Minister Richard Marles skipped a crucial meeting.

Allegedly, the Minister for Defence was absent from a scheduled video teleconference with US Secretary of Defence Lloyd James Austin III, as disclosed during the recent Senate committee meeting on foreign affairs, defence, and trade convened on February 14th.

This teleconference pertained to Operation Prosperity Guardian; a multinational military initiative led by the US formed in response to Houthi-led attacks on Red Sea shipping in December of the previous year.

US Secretary of Defence Austin initiated the two-hour conference on December 19th to engage international partners for contributions to Operation Prosperity Guardian. Chief of the Defence Force, General Angus Campbell, clarified during this week’s Senate estimates that he attended the conference in lieu of Minister Marles due to the latter’s prior commitments.

In response to queries about discussions between Minister Marles and the US Defence Secretary regarding the Red Sea deployment, General Campbell stated no knowledge of such discussions. He pointed out that the apparent absence of ministerial activity during the 16-day period following the early December request was a time for understanding the operational approach the United States was considering.

Although Australia eventually decided not to dispatch a warship for the US-led multinational task force, it committed six additional Australian Defence Force personnel to the Combined Maritime Force on December 21st. Notably, this decision was made without convening the National Security Committee.

General Campbell was further questioned about discussions between Minister for Defence Richard Marles and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese regarding the Red Sea deployment request. He indicated no awareness of such discussions, stating it was not within his purview to track the Deputy Prime Minister’s engagements with the Prime Minister or colleagues.

During the Senate meeting, Royal Australian Navy Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Mark David Hammond confirmed that while the Royal Australian Navy possessed the capability to fulfill a Red Sea deployment request, the ultimate decision rested with the government.

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