SUBJECTS: China Tweet; Brereton Report.
JOURNALIST: Last night, the Global Times published an op-ed; they said that the Prime Minister had lost his manners, diplomatically. Would you agree with that statement? Is that what they’ve done? Or is it actually the other way around?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: No, I wouldn’t agree with that statement. The tweet that we saw yesterday was extraordinary. In my experience, over some time now of foreign relations, I’ve actually never seen an intervention of this kind. It was an extraordinary statement for China to make. And I think it was essential that in that moment, that the country speak with one voice in expressing our dignity and our honour, but also condemning this tweet, which was obviously outrageous. So I think the Prime Minister has done the only thing that he could do in the face of this statement from China yesterday, and frankly, I am gobsmacked by the intervention by China yesterday.
JOURNALIST: And do you think we’re going to get the apology the Prime Minister wants?
MARLES: I think what matters is that we speak with one voice. And that’s what Labor has sought to do here in supporting the government in its response here. And I think that that voice needs to speak to the nation’s dignity and the nation’s honour. And that’s what occurred yesterday. Ultimately, what China does is going to be a matter for China. But in respect of our relationship with China, which obviously we need to get to a better place, the side of the relationship that we get to control is Australia’s side and yesterday Australia acted completely appropriately.
JOURNALIST: We know what China’s upset about, it’s provided a list of 14 grievances, but is there one we should relent on in order to help his relationship?
MARLES: We need to get the relationship to a better place. The Prime Minister made that point yesterday. And in making that point, we need to understand that there are hundreds of thousands of jobs, which are at stake when it comes to our relationship with Australia. So this isn’t an esoteric or theoretical concept. This is deeply practical and real, real people with real lives and real expenses that are going to lose their jobs, if this relationship isn’t put into a better place. Now there have been moments where I’ve been critical of the way in which the government’s handled the relationship with China. And there’s plenty of time to work through those criticisms. But right now, what’s important is that the country speaks with one voice in respect of a very extraordinary intervention by China yesterday, which was outrageous. And that voice needs to express our dignity and honour which the Prime Minister did that yesterday and Labor supports that.
JOURNALIST: It was highly provocative obviously, that tweet. Some are saying that the Prime Minister actually yesterday played directly into the hands of China.
MARLES: No, I don’t agree with that. I think, as I say- we’ve got to be thinking about Australia’s interests and just make sure that the hand that Australia plays is played as best as it possibly can be played. Now, in light of what occurred yesterday, there can be only one response; a condemnation of that tweet, and an expression which gives dignity and honour to our nation. There’s nothing else that could have been done. That’s what the Prime Minister did. And to be fair to the Prime Minister, he made the point that he hoped that at this moment, perhaps this could be an incident which would allow a resetting of the relationship. I hope that too. It appears difficult in the context of what China has subsequently done. But we clearly do need to get the relationship to a much better place.
JOURNALIST: Angus Campbell has sort of withdrawn his language a little bit on the revoking of the Meritorious Unit Citations. What do you think about that?
MARLES: Look, the Meritorious Unit Citation recommendation in the Brereton Report is a very complex and sensitive matter. Yesterday, the Chief of the Defence Force made it clear that Defence were working up an implementation plan in respect of the full 140 recommendations of the Brereton Report. I think we’ve got to give Defence the time and space to deal with this matter as sensitively as it can and to get it right. And certainly from Labor’s point of view, we want to give Defence that time and to give the government that time as well, to get it right. It is a very delicate matter. I mean, I can understand the recommendation in the Brereton Report. I can obviously also understand that for the thousands of Australians who have served with distinction in the Special Operations Task Group who had nothing to do with the appalling allegations which are detailed in the Brereton Report, this is a very painful moment. And so I think we’ve got to give Defence the time to work this through properly. And that’s what I think the Chief of Defence Force is asking for. And that’s what we’ll be giving him.
JOURNALIST: Just quickly; is Angus Campbell doing a good job?
MARLES: Yeah, I think Angus Campbell is doing an amazing job. I mean, we’re really lucky to have Angus Campbell as the Chief of the Defence Force at this moment in time. Anyone who knows General Campbell knows that he is a person of enormous integrity, great intelligence and enormous sensitivity. And we need all of those qualities right now to deal with one of the most challenging issues that’s ever presented itself to Defence. I’ve spoken with General Campbell on a number of occasions since you know, around the Brereton Report. I think he is doing a fantastic job and we’ve got to give him the time and space to do that job.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra