Interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Death of Lalzawmi ‘Zomi’ Frankcom; Hamas-Israel conflict.

Michael Rowland, Host: Okay, let's get more on our top story today, that international condemnation following the Israeli airstrike that killed seven aid workers in Gaza, including of course Australian Zomi Frankcom.

Let's bring in now Foreign Minister Penny Wong. Minister, very good morning to you.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Good morning, Michael.

Rowland: You spoke to your Israeli counterpart Israel Katz overnight about this. What did you tell him?

Foreign Minister: Well can I first start by saying to you that we honour the life of Zomi Frankcom. We mourn her loss, express our deepest sympathies and condolences to her family.

You're right, I spoke with my counterpart, to the Foreign Minister of Israel, late last night, and I expressed to him the outrage that Australians feel. I expressed to him that the death of any aid worker and the death of Zomi Frankcom was outrageous and unacceptable, that we condemn the strike, and we expect full accountability from Israel for what has occurred.

Rowland: On the accountability front, what if anything did he say to you about that?

Foreign Minister: Well, he made clear to me in our discussion, which Prime Minister Netanyahu's made overnight, that this was as a consequence of an IDF strike. Obviously, the circumstances of how that could possibly have occurred have yet to be investigated fully.

But I would say this: Zomi Frankcom and her colleagues and other aid workers go into a conflict zone in order to try and alleviate the suffering, the humanitarian catastrophe which is occurring in Gaza, and they ought to have been protected.

Rowland: Well, on that front their charity, World Central Kitchen, was doing everything right, that the aid vehicles it says were clearly marked, their coordinates, the movement coordinates were shared with the Israeli military, as would any aid organisation on risk management grounds. So again, how could this possibly happen?

Foreign Minister: That is exactly the question that the Government is asking Israel to answer. I've seen those reports. I've seen the reports that the safety measures that you've described, including sharing of coordinates with the IDF, the Israeli Defense Force, occurred, which makes it all the more, you know, raises an even greater question of how it is possible that something as outrageous as this should occur. It's simply not acceptable, Michael.

Rowland: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did say overnight it was, in his words, "an unintended strike." He also went on to say, and I'm quoting him directly, "this happens in wartime." What do you make of that statement?

Foreign Minister: Well, I would say to Mr Netanyahu that wartime does not obviate responsibility for observing international humanitarian law, including the protection of aid workers, and that the Australian Government on behalf of the Australian people and on behalf of Zomi Frankcom expects full accountability for what has occurred. That the death of an aid worker in these circumstances is unacceptable.

Rowland: Okay. If it's found that yes, the charity did everything right, these aid vehicles were marked, their coordinates duly shared, and the airstrike happened anyway, Israel therefore ipso facto breaches international law. What does the Australian Government do next?

Foreign Minister: Well, I think your question started with an if, so we will listen and observe and consider what is put to us as the inquiry takes place, and we expect full accountability. You know, any further steps will be something we consider after that point.

But I make a broader point, Michael. Israel is bound by international humanitarian law. Israel should comply, for example, with the recent decision of the International Court of Justice in relation to the provision of humanitarian aid at scale in Gaza.

We reiterate our call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. And I say again to you publicly what I've said to my counterparts directly and what I've said previously publicly, that unless Israel, Mr Netanyahu, changes his course of action Israel will continue to lose support. We say to Mr Netanyahu, you must change course.

Rowland: But that's exactly the point. You've said that about changing course, as have other countries, but the Israeli Government is showing no sign of doing that, in fact arguably doubling down, the Prime Minister there very keen to persist with this ground defensive in Rafah. He keeps talking about, his words, "total victory." You're telling Israel to change course but they're not.

Foreign Minister: Well, it's not just me telling Israel. The United Nations Security Council –

Rowland: But that's the point, the international community is and nothing's happening.

Foreign Minister: Well, unfortunately you and I both know that nation states make their decisions, and those decisions may include acting in ways which diminish their standing internationally.

Rowland: What do you mean by that?

Foreign Minister: Precisely what I've said, that I believe Israel is losing support as a consequence of the actions, of the course it is taking. And I think Australians see that. I think we see that in the fact that the United Nations Security Council has called for a humanitarian ceasefire. That this was not vetoed by any of the permanent members. I think that is the strongest signal possible that can be sent by the international tribunals or international entities.

Rowland: Would the Australian Government ever consider sanctions against Israel, if all these measures weren't taken, if courses weren't changed and if this inquiry found that this aid convoy was struck intentionally?

Foreign Minister: Well whether it's in relation to Russia or Myanmar or Iran, I think you might have asked me those questions previously, and we don't speculate on sanctions.

Rowland: Would that include, and I've got to ask the question, the expulsion of either the Israeli Ambassador here or other Israeli diplomats?

Foreign Minister: No, well we have – I've also expressed the view, because that's been put to me also in relation to those countries, and other countries, that we maintain diplomatic relationships with many countries and we will continue to do so, because that is, apart from anything, an important way for us to express our views about issues which are important to Australians.

Rowland: Finally, you've spoken to the Israeli Foreign Minister overnight. How important is it, given how grave the situation is, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks directly with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese?

Foreign Minister: I expressed – I believe, and the Government believes, that this obviously is an issue that we need Israel to address, the Australian community needs Israel to address. So of course we would expect Mr Netanyahu to make himself available for a call.

Rowland: Penny Wong, really appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

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