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Radio Interview, ABC Radio National Breakfast

SUBJECTS: NZYQ High Court Case; Preventative Detention Bill; Hamas-Israel conflict; Australia-France relationship; Indo-Pacific; Passing of Peta Murphy. 

HAMISH MACDONALD, HOST: The technology sharing side of AUKUS is beginning to ramp up with the US, UK and Australia announcing over the weekend the use of AI and drones to monitor Chinese submarines in the Pacific. At the same time, the diplomatic stoush with France following the announcement of AUKUS has been fully mended, it seems, with more Defence cooperation with the European nation in the Pacific announced. Richard Marles is the Deputy Prime Minister. I spoke to him a short time ago from Noumea in New Caledonia for the South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting. Deputy Prime Minister, welcome back to breakfast.

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

MACDONALD: I am very well thanks. We’ll come to the Pacific in a moment. Briefly, if I could though, obviously there are calls by the Opposition for Clare O’Neil and Andrew Giles, the Home Affairs and Immigration Minister to resign over the release of immigration detainees. Two men are already facing charges on two separate incidents. Do they have your full support? 

MARLES: Of course. And let’s be clear that what’s happened here is the High Court have ruled against a law that was put in place by the Howard Government. It was there throughout the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments. And now what this Government is doing is putting in place the strongest possible conditions in respect of those who have been released. And I think, you know the Opposition can engage in the whole the tough talk, the question is whether or not they’re going to be supporting the strong legislation which will put the strongest possible conditions on those who have been released.

MACDONALD: It was just a few weeks ago, Novermber 13, on this very program that Andrew Giles, the Immigration Minister appeared assuring Australians that we were all safe, even before you were introducing new legislation, saying that strict measures were in place, the community had nothing to fear. He was wrong, wasn’t he?

MARLES: We have acted immediately on the High Court decision being made, strong conditions were put in place. Then, that has been backed up with legislation in the Parliament, which in turn has now been increased in terms of its strength. A simple question here for the Opposition is whether or not they’re going to support the strong laws which will provide for community safety. And ultimately, all the tough talk from the Opposition means nothing if they don’t support the strong measures that are being put through the Parliament.

MACDONALD: But respectfully, Deputy Prime Minister that doesn’t answer my question. Which is whether it was right of Andrew Giles on the 13th of November to provide those assurances. I mean, it just turned out to be wrong. 

MARLES: We have been acting to put in place the strongest possible measures in respect of those that have been released. The fact that the release comes from a High Court ruling invalid a law which was put in place by the Howard government, which was in place throughout the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments during which time the Liberal Party did nothing. The question now is about whether or not the Opposition, whether the Liberal Party is going to support the strong laws that we’re putting through the Parliament. 

MACDONALD: In other news, Israel this morning has issued travel warnings for a whole host of countries, including Australia. As Deputy Prime Minister, are you confident in saying that Australia is a safe place for Jews right now?

MARLES: Yes, but I think it’s really important that all of us, in what is a very difficult time globally, are looking after each other. And it is very important that as people legitimately express their views about what’s happening in the world, this is done in a peaceful manner. I mean, I absolutely understand that many in the Jewish community are finding this to be a very difficult time. And it is really important that, be it those of the Jewish community or those in the Islamic community, that Australians are looking after everyone. And that has to be the basis upon which upon which everyone expresses the legitimate right to freedom of expression, but to do that in a safe and a peaceful way.

MACDONALD: It goes a bit beyond looking after eachother, though. I mean, you will have seen far-right rallies in your home state of Victoria. I mean, you acknowledge the rise in Islamaphobia as well as anti-Semitism, don’t you? 

MARLES: I think we are seeing that and I think that’s why it’s really important in this moment, that all Australians are thinking about the peaceful nature of the society in which live. Not taking that for granted. And putting that front and center in every step that we take. I agree, I think we are seeing a rise in both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and there can be no place for that within our society. And that’s why it actually does mean that Australians do need to be looking after each other in the way in which they go about their legitmite right to express their views.

MACDONALD: Quick question in your capacity as Defence Minister. We’ve been reporting extensivley on Israel’s use of artificial intelligence, high precision weaponry. The IDF themselves have talked about that on this program in recent days. Does it make sense to you that a nation with such incredible technology and capabilities for precision is killing so many civillians, and yet capturing so few of the Hamas leadership, which they say this whole war is about?  

MARLES: Well, again, what Australia has sought to do in exercising our voice, in respect of the conflict that is taking place in the Middle East now is to be placing humanitarian concerns front and center. And to be saying to Israel, that in the way in which it goes about its legitimate right to defend itself, it has to be placing at the heart of its actions the protection of innocent civilians, innocent Palestinians. And we have been making that–

MACDONALD: I understand you’re trying to tread a diplomatic line here, but on the face of it, do you think Israel is actually doing that? 

