SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG
LEADER OF THE GOVERNMENT IN THE SENATE
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Subjects: Visit to the Middle East; Hamas-Israel conflict; Red Sea attacks.
PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Good morning. Well, this morning I will be departing for the Middle East and I'll be visiting Israel, Jordan, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the UAE.
Australia is not a central player in the Middle East, but we are a respected voice, and I'll be using our voice to advocate for a pathway out of this conflict. We all know that that pathway can only be found by the parties to the conflict. I will be focusing on advocating Australia's position, our priority on international humanitarian assistance, our priority on international humanitarian law. I will be engaging with many parties in the region.
Obviously, this is a conflict which has been devastating and tragic. And so many Australians with different perspectives are deeply worried about it. What I would say to Australians is we are not a central player in this, but we have a respected voice. And we will be using it to advocate. Ultimately, the pathway out of the conflict is something that must be found by the parties to that conflict. I'm happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Minister, why aren't you going to the site of the October 7 massacre when you're over there?
FOREIGN MINISTER: I will be meeting with survivors of that attack, as well as families of hostages, and that will be important.
JOURNALIST: Minister, what do you hope to gain from those meetings in terms of understanding of what's going on the ground over there?
FOREIGN MINISTER: I think all of these meetings are about engaging with a wide cross section of perspectives and parties in the region and to put Australia's view, but also to listen, and it is an opportunity to do that.
JOURNALIST: Minister, will Australia be providing further humanitarian assistance?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, when I first announced our international humanitarian assistance for Gaza, I made clear that we were open and willing to provide further assistance, and that remains our position.
JOURNALIST: And MP Julian Hill has called for visa bans for what he's described as extremist settlers. What are your thoughts on those comments, and is that something that the government would be considering?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, settler violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories must be condemned, and we do so. And in our efforts to use our voice to advocate for a pathway out of this conflict, we have made very clear that one of the priorities must be to avoid regional escalation and that sort of violence, as Secretary Blinken has pointed out, attacking Palestinians where they have a right to be, is the wrong thing to do, and certainly not conducive to ensuring there isn’t escalation. In terms of those calls, we don't speculate on solutions.
JOURNALIST: The situation in the Red Sea has escalated. Will Australia reconsider and send a warship?
FOREIGN MINISTER: I think the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence has made our position clear on that and the reasons for that. We are right to be there. Obviously, we are involved in a non operational personnel capacity. What I would say to people is that we have an interest in ensuring that international borders and international law is observed. And that is what Australia is contributing towards.
JOURNALIST: Will you be taking this opportunity to call for a ceasefire in person?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, our position is that we want to see a sustainable ceasefire and that we see an international humanitarian, immediate humanitarian ceasefire as a step towards that. No ceasefire can be one sided and no ceasefire can be unconditional. And so our position will be to advocate that. I will however say, I think there is increasing concern about the protection of civilian lives and we will continue to express those views to our partners.
Thanks very much.
JOURNALIST: Minister, I’m on the phone from the ABC and had a couple of questions.
FOREIGN MINISTER: Sorry, I didn't realise you were –
JOURNALIST: Sorry about that. I just wanted to ask, the Prime Minister of Israel this weekend said that Israel will restore security to both the south and the north. He said “Nobody will stop us. Not the Hague, not the axis of evil and not anybody else.” Do you believe that this signals a government that wishes to adhere to international law? And are you concerned at all by this rhetoric?
FOREIGN MINISTER: What I would say is we, like the United States, have made clear that, one, Hamas has no place in the future governance of Gaza. But two, that we need to see governance arrangements in Gaza which are consistent with our position on a two state solution and our position remains that.
JOURNALIST: You said on October 30th, when the death toll in Gaza was at more than 8,000 civilians, you urged Israel to listen to its friends and you warned that the world wouldn't accept continuing civilian deaths. There's been almost 16,000 Palestinians killed since you said those words. An additional 16,000 to that 8,000. Do you believe that Israel has failed to listen to its allies? And are you wholly confident that Australia has done enough?
FOREIGN MINISTER: I'll go back to where I started. We are not a central player in this, but we are a respected voice. And as a friend of Israel, we will continue to assert that international law matters. And, as I have repeatedly said, we know what Hamas is. It is a terrorist organisation. We are a democracy, so, too is Israel and we hold ourselves to higher standards. Those standards include the application of international law.
Foreign Minister's Office: +61 2 6277 7500
Authorised by Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.