Press Conference - Adelaide, South Australia - 06/04/2024

06 April 2024



Subjects: Israel’s investigation into deaths of humanitarian workers in Gaza; Israel-Hamas conflict; appointment of Julie Bishop as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Myanmar.

PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Overnight, the Israeli Defence Force made public details of its investigation into the strikes which killed 7 humanitarian workers in Gaza, including Zomi Frankcom. The Australian Government has made clear our expectations. We expect full accountability, for her death and for the passing of her World Central Kitchen colleagues who also perished with her. We believe these deaths are utterly inexcusable. Clear practical action is needed to ensure this tragedy is never repeated.

We have made clear, after we were verbally briefed, that we have not yet received sufficient information to satisfy our expectations. The Deputy Prime Minister and I wrote to our counterparts overnight to reiterate Australia's expectations. In that letter we raised Australia's concerns, that Israel at that time had not yet taken the appropriate action in relation to the individuals involved in that incident. We acknowledge since we sent the letter, Israel has now confirmed that two individuals involved in this incident have been stood down. We reiterate that appropriate action must be taken against the individuals who are responsible for these tragic events.

We also, in our letter, raised concerns on behalf of the country that Israel's initial responses suggest that the gravity of the death of seven humanitarian workers is yet to be appreciated by the Israeli Government.

We also signalled our intention to appoint a Special Adviser to the Australian Government on the investigation, to ensure that the investigation is conducted in a manner consistent with not only the Government's expectations but the expectations of the Australian people.

And we again made the point that an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, leading to a sustainable ceasefire is urgently needed - a point we made overnight again in New York to the UN Security Council.

If I can just take a step back and just remind us all where we are. On October the 7th, Hamas engaged in a terrorist act. Hamas is a terrorist organisation that is dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel and to the Jewish people. They continue to hold hostages. Their actions were abhorrent and we remain appalled by them. Since then we have also made the point that Israel, in its response to those attacks, is bound by international humanitarian law. It is bound to observe the principles of international humanitarian law when it comes to seeking to protect civilians. It is bound to observe the principles of international humanitarian law in enabling the provision of aid. It is bound to observe the principles of international law in protecting the lives of aid workers, demonstrably that did not occur in relation to Zomi Frankcom and her World Central Kitchen colleagues.

We again say, we have a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. Humanitarian assistance at scale must be enabled and it is clear that to date, prior to this, it has not been. Civilians, including humanitarian workers, must be protected. This incident demonstrates that has not been the case.

We do acknowledge since, as a consequence of the meeting between Secretary Blinken and the Israeli Government, there have been announcements to improve the flow of aid into Gaza. These are overdue but they are welcome. And it is urgent that more aid be provided into Gaza. We would again join others in the international community to call only Israel and all parties to ensure these commitments are implemented fast.

On a separate point, can I acknowledge today the UN Secretary-General has appointed one of my predecessors, Julie Bishop as a special envoy in Myanmar. This is welcome news for us. We obviously know Ms Bishop's experience and abilities and work ethic. We also know how serious the humanitarian security and political situation is in Myanmar. I'm sure she will do an outstanding job and we stand ready in the Australian Government to provide her with all support in this very important endeavour. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: You've expressed your dissatisfaction with the IDF's explanation of the air strikes, the information that they’ve given you. What specifically does the Government want to get out of the IDF?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, look, we have set out our expectations in the letter that has been provided, that I have described to you. We want full accountability and transparency. We have asked the Israeli Government to ensure that all evidence is preserved. We have said to them that if the investigation finds that Israeli Defence Force personnel have not acted in accordance with the law or IDF procedures that appropriate action be taken against those personnel and that such action be made public. And that if the investigation determines that IDF targeting policies and practices have contributed, that urgent adjustments are made and communicated publicly. Australians expect confidence in this process. We are pressing the Israeli Government to ensure the Australian people can have confidence in the process.

JOURNALIST: On top of the information that has been presented by the IDF, what additional information is the Government seeking?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I have outlined what we have sought in the letter.

JOURNALIST: Does the Australian Government have confidence that this investigation is sufficiently independent given that it was undertaken by a former IDF officer?

FOREIGN MINISTER: We have said that the actions that the Israeli Government has taken to date were a necessary first step. We have not seen a written copy of those findings. We've been briefed through our Ambassador and I understand the media were briefed. But obviously what we want is full transparency and accountability which is why the Deputy Prime Minister and I have written to our counterparts setting out our expectations. It's also why the Government will appoint a Special Adviser who we have requested the Israelis work with so we can be advised about the appropriateness of the process. We want to have full confidence in the transparency and accountability of any investigation. We will continue to work to achieve that.

Is there anyone else who would like a question? That will be your fourth.

JOURNALIST: Minister, it's Isabelle from Seven in Canberra.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Can I just finish in the room and I promise I will throw to you, is that alright?