MARLES: Well– 

MACDONALD: I mean, there’s been very little evidence of Hamas leadership being captured or killed. Some, but very little evidence of that. Yet, extraordinary numbers of civillian deaths. 

MARLES: And the loss of innocent Palestinian lives is a tragedy of enormous proportions. And we have been making very clear in our advocacy publicly and privately to Israel, that the protection of civilians has to be at the forefront of the way in which Israel undertakes its work. And we have been deeply concerned about the loss of innocent Palestinian lives in this process. 

MACDONALD: Simply, do you think Israel places civillian life at the forefront?

MARLES: Well, what we do is give expression to Australia’s voice here. And what matters is that Australia is advocating loudly, clearly and forcefully for the protection of civilians in this conflict and that is what we have been doing–

MACDONALD: We have heard you say that. It’s just a simple question about whether you think Israel is doing that?

MARLES: Well, I’m not in the position of being able to see the detail of all this. What we are able to do is express our view. And our view is very clearly that the protection of civilian life, abiding by the rules of war has to be central to the way in which Israel undertakes its business. And as the Foreign Minister has said on numerous occasions, the way in which Israel undertakes its legitimate right to defend itself matters. And the protection of civilian life, the maintenance of humanitarian concerns, which is at the forefront of our advocacy, needs to be central to this. I mean, that’s why we were seeking a humanitarian pause. That’s why we have been saying that as we move to a more permanent ceasefire, obviously, that needs to be done in a way which isn’t one sided. But fundamentally, we need to be looking at the protection of civilian life.

MACDONALD: You have obviously been, I imagine, happy to announce that Australia’s security relationship with France appears back on track. There is an agreement for more defence cooperation in the Pacific. More aid projects in the region, as well. Can you just help us simply understand how this fits within the context of AUKUS? Because you’ve obviously been meeting those partners as well. What does this dual-trap cooperation mean in practice? 

MARLES: Well, AUKUS is a technology sharing arrangement, fundamentally, with the United States and the United Kingdom. And the most significant part of that is obviously the US and the UK working together to provide Australia with a nuclear-powered submarine capability. But in talking with France, we are really talking about the ways in which we can operationally work much closer together. I mean, people often forget exactly how close in a sense France is to Australia. That where I am right now, in Noumea, is the closest overseas population to the population centers of Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and the southeast corner of the country. In many ways you can argue that here in New Caledonia, a part of France, that France is Australia’s closest neighbor. And there is an enormous opportunity for us to be working more closely together in an operational sense, and that’s what we’ve been doing in a much greater presence in each other’s exercises. But we can do much more together, particularly in providing assistance jointly to the militaries of this region, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga in areas such as training. 

MACDONALD: Obviously, a lot of this is to do with the world view that Emmanuel Macron takes. He’s always been ambitious on the world stage. Do you think that this position in the Pacific outlasts his presidency? Obviously, Marine Le Pen is in the frame at the next election, might take a different approach to France’s role on the international stage? 

MARLES: I certainly hope so. I do think that President Macron has played a really important role in bolstering France’s place in the Pacific and in that, France has always obviously had a huge commitment to the Pacific in terms of the French territories. But what we are now seeing is France looking beyond that and through the French territories, seeing how it can play a leadership role within the Pacific itself, which is exactly what we want to see France doing. And I think there’s greater opportunity for us to work together in the Indian Ocean as well. France has a place in the Indian Ocean and that’s of course a sphere of great interest for us as well.

MACDONALD: A very final thought. We heard of the passing of Peta Murphy yesterday, a Labor politician from your state of Victoria. She’d been fighting cancer for years. Would you offer us a reflection? 

MARLES: Well, I think we are all devastated by the loss of Peta and we all know that when Peta was sworn in to the Parliament back in 2019, her cancer had come back. She’s been battling cancer throughout the entirety of her tenure in the Parliament. And the way in which she’s done that has been totally inspirational. But you know, she bought a vitality to the way in which she engaged in her parliamentary duties. She was fun. Really intelligent. Someone who, you know, had a huge contribution to make and made that contribution, but obviously, we feel as though it’s been cut tragically short. But the fact that you know, just last week, literally a week ago, she was asking questions in Question Time, speaks to her courage, to her bravery, to her commitment to her constituents, but her commitment to our country and we will miss her deeply.

MACDONALD: Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles. Thank you very much.  

MARLES: Thanks, Hamish.