Interview with Karl Stefanovic, Today Show

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Israel-Hamas conflict; Australian Government assisted departures.

Karl Stefanovic, Host: Australians in Lebanon are being warned to consider leaving the country amid fears the conflict between Israel and Hamas could spill over the border.

It comes as a number of Australians are evacuated from Tel Aviv on emergency rescue flights. Let’s bring in Foreign Affairs Minister, Penny Wong, now who's in Canberra. Penny, thank you so much for your time. There's a lot going on. What is the latest on the mercy flights, if we can start with that?

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Hi, Karl. Good to be with. Well, overnight we saw three flights get out of Israel, three assisted departures, and I thank all those who were involved, from my department as well as the ADF, for facilitating those flights. We had two RAAF flights and one chartered flight, just in excess or around 250 Australians, their families and some other citizens of other countries who were able to board those flights. That means there's about 1,200 Australians and families who have departed since this conflict began.

Karl Stefanovic: What's the plan from here in terms of ongoing evacuations and the logistics around it?

Foreign Minister: Yes. Well, obviously logistics are complex. I would also note that the flights, there were quite a number of no‑shows of people who had registered but chose not to fly. You might recall that over the last few days I have been saying to people, if you wish to leave, please leave now and don't wait for a later flight. I am – we are looking to, subject to security conditions, one further flight today. I would say to people, it is possible there will not be subsequent flights facilitated, and I again would urge people, if you wish to leave, leave now.

Karl Stefanovic: How are they getting home from there, and do they make their own way home?

Foreign Minister: Look, we're arranging onward passage from Dubai, obviously Qantas has put a flight on from London as well, and so we're working on onward arrangements for those Australians and their families.

Karl Stefanovic: Okay. Families stuck in Gaza are also pleading with the Government to help get them out. That's a much more complex arrangement, right?

Foreign Minister: Yeah. So that is a much more complex, and a very risky and difficult and frightening situation for those Australians and their families. Humanitarian corridors, both to get aid in and Foreign Nationals out, indeed civilians out, has not been possible for some time. We are working closely with our partners. We are obviously engaging with the United States and Egypt in particular to try and seek assistance for foreign nationals including Australians to leave Gaza. But so far that has proved extremely difficult given the security situation on the ground. We will continue to do that. We understand what a priority it is.

Karl Stefanovic: Do you think Egypt will open up their border?

Foreign Minister: Look, the issue has also been the security situation in Gaza itself. Obviously you need the cooperation of those on the Gazan side as well to ensure safe passage. So this has been a very difficult situation. I did speak last night, in addition to the outreach to Egypt, and the United States, I did speak also to the UAE, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister last night to continue to urge assistance of all parties in the region on this, but also more broadly on the work so many are doing to prevent spill‑over of conflict into the region more broadly.

Karl Stefanovic: Just on that, you mentioned Lebanon yesterday, it seems to be a real worry given the number of Australians there. Your warning was pretty clear yesterday.

Foreign Minister: Well, I was being very clear with people because obviously if things escalate, commercial options can dry up pretty quickly in terms of flights, and so I think the warning from the Government, or the message from the Government is, you know, please consider, if, you know, your presence there is essential, and people, I hope, would have heard that advice. We also updated our Smartraveller advice to reflect what I said yesterday.

Karl Stefanovic: We spoke to a foreman CIA operative earlier, Penny, who's worried about terror attacks on US soil, lone‑wolf attacks. Is that something we should be concerned about here? Is there any need to lift the threat level? This country?

Foreign Minister: Well, the threat level – we've not received any advice to alter nor ‑ alter the threat level here in Australia. What I would say though is obviously this is a very difficult situation. It's also a situation where the Jewish community in Australia feel very strongly, as do the Palestinian community, and one of the things I have been at pains to urge is for us to ensure that our views on this are dealt with respectfully.

There is no place for antisemitism or Islamophobia. There is no place for prejudice and hatred of any kind. People come to this country, Karl, because we're a tolerant nation, we respect one another, we deal with differences of views in respectful ways.

Unfortunately we've seen some scenes in the past week where that has not been the case. I've condemned that, as has the Prime Minister, and we would ‑ I'd continue to urge people, let's remember what brings us together as Australians, in how we deal with our different and very strongly‑held views on this issue.

Karl Stefanovic: There's a lot on. Penny Wong, thank you. Appreciate it.

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