Interview with Peter Stefanovic, Sky News

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

Peter Stefanovic, Host: Now with Foreign Minister Penny Wong, I think she can hear me. Minister, good to have you with us this morning. Thank you so much. So, let's just start off with your response to this alleged terror attack at the US-Canada border from our government. A response, please.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Look, good morning. Good to be with you and I'm glad we can hear each other now. Look, obviously this is concerning. I might await being - getting further information, though, about the cause of this I think, before we jump to any conclusions. I know that the FBI and Canadian authorities are investigating this incident. Whilst it is concerning, I think before we jump to conclusions I'd like to get further information from the North American authorities.

Stefanovic: Okay. Onto the 860 visas for Palestinians, Minister. How does this intake compare to other intakes of Palestinian or other refugees in war?

Foreign Minister: Well, be clear that we've, in the same period, granted some nearly 1800 visas to people who've applied who are in Israel. So, that gives you some comparator, some 860 out of Gaza and about 1800 out of Israel. I would emphasise, and I've seen the Opposition out making certain assertions. I would emphasise very clearly that the usual security checks, the usual identity checks, the usual character checks, were undertaken on this cohort as they are in relation to all cohorts. And our first priority is to make sure we keep Australians safe, and that includes managing visa arrangements appropriately.

Stefanovic: How have a few short weeks been enough time, though, to do proper security checks, because as James Patterson said on our program last hour, that Dennis Richardson said, this could take months, not weeks?

Foreign Minister: Well, we take the advice of agencies and the advice I have been given is that all appropriate security checks, character checks and identity checks have been undertaken. But I would make this point Peter, before we jump ahead, just because people have visas to come to Australia does not mean that they can leave where they are. And we've seen that around the world, and certainly it's the case in Gaza. As you know, we've been trying to get Australian citizens and permanent residents and their immediate families out of Gaza for weeks. Since this conflict began, since Hamas's abhorrent attacks. So, far we've had, I think, 127 Australians leave, about 69 are still being assisted. But I make that point to say that the grant of a visa obviously does not mean people are able to leave and come to Australia.

Stefanovic: How can you be certain though, that these people aren't linked with or sympathetic to Hamas?

Foreign Minister: Well, because we have undertaken, the government and its agencies are undertaking appropriate security checks. Well, hang on, Peter, Peter. Look, just as not everybody from Afghanistan is linked with the Taliban, not everybody who is Palestinian is a member of a terrorist organisation. And that is something I think we all understand. Appropriate security checks should be taken and my advice is they have been taken.

Stefanovic: People lie though, right?

Foreign Minister: In relation to any visa application, it's an offence to give false information to authorities. Look, all of us want to make sure Australians are safe and that is of course the priority of the government and has always been.

Stefanovic: Further point to this, how do you ensure, though, that they represent Australian values and not ingrained with a deep hatred towards Jewish people, which residents in Gaza, some of them anyway, many of them actually are taught from an early age?

Foreign Minister: Well, people who come to this country, whether under whatever visa arrangements we expect them to come to this country and accept the values we live by, just as we ask all Australians to live by those values and they are values of acceptance, of respect, recognising we're a diverse country and we respect that people have different opinions, but ultimately, we are all Australians. Whether you're here or you come to this country, that is the approach we take.

Stefanovic: Okay. Foreign Minister Penny Wong, thank you so much for your time.


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