US request for Red Sea warship not a specific callout to Australia, Albanese says

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has downplayed a request from the United States for Australia to send a warship to the Middle East, saying it was a general ask of regional governments, not a specific callout to Australia.

Albanese did not rule out sending a ship, but told ABC radio on Monday morning the government was still considering whether to send a naval vessel to the Red Sea to guard against rebels backed by Iran.

Australia’s Royal Navy always prioritises its own region, but Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the government was still considering the US request for help in the Red Sea.

“This wasn’t a request, to be clear, from the US government to my government. This was a general request to a range of nations for support there,” Albanese said.

“Our first priority is in our own region, and certainly the United States understands the important role that we’re playing, including freedom of navigation and other issues in our region.”

Albanese’s hesitation to commit follows comments made by multiple frontbench ministers last week.

Trade Minister Don Farrell said on Sunday the navy was focused on regions like the South China Sea but that the request was being considered.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Friday the federal government’s focus was on promoting freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific.

The US call for ships comes amid escalating maritime tensions since the Israel-Hamas conflict, as Iran-backed Houthi rebels have been making near-daily attacks on vital shipping waterways in the Red Sea.

Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley steered away from directly calling on the government to send ships, instead questioning on Sunday why a decision was yet to be made.

“If they’re not going to do this, we need to know why not sooner rather than later and not have these statements from the defence minister that … don’t seem to say anything at all,” Ley told Sky News on Sunday.

As the Gaza conflict moves into its third month, Albanese reiterated he was “very worried” for both the Jewish and Muslim communities in Australia.

Examples of Jewish businesses being targeted and attacks on young women wearing hijabs in the suburbs of Australia’s cities were “completely unacceptable”, Albanese said.

“We have a great multicultural nation here, and it’s really important that some of the rhetoric that’s occurred be dialled down,” he said.

“We’re aware that some of the tensions mean that people are emotional, but it’s very important that conflicts overseas do not create conflict and trauma here in Australia.”

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