Radio Interview, ABC Melbourne

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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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25 April 2024

SUBJECT/S: Anzac Day; Visit to the UAE; ADF Headquarters Middle East. 

HOST, ALI MOORE: Well, the Dawn Service gets underway in almost two hours’ time, just short of two hours time, at Gallipoli in Türkiye. And Richard Marles, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, is there. Richard Marles, hello.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Good morning, Ali. How are you?

MOORE: I'm well. It is very early for you.

MARLES: It is very early, but this is the time people are getting up to head over to Anzac Cove, which, of course, I think for every Australian here is a once in a lifetime experience and we're very excited.

MOORE: Have you been before?

MARLES: Never. I've been to Türkiye before when I was teenager as a tourist, but never been to Gallipoli and never done this service. And so it's a very special moment indeed. And, you know, speaking to a number of the people participating in the service and a number of other Australians who we've met over the course of the last 24 hours who are here, I mean, this really is a place of pilgrimage and a lot of people are here for the first time and you can see and feel the sense of excitement, the poignancy of what they're doing and how significant what we're about experience will be.

MOORE: I assume that you've been down there during the course of yesterday as part of preparations.

MARLES: Well, yesterday, in fact, there are a number of services and so it's really a two day event here. And yesterday we had the Turkish service, the French service and the UK and Irish service and all of those were different in their ways. They were all very poignant. It's obviously a huge moment for Türkiye as well. And there was a very big service that formed part of their commemoration of the event. And then today there will be three services as well. The Dawn Service, of course, which is the centre of our commemoration of this. But there's been a service at Lone Pine a bit later on and then the New Zealand service at Chunuk Bair. So, it's a significant two day event and we're about to come to the, well, I guess from an Australian point of view, the high point of it.

MOORE: And when you're at Anzac Cove, what's the– can you sort of give us a visual of it for people who haven't been there?

MARLES: Well, what I would say is that the Gallipoli peninsula is actually not what I expected. I suspect what I had in my mind was probably the visuals that you have from the movie Gallipoli, because that's what from people of my generation, we grew up identifying with those visuals, and I've not actually been to the Cove yet, the specific cove, so maybe there'll be some sense of that there. But the peninsula more broadly, you know, sweeping hills, it is very green. It looks to me kind of quite European. It's beautiful. I mean, it's absolutely stunningly beautiful as you look across the Dardanelles and you see that narrow stretch of water, which in a strategic sense was at the heart of the Gallipoli campaign. But it's deeply poignant. I mean, the whole peninsula now is a national park in Türkiye. There are monuments everywhere. You have a sense that you are on sacred ground for many countries in different ways. And the poignancy of the place, the sacredness of it, is manifest very clearly.

MOORE: What does Anzac Day mean to you? I guess, both personally and also in your capacity as Deputy Prime Minister?

MARLES: I think this is the most significant day for Australians in the year. And I think you can see that by the number of Australians. I mean, literally millions of Australians will have participated in dawn services already across the country. That says something about the significance that people place on this. As a veterans day, I think it’s unique in the world, because what we're not doing is commemorating a military victory. And of course, there are many military victories in our history. What we are doing is commemorating what was a loss. But we're really commemorating character, we're commemorating service, we're commemorating sacrifice. And all of that seems bigger than the outcome of a particular battle. And all of that, I think, goes more deeply to our nation's character, which is why I think we are seeing a groundswell of engagement in Anzac Day over the last couple of decades which continues to grow and which goes through the generations and I certainly feel that as well. 

I mean, for me personally, I do have a connection here. My great uncle Leo Pearce landed on the day. We know from the records he got here at 8:30, about four hours after the first landing. But I think equally as poignant, John Eren, who's a dear friend of mine, former Victorian sports minister, John's of Turkish heritage, his grandfather was also here on the day, but on the other side. And who would have thought that if you could speak to those two men then and say that a century later their great nephew and their grandson would be the closest of friends, it would be unbelievable. But I think that also says something about how very unique and special this is.

MOORE: What happened to your great uncle?

