Doorstop interview, Parliament House, Canberra

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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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26 June 2024

SUBJECT/S: Senator Payman; The importance of social cohesion; Julian Assange; Visit to Australia by Solomon Islands Prime Minister Jeremiah Manele; ANAO report into Defence management contract; Defence procurement

JOURNALIST: Deputy Prime Minister, should Senator Fatima Payman be expelled from the Labor Party for crossing the floor last night?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: We don't have any intention of doing that. Senator Payman has made completely clear that she wants to continue to represent the people of Western Australia in the Senate as a Labor Senator, and that she continues to espouse Labor values and views. Obviously, she has a strong view in relation to this issue. And we all know how complex this issue is. The point really is that since October 7, as the tragedy of the Middle East has been playing out, and we've watched social cohesion in this country be placed under enormous stress. We need to be doing everything in our power to bring Australians together. This is not a time to be going around expelling people because they have a particular view on this issue. And as we seek to bring Australians together around the country, we're going to live those values in terms of how we handle this issue here. 

JOURNALIST: No formal sanction or punishment for the Senator?

MARLES: No. As I say, Senator Payman has made absolutely clear that she continues to seek to represent the people of Western Australia as a Labor Senator.

JOURNALIST: Can you just clarify for us what the rules are within the Labor Party about crossing the floor? There was an understanding that there's a rule in place that Labor members can't vote against the party line.

MARLES: There's no mandated sanction in this circumstance. And it's actually not unprecedented. We will handle this in a mature way. And the way in which we're being guided in terms of how we're handling it is really about how we've been tackling the issue of social cohesion within this country since October 7. We want to bring Australians together. And we want Australians to see a government that is living that. And we don't do that by going around and expelling people because they have particular views on this issue.

JOURNALIST: Diplomatic victory with Assange, luckily, being imminent released. What do you make of your government's treatment of Witness-K and David McBride?

MARLES: I am not going to go into that. Of course, we have been advocating on behalf of Mr. Assange since we've come to government. We're very pleased that we're seeing movement in this case, today. Mr. Assange will be appearing in front of the United States court in Saipan this morning. It is difficult to comment beyond that. But we are pleased to see that this matter is moving forward because Mr. Assange was incarcerated for a protracted period of time- that was unfair without any kind of legal resolution. And that would be the case irrespective of what one's view is of his actions originally. I mean, he served a long period of time in incarceration, this needed legal resolution. That's why we were advocating on his behalf. And we're very pleased to see that this matter is moving today. 

JOURNALIST: There are suggestions Julian Assange might be down for Canberra shortly, if things go well in court today. Is that your expectation? And would you welcome him into Parliament houses as soon as this evening?

MARLES: Again, I can't speculate on that without speculating on the proceedings in the United States court this morning. And I'm not going to do that. This matter is in front of the US court this morning. There's a process to be played out and we need to watch it take its course. I repeat; we've been advocating consistently on behalf of Mr. Assange, as we would in relation to any Australian citizen, incarcerated overseas who needs the advocacy of the Australian Government. And in Mr. Assange’s circumstances he was in prison without the prospect of legal resolution to his case, irrespective of the actions that were undertaken by him previously, that was not a situation which was fair. And that's why we've been advocating on his behalf. And we are very pleased to see there is resolution moving forward today.

JOURNALIST: Can you confirm if the Solomon Islands Prime Minister will be seeking any financial assistance from Australia? What does that say about their security ties and ties in the Pacific who they look to? And what are you hoping to achieve out of his visit?

MARLES: Well, we're very much looking forward to Jeremiah Manele visit to Canberra today. I'll be having lunch with the Solomon Islands Prime Minister at lunchtime today. And of course, I was in Solomon Islands a few weeks ago, where I also met Prime Minister Manele. We're really looking forward to this visit- his first visit to Australia to Parliament House as the Prime Minister of Solomon Islands. And we see the opportunity here to build a new partnership with Solomon Islands with a new government in place and that was the message that I took to him when I met with him a few weeks ago. Foreign Minister, Penny Wong has also been in Solomon Islands and met with him. Solomon Islands is a country which deeply matters to Australia. And you're right we do seek to be the partner of choice for Solomon Islands, the security partner of choice for Solomon Islands and we're very pleased with the comments that we've been hearing from Prime Minister Manele in relation to that. We have a significant development assistance program in Solomon Islands, and that's been the case for decades. And that continues to be the case and how we can contribute to Solomon Islands in a way which best promotes their human development. It's something that we will continue to do.

JOURNALIST: A bottle of champagne has been traded in an audit office reporting to the Defence Department between a contractor- and unethical conduct discovered as well. What does it say about the department's procurement policies with contractors and then people leaving the department to pursue jobs for the contractors which deals will be done with?

MARLES: I am aware of this report. This relates to the period prior to us coming into government, and my understanding is that the Department of Defence will be looking into this.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly, Mike Pezzullo has suggested Australia needs to create a defence production Tsar, who would wield procurement superpowers to buy new weapons for the military. What do you make of that idea? Is there a need to shake up defence procurement in such a way just that Mr. Pezzullo is suggesting?

MARLES: Well, we've done a lot with defence procurement since we've come to office. We've done a lot to have much more ministerial engagement in it so that at the very highest levels, we are seeking to make sure that what we procure, the projects that we undertake, run on time and on budget. And already you've seen much greater ministerial intervention by this government in the last two years relative to what we saw from the Coalition over the course of a decade. It is really important that we are able to procure in a way which is nimble, which is quick, which is able to get new capabilities into operation within the Australian Defence Force quickly, and that's exactly what the government is doing. 


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