Interview with Lisa Millar, ABC News Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Niagara Falls explosion; Hamas-Israel conflict; visa provisions to Palestinians and Israelis; temporary ceasefire and release of hostages.

Lisa Millar, Host: Well, let's get more on several of those stories and bring in Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong. Minister, good morning and welcome to News Breakfast.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Good morning, good to be with you.

Millar: Can I just kick off on that story we're covering out of the US and Canada? The explosion on the Rainbow Bridge. Both the US President and his Canadian counterpart are clearly very worried about this. As Foreign Minister, when you look at something like that, what's going through your mind?

Foreign Minister: Well, obviously we are concerned – I'm sorry, I'm just getting a bit of my own echo. Obviously we are concerned, but what I will do is await getting briefed by the authorities. I know that the FBI are looking into this, as are the Canadian authorities, so I think we should pause judgement until we get a little further information about what precisely has happened and why this has occurred. It's obviously concerning, but I'll wait till we get further information.

Millar: Minister, can I just check that you're okay to continue – is that audio still being a problem for you?

Foreign Minister: Yeah, no, that's fine now, thank you.

Millar: Okay, because I would hate to put you through an echo situation for the next five minutes. We appreciate you joining us. Just staying with the Niagara situation, authorities in all countries have warned that there could be, definitely a need to be more alert given what we're seeing happening in the Middle East. Are you happy with the terror alert level currently in Australia, with the level of security here?

Foreign Minister: I'm very aware of the focus that the Government has and security agencies have on keeping Australians safe. And security agencies and the Government work very closely together to make sure that Australians are safe. But what I would say is this, we do have a conflict in the Middle East which is deeply distressing. It has been also divisive. It's very important that we don't allow that to turn to anger and hate and to violence. And we have to keep talking to all of our community to remind all of us that we share a lot as Australians, we share values, we're a country that is accepting, that is diverse and in which opinions, differences of opinions, are respected.

Millar: Can we talk about these visas for the 800 or so Palestinians that have been granted? Who's getting them? Who are these people? What bar do they have to pass to be accepted?

Foreign Minister: Some 1,800 people in Israel and just over 800 people in Gaza have been granted visas in accordance with normal processes. So, these are people who have applied, they go through the usual security checks, the usual identity checks, the usual character checks, and have been granted visas, as I said, 1,800 in Israel and just over 800 in Gaza. What I would also say is this, obviously, just because someone has an Australian visa does not mean they are able to leave where they are. And there are many people in Gaza who we have been trying to assist. As you know, border crossings have not been opened fully and we've spent weeks working with others to get some 127 Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families out of Gaza. So, I would make the point, the grant of visas doesn't mean that people will be able to leave. Obviously, the situation on the ground is still very difficult.

Millar: If people have been granted visas, do they then get similarly the help from the Australian Government that you're trying to give Australians who are trying to get out?

Foreign Minister: Well, we do have to prioritise and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been prioritising Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families. Obviously, in a situation like this, we do have to prioritise and those have been the operational priorities we put in place.

Millar: Would there be any consideration with these visas to allow people to have access to work or education, or are they highly restricted visas?

Foreign Minister: Look, these are visas granted in accordance with Australia's current immigration systems. The conditions of visas will be as those which apply to people who come to Australia from other parts of the world. But I again emphasise that people who have visas have been subjected to appropriate character checks, security checks and identity checks.

Millar: Can I just turn to the ceasefire as well? We're not entirely sure when it's going to begin. There's a suggestion by 7 o'clock tonight Australian time, that the transfer of hostages might occur. How significant is this?

Foreign Minister: Well, it will be enormously significant, won't it, for the families of hostages who are returning. And I'm sure that will be emotional and such a relief for those families who have members of their families returning after so many weeks held in captivity. But obviously we need more. We need all the hostages released. We've been calling for humanitarian pauses, for the protection of civilian lives. We know that any ceasefire cannot be one-sided and that's why progress on this is important. But ultimately, what we do need is a political process to a resolution in the Middle East. We know that there will not be peace for Israel or Palestinians unless those steps are taken.

Millar: Penny Wong, appreciate your time this morning.

Foreign Minister: Good to speak with you.

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