JOURNALIST: Yes, no problem.

JOURNALIST: Is the dismissal of two officers and formal reprimanding of three senior commanders involved enough?

FOREIGN MINISTER: We want full accountability. These are necessary first steps. But, as I have outlined, we set out our expectations in the letter which go further than simply responding initially as the Israelis have.

Did you have any question? OK. Sorry, Isabelle, you go.

JOURNALIST: Can you shed any light on those expectations that were outlined in the letter? What exactly does ‘full accountability’ mean?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, what we have said in the letter is we expect all evidence to be preserved. We expect that if the investigation finds that IDF personnel have not acted in accordance with the law or procedures that appropriate action be taken against those personnel, and that such action be made public.

We were concerned when we were first briefed that personnel had not been stood down, and I acknowledge that since then Israel has taken the necessary step of standing down some personnel. We have said that if the investigation determines that IDF targeting policies and practices have contributed that urgent adjustments are made and communicated publicly. What does that mean? That means if there is a problem with the way in which the rules of engagement have been developed, if there is a problem with how they have been implemented, that that is acknowledged and that changes are made. What I will say is this; we are engaging not only with the Israelis but with other countries because we want a process in which the international community, the Australian people and Zomi Frankcom's family can have confidence. That is what we will continue to do.

JOURNALIST: Have you been in touch with Zomi Frankcom's family after release of these findings? And what was their reaction to the IDF explanation?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I spoke to Zomi's family before these findings were released, to offer my condolences on behalf of, my personal condolences, and to express again the condolences of the community. I said to them that we would ensure they were briefed and kept updated about what we were - the steps we were taking in relation to the investigation, and we have ensured that they have been updated and we will keep updating them.

JOURNALIST: Minister, your Polish counterpart has said there needs to be consideration of criminal liability here. Do you agree?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I think what I have said is that appropriate action has been taken - that's what we need to ensure, that appropriate action is taken.

JOURNALIST: Does that (INAUDIBLE) criminal liability?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I'm not ruling anything in or out that. That would be a question as to whether the facts merited that. And what I would say is appropriate action should be taken. The facts need to be ascertained and once the facts are ascertained, appropriate action needs to be taken. I would again say what I have said before; Israel is bound by international humanitarian law.

JOURNALIST: Could you outline the scope of responsibility for the Special Adviser?

FOREIGN MINISTER: We'll make a more detailed announcement on that in the very near future. But the thinking behind it, in my discussions with my colleagues, is it's appropriate for us to have a suitably qualified person to provide us with advice so that we can have confidence on behalf of the country, in the process, and to press for the appropriate process.

JOURNALIST: Have you received any confirmation that all evidence will be preserved as you've asked for?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I have not received as yet, unless my office is aware of it, I do not believe we have received a response to the letter yet.

JOURNALIST: The US special rapporteur has said, has called for immediate sanctions. What do you make of this?

FOREIGN MINISTER: This is Ms Albanese?


FOREIGN MINISTER: I understand she made some comments immediately. I'm the Foreign Minister of this country, and my job is to make sure we ensure that there is a proper process before I determine what accountability there should be.
Did you have any other questions? Isabel, are you right?

JOURNALIST: Sorry, just reconnecting. Just lastly, you've sort of touched on it. But are you realistically expecting full transparency when Israel is essentially investigating itself, even though you've got someone there to report back to the Government?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, we are demanding that, and so are other countries. And what I would say to Israel - and I think they are perfectly aware of Australia's view on this, and the view of many our countries - that our expectation is that there is full transparency. I mean, this cannot be swept aside. This can't be brushed aside. People have been raising concerns for some time about what is occurring in relation to humanitarian workers.

This has been a deadly failure of deconfliction. Deconfliction is the process by which humanitarian agencies engage with Defence Forces to ensure that they are protected in conflict zones. Well, there is obviously a deadly failure. It cannot be brushed aside and it cannot be covered over, and I do not believe any Australian would expect us to do anything other than to continue to demand the transparency and accountability we have. Last question, please.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly on Myanmar. The UN described fighting there as reaching an unprecedented level of violence. Do you think Julie's Bishop’s recent appointment, do you think she'll be able to cut through with progress?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I'm not going to make what is already a challenging job even harder by setting expectations for Julie to be able to, you know, ensure peace where we have not been able to attain peace for some time in Myanmar. But I know that she is an effective diplomat. I know that the only way forward in Myanmar is for there to be a peace process between the parties, a dialogue between the parties. I know that there has been massive loss of life and the targeting of civilians, and you know, we have made our views on that clear. What I would say is, I hope that this appointment will allow there to be space for a discussion which leads to a lessening of violence and the finding of peace. Thanks very much for coming in.


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Foreign Minister's Office: +61 2 6277 7500

Authorised by Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.