MARLES: Well, my great uncle survived the war. In fact, he went through Gallipoli and onto the Western Front. My grandfather, who didn't come to Gallipoli, but fought on the Western Front, he also survived the war, but was injured at Pozieres in France. He actually fought through the Battle of Pozieres, I should say, and was awarded the Military Cross there. I had the very great honour of being taken to the spot where he won his Military Cross a couple of years ago. And so the First World War, particularly, I think, in our family, was something that really kind of rippled through the generations. I knew my grandfather. To me, it is amazing that there was a person in my life who I knew, who I shared experiences with, who was actually there fighting at Pozieres in the First World War. And I think, again, the number of Australians who participated, the number of Australians who died, of course, and were injured, but the impact that the First World War had on that generation marks us in ways that I think people would not be aware of. I think it's everywhere, actually. And you can see the physical manifestation of it in the fact that you can't really go to a town in our country without seeing a monument to the First World War. Those who died, those who served. And when you look at the names, the sheer of number of people in very small places speaks to what this must have meant at that time. But certainly for our family, the stories of, or the impact is probably a better way of putting it, less the stories, but the impact of the First World War was something that was very much a part of our family history.

MOORE: You're listening to Richard Marles, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister. He is preparing for the Dawn Service at Anzac Cove in Türkiye. Richard Marles, I know that, I mean, obviously, we're commemorating those who have fought in wars past, but also present. And there are wars being fought right now. And I know that you, as part of this trip, you've been moving through the Middle East, you've been in Abu Dhabi. The UAE has warned about the risk of a regional spillover from the war between Israel and Hamas. They've called for maximum restraint. Through your meetings and those you've spoken to, what sense do you get of the tensions in the region?

MARLES: Well, I mean, I won't speak in detail about this, on this day, but I did go through Abu Dhabi, as you said, and also met with our own troops because we have a base at Al Minhad, which is just outside of Dubai. It's one of really two active bases that we have in other parts of the world. So, it was in the lead up to Anzac Day, I’ve got to say, it was really great to be able to interact with those serving personnel who are maintaining our base there. And they have seen significant activity over the course of the last few months as we've supported evacuations out of the Middle East, and they stand ready to do more work, depending on course, on what happens. So, you could sense that this is a place where action is happening and service may be required and people are getting ready. 

I mean, I think in the broader sense, there's obviously anxiety and a sense that we live in uncertain times and this is a very uncertain region. And that one thing I would say, I think, is that the UAE have been really very much at the forefront of trying to create dialogue between the parties to try and find resolution to a whole lot of the issues which are surrounding what's occurring in the Middle East. And I think they would say that this is a time where trying to promote dialogue is particularly hard. So, there is certainly a sense of anxiety and tension. It's perhaps a time also when we need to be very much focused on our friends in the world. The UAE is very much one of those for us. But also I think there is a, given our history, a very particular and special relationship with Türkiye. And I met with my counterpart, Minister Guler, yesterday and again, we spoke about the significance of today, but in a more contemporary sense, we spoke about how it's really important that countries with shared values are working closely together at this moment in time.

MOORE: You made the point about at this time being able to meet with Australian Defence Force personnel at the Middle East Headquarters. I did note on your social media, Minister, that you've been running with them. I'm imagining that they set quite a cracking pace and I was wondering whether you'd prefer to be doing that or you wished that you'd opted for the Kokoda Track with the Prime Minister.

MARLES: Well, I'm very impressed that the Prime Minister has done the Kokoda Track and he, I know, was very excited about that. In the last few weeks, he's been turning up to meetings of Cabinet in his suit and his hiking shoes as he's been getting them worn in. So, I know that he was very keen on this and I've actually had some communication with him this morning. He's done the Dawn Service at Isurava, which is on the Kokoda Track, which would be – I've never done that, but I've been there – and that would be an incredible experience. But look, running is part of my daily fitness routine and so I like to take the opportunity to run with our personnel overseas, but around the country when I can. They definitely set the cracking pace, but they are very generous and kind. 

MOORE: You held your own? 

MARLES: I'm not sure I held my own at all, Ali. I think they just perhaps walked at a faster pace next to me as I was huffing and puffing.

MOORE: You just said that you've been to where the Dawn Service was on the Kokoda Track. Have you walked it?

MARLES: I've not. A few years ago, I had the opportunity of going into Isurava. I flew into there and it was actually on Anzac Day back in, I think, 2019, I did the Dawn Service at the Bomana War Cemetery outside of Port Moresby, which is the largest Australian war cemetery in the world. And that was very poignant and we went later in the morning to Isurava. So, I've seen parts of it and seen how spectacularly beautiful it is, but that is something on my bucket list.

MOORE: Richard Marles, thank you very much for getting up extra early and speaking with us.

MARLES: It's a pleasure, Ali. Thank you.


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