Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM
Sabra Lane: Marise Payne is Australia’s Foreign Minister. She joins us now. Good morning. There are dozens dead. Many Australians live there. What can you say about deaths and injuries?
Marise Payne: Good morning, Sabra. This is a shocking incident and our thoughts are with all those impacted. We know that there is one Australian who has died in this incident and we have extended our sympathies to the family on their very tragic loss. I can't provide further details on that at the moment, given it's still very early in that process, but we are providing consular assistance.
Sabra Lane: The embassy was damaged. What can you tell us about that and about the safety of staff?
Marise Payne: Sabra, the embassy has been considerably damaged by the effects of the blast. I'm advised that about 95 per cent of the windows in the front of the chancery of the embassy have been blown out and that staff have been affected by a number of glass injuries. Fortunately, they are relatively minor and they have all been treated. The Ambassador, Rebekah Grindlay, is working with all of our Australia-based staff and her locally engaged staff to support them. But, of course, the impact is going to be considerable as time goes on, as reports have said, including the one that you have just played. There is a lot more to be determined in terms of the impact of this explosion.
Sabra Lane: Given the damage there at the embassy, I guess, what's your message for Australians wanting information too, about relatives there? You're asking for patience?
Marise Payne: We are asking for patience. If there is urgent consular assistance required, the number to call is +61 2 6261 3305. And also to follow Smartraveller for updates. But we will be providing as much support as we can. It will be difficult to work in those circumstances, but we'll use whatever means are at our disposal to support Australians.
Sabra Lane: Yeah. Staff there have lost homes as well. What kind of assistance will you be offering them?
Marise Payne: Sabra, Rebekah and her team will be working through that process with staff. It's obviously now quite late at night in Beirut. And she has accounted for, and been in contact with, all of the staff on the team. We will work through that with them, one by one, supporting them as well from Australia through our consular and crisis division. And importantly, we know there are around 20,000 Australians usually, including dual citizens, in Lebanon at any one time. Those numbers may have been affected by COVID-19, but it will still be a very considerable number and that will also be part of our focus, of course.
Sabra Lane: Beirut's hospitals have been overwhelmed. It's also trying to deal with COVID too. Is Australia offering any assistance there?
Marise Payne: We'll work closely with authorities in Lebanon to determine what might be required. I think the challenge for many international supporters will be the context of COVID. And how we work through that is something that I'll be discussing with officials today.
Sabra Lane: Marise Payne thanks for talking to AM.
Marise Payne: Thanks very much Sabra.