found it pretty staggering last night– he said last night, the threat is realer now. And it doesn't help when former politicians or aspiring politicians are betraying Australia. That was a pretty startling revelation. I mean, who was it? And are we pursuing it in any way, shape or form?

MARLES: Well, obviously, ASIO is all over this, which is why he's described this situation. I am not aware of the specific facts which underpin the scenario that Mike Burgess has outlined and I respect the reasons why that is important to be kept confidential. But I think it is also really important that this story be put out in the public domain, which is what Mike Burgess has done. Because those of us engaged in public life, not just us, but certainly us, need to be really vigilant about the fact that there will be those who seek to influence what we do. And our job, our calling is about Australia's national interests. That has to be our focus. And I think the way in which Mike Burgess put it last night, that the person involved sold out both their colleagues, their party, but also the nation, is spot on.

STEFANOVIC: Well, treason and sedition come to mind, don't they? The most serious of accusations. 

MARLES: Totally. Yes. 

STEFANOVIC: We've run out of time. We appreciate your time, Richard. Thank you.

MARLES: Thanks, Karl.


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