Television interview, ABC News 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, AEMO Report 

HOST, MICHAEL ROWLAND: Let's bring in Australia's Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles. He's in Canberra. Richard, good morning to you.


ROWLAND: How do you expect the day to play out?

MARLES: Well, there's not a lot I can say other than Julian Assange, we expect to be in a United States court today in Saipan. From there, it is really a matter of what plays out in those legal proceedings, and it's not appropriate for me to comment about that. But what I would say is that we've been advocating on behalf of Mr Assange for a number of years now, really, since we came to power, because whatever one's view of what Mr Assange did are, this has been an issue which has been going on for a very long period of time. It requires resolution, and we are pleased now that this matter is moving.

ROWLAND: As a Defence Minister, what's your view on what Julian Assange is now pleading guilty to breaching the espionage act in the US?

MARLES: Well, again, I don't think it serves to go over those matters, but people have made comments, including myself, about what Mr Assange did back in the day. What matters now is that this has been an issue which has been going on for a very long period of time, irrespective of what Mr Assange did many, many years ago. He served many years in prison. And this is about resolving his legal situation, which is appropriate. And it is appropriate that one holds that view, irrespective of one's view on what Mr Assange did originally. Clearly, his situation needs to be resolved in one form or another. And we have been giving advocacy in that respect. And we are pleased that we are seeing this matter move now.

ROWLAND: What role is Australia's High Commissioner at the UK, Stephen Smith, playing in accompanying Julian Assange to Saipan?

MARLES: Well, again, we've been providing consular assistance to Mr Assange for the period that we've been in government, but consular assistance was obviously provided to Mr Assange prior to that, and this just forms a part of that assistance. And again, it's not appropriate for me to go into the details of all of this, other than to say that we have been doing everything we can to see this matter resolved. Because for any Australian to be in a position of being in protracted incarceration without legal resolution is a situation where the government should be advocating on their behalf, and that's what we've been doing.

ROWLAND: We speak to you, Richard Marles. We have live pictures of that courthouse on the island of Saipan where Julian Assange will appear now in less than 2 hours time. Would it be reasonable to think, and I know, I appreciate you can't say too much about what's about to happen there, but if things go smoothly, is it reasonable to think that Julian Assange could be back on Australian soil here in Australia by the end of the day?

MARLES: Again, it's difficult for me to speculate on that without speculating on what's going to transpire in the United States court today. And really, that's a matter for the court. We, as I say, our expectation is that he'll appear in the court today. From there, it's really a matter for those legal proceedings to take their course.

ROWLAND I know you have very close relationships with senior figures in the Biden Administration. Richard Marles, would you describe this, this whole Assange saga as a sore point in Australia-US relations?

MARLES: No, I wouldn't. And, you know, I've been working with the United States since we've come to power on a range of issues, and I certainly wouldn't see this as being an issue which has had any bearing on the way in which we've maintained many of the equities that we do in our relationship with the United States.

ROWLAND: If Julian Assange was to, as his supporters say, seek a pardon from the United States President, would Australia support that?

MARLES: Again, it's really not appropriate for me to start commenting on what the proceeding, how the proceedings might occur in the United States. Where we're at is we're expecting him to be in United States court today, and from there, the legal process in the United States needs to take its course.

ROWLAND: Ok, I appreciate that. Let's move on to developments back home. Fatima Payman, your Senate colleague, crossed the floor to support that Greens motion calling for the recognition of Palestinian statehood. What consequence, if any, will she now suffer from the Labor Party?

MARLES: Well, this is obviously a very difficult issue. Fatima has made clear that she continues to maintain her Labor values, that she wants to represent the people of Western Australia in the Senate as a Labor Senator, as she was elected at the last election. That's what will continue to happen. There's not going to be any expulsions or any activity of that kind. And, you know, at its heart, Michael, I think as this issue has been playing out, with all its complexity and with all its tragedy in the Middle East, one of the issues that has concerned many of us is the question of social cohesion in this country. We know how important it is to be doing everything we can to be bringing Australians together, and so we're not about to go around expelling people from the Labor Party for having particular views here. I mean, that would not be living what we are seeking to do in trying to promote social cohesion in this country. It's actually a time where we need to be doing everything in our power to bring people together, and that's what we will bring to bear in terms of how we handle this issue.

ROWLAND: Okay, so just confirming, we've got it, right? So no suspension or expulsion for Fatima Payman?

MARLES: No, there won’t be.

ROWLAND: Just very quickly. AEMO, the energy market operator, has its latest blueprint for 2050 out today. It confirms that renewables are the best way of achieving net zero. But it's really worried about not enough renewable projects coming online in time for the closure of ageing coal plants. This is a potentially big problem for you, isn't it?

MARLES: Well, we've been working very hard to get more renewables online. Renewable energy is the cheapest form of energy, and that's really the big difference in how we think about energy today compared to, say, when I was first elected to the parliament back in 2007. And so we have seen us take really big steps forward in relation to this. There's 25% more renewables as part of our electricity system today than there were when we came to power. And that's contributing to a massive reduction in the wholesale electricity price. Now, there is still a long way to go, and clearly we as a government are walking down that path. But a lot has been achieved up until this moment in time. What we need to be doing is making sure that there is certainty within our system, which is what we are providing by having legislated our energy plan, something that the former government was unable to do. And of course, the total folly of what we are now seeing with the opposition in terms of trying to promote a nuclear energy plan would upset all of that. A plan which they cannot say how much will cost. They don't know when it will come into being and they don't even know how much power will be generated by it. But what we do know is that nuclear energy is far and away the most expensive source of energy in the world. Today. The CSIRO is saying it's something like eight times the cost of renewable energy. And so our focus is very much about getting more firmed renewable energy into the grid because that's what we need to do to not only reduce our emissions, but in fact, to provide people with cheaper power.

ROWLAND: Ok. We covered lots of ground this morning. Richard Marles, thank you so much for joining us.

MARLES: Thanks, Michael.


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