Radio interview, RN Breakfast

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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

SUBJECTS: Julian Assange, Senator Payman; The importance of social cohesion; Solomon Islands Prime Minister visit

HOST, PATRICIA KARVELAS: Richard Marles is the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister and joins us this morning. Welcome to the program, Richard Marles.

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

KARVELAS: I am well. We have just seen live pictures of Julian Assange entering. What I understand is the court also with Kevin Rudd. Can you just confirm who you've sent, what the delegation is that's travelled with Julian Assange?

MARLES: Well, we've been facilitating Mr Assange's movements and so, as Mr Assange appears in the US court this morning in Saipan, it is my understanding that our Ambassador to the United States, Kevin Rudd, is there, as is the High Commissioner to the UK, Stephen Smith, who has been facilitating Mr Assange's travel. Obviously, we're limited in what we can say now. This is before the United States courts, literally as we are speaking, and we need to let that process take its course. But we're obviously very pleased that we are seeing movement and resolution to Mr Assange's circumstances because he was incarcerated for a protracted period of time and there needed to be resolution, and we've been very much advocating on his behalf since we've come to government with both the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom, and we're pleased we've got to this day.

KARVELAS: Do you believe it's the political pressure that ultimately delivered this outcome?

MARLES: Again, I don't think it helps to speculate on that. All I can say is that we've been advocating on Mr Assange's behalf, as we would do in relation to any Australian who is incarcerated overseas who needs the advocacy of the Australian Government. That's what governments do around the world. And in Mr Assange's circumstances, irrespective of one's view of what he did previously, he had been incarcerated for a prolonged period of time. There was no fixed resolution to that incarceration. That was fundamentally unfair. That's what we sought to resolve, and that's been the heart of our advocacy and in that context, we're very pleased that we're getting to this day.

KARVELAS: The government was calling on the US to drop the charges against him. Are you disappointed they didn't drop the prosecution altogether?

MARLES: Again, I don't think it serves for me to speculate on that. I mean, what I would say is we are really pleased that we have got to this moment and where we're at now, and we need to let the process take its course. Mr Assange is in Saipan. He's now appearing in front of the United States court, and we will watch that take its course. But in this process, what we are now seeing is resolution to Mr Assange's circumstances, and that's fundamentally what needed to occur.

KARVELAS: And can I just get a sense, will you reveal more details of the process after he lands in Australia? Is this just about exercising a high degree of caution?

MARLES: Well, it's about being appropriate in terms of the way in which we deal with consular issues. I mean, we advocate on behalf of Australians around the world, people who are incarcerated, who need their legal rights spoken for, and who need advocacy from their government. And that's what we've been doing. And we really wouldn't say more than what I've just said then. Not in relation to Mr Assange, in relation to, I don't think so, not in relation to Mr Assange, or in fact, in relation to others, and that's because it's really important that we are able to continue to pursue consular cases in other circumstances such that governments around the world understand how we behave, that when we advocate on behalf of people, and we do so behind closed doors, that we stand by that.

KARVELAS: Former US Republican Vice President Mike Pence says Assange endangered the lives of American troops in a time of war and should have been prosecuted to the extent of the law. What's your response to that?

MARLES: Well, I don't think it serves to go over Mr Assange's actions many, many years ago, other than to observe that since then, Mr Assange has been incarcerated for many, many years. And that's really the point that we are making here. Whatever has occurred in the past, Mr Assange has served a considerable amount of time in prison, and of course, he was confined for a considerable period of time prior to that. So, there's no doubt that Mr Assange has paid a price here. What's not fair is to, for any person, is for their legal situation to be sitting in a state of limbo and for their legal situation to be unresolved. And that's really been the heart of our advocacy on behalf of Mr Assange and that's why we're pleased to see that there is resolution today.

KARVELAS: Will it help your relationship with the United States now that this is settled?

MARLES: I don't think this has been an issue really in the relationship with the United States. I absolutely don't think it's been an issue at all. And I think I'm probably in a unique position to be able to assert that because I deal with the United States on a frequent basis and I've been dealing with the United States across a significant range of equities in our relationship between Australia and the United States, which really, our defence goes to the heart of our alliance and in the context of that, Mr Assange's case hasn't, has not been relevant at all.

KARVELAS: The deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, is my guest this morning. I want to change the topic. Last night, Labor Senator Fatima Payman crossed the floor on a Greens motion to recognise Palestine as a state that's against party rules as you know, you've said she won't be expelled, so I want to just clear this up. Will she face any consequence?

MARLES: Fatima Payman has expressed her view on this issue. She obviously has very strong issues. There's no intention to see any consequences in relation to that certainty.

KARVELAS: No consequences, nothing.

MARLES: And she's not about to be expelled.

KARVELAS: But could there be? Sorry, that's what I'm trying to get to. No expulsion. Anything else?

MARLES: No, and because this is not a moment to be going around punishing people. I mean, like, since October 7, we have seen, obviously, a very complex issue, but a complete human tragedy play out in the Middle East. Back here in Australia, we've seen social cohesion put under enormous pressure. We want, as a government, but I think across the country, all of us, as Australians, need to be doing everything we can to be bringing people together in this moment. I mean, that's what we're seeking to do in the community. But if I can just finish, PK, if we're trying to live that now's not a time for them to be going around expelling people because they're expressing a particular opinion.

KARVELAS: So, let me check this, is crossing the floor no longer a significant issue in Labor?

MARLES: No, that's not correct. Of course it's a significant issue. 

KARVELAS: I think just not on this issue.

MARLES: It's a significant issue. And I think if you were to ask Senator Payman, she would say it was a very significant issue. There isn't a mandated consequence for this within our rules. It's actually not without precedent, and we're going to handle this in a sensible and in a mature way. 

KARVELAS: I understand. What I'm trying to get to is, is there something special just about this issue?

MARLES: There is no mandated consequence and the caucus has agency.

KARVELAS: Okay. If she crosses the floor on something else, would she face a consequence? If it was on China or if it was on Myanmar, would she face consequence then?

MARLES: So, if I can get the answer out, PK. members of our caucus absolutely understand their obligations as part of our caucus. The caucus has agency in terms of how it manages each and every case and there is no mandated consequence for this.

KARVELAS: So, is it your view that Palestine is a specific issue? That's what I want to find out.

MARLES: I hear the question, but let me get the answer out. There is no mandated consequence. The caucus has agency over how it manages this and every issue, and we're going to manage this in a way which lives what we are seeking to do in the community, and that is bringing Australians together and you don't bring Australians together if you send a message in terms of our behaviour here that we're about to expel people, impose consequences because of their particular view on this issue.

KARVELAS: So it's a special issue then?

MARLES: That is how we are seeking to act, that's how we are choosing to deal.

KARVELAS: With this issue, because it's about this issue. This is what I'm trying to get to. I still don't feel with respect, I do have an answer on that. Is it because of this issue?

MARLES: Well, the caucus is choosing to have agency in relation to this issue. Yes, this issue and particularly this issue but as it would, as it might have agency in relation to any other issue. So, is this a particular issue? Yes, but others might occur in the future. Is there is no mandated consequence in the rules, that's the point. And the caucus has agency in terms of how it manages this going forward and how we seek to manage this particular issue. Yes, this issue, in relation to the Middle East is to do so in a way which gives expression to the idea that we want to bring Australians together and we don't see that we do that by starting to expel people because they've expressed a particular view. And the final point I make on this is what is really important here, Senator Payman has made absolutely clear that she wants to continue to represent the people of Western Australia as a Labor Senator, as she was elected, and that's what she'll continue to do.

KARVELAS: Just quickly, Deputy Prime Minister, the new Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manele, is in Australia, he's expected to ask the government to help bail out their budget. Are you prepared to help?

MARLES: Well, firstly, we're very much looking forward to Prime Minister Manele's visit today. I'll be having lunch with Jeremiah Manele myself and we constantly talk about ways in which we can support Solomon Islands. And obviously, we've been providing development assistance to Solomon Islands for decades. So, we'll look at the requests that are being made by Solomon Islands and how we can help. I would say that we seek to be the partner of choice for Solomon Islands, and that includes in respect of security. We understand we don't get rights here, that's something we need to earn, but in Prime Minister Manele's government, there is the opportunity for a new partnership with a new government, and we are very optimistic, optimistic about the prospects of being able to pursue that with him.

KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us.

MARLES: Thanks, PK.


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