Interview with Sabra Lane, AM
NOTE: An earlier version of this transcript was of the interview as aired on AM, this transcript is of the full interview now available online
Sabra Lane, Host: Foreign Minister, thanks for joining AM. The Israeli Prime Minister says this conflict is Israel's Second War of Independence. How concerned are you that this war will spread beyond Gaza?
Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: That's one of the concerns we've had from day one, is the possibility of this spilling over into the region. It's why I've sent a great deal of time engaging with others in the region and beyond, because obviously if there is spill‑over, that matters to civilians in the region, it matters to the countries of the region. I would also say to Israel, it matters to Israeli security.
Lane: Is what we're seeing right now proportionate to what Hamas extremists did on October the 7th?
Foreign Minister: I'm certainly deeply concerned, as so many people are, by the loss of life and the destruction and loss of life in Gaza is something that I think the international community is deeply concerned about, just as we were horrified by the brutal terrorist attack of Hamas, and the continuing holding of hostages which we see.
What I would say is we've said many times that how Israel conducts this war matters. It has a right to defend itself, but the way it does so matters, and we've called for the protection of civilian lives.
Lane: How many Australians are still stuck in Gaza, and what is the government doing to try and get them out?
Foreign Minister: We have 88 Australians and families, so that's citizens, those on visas and family members. And we have been working since this conflict began to try and get them out of Gaza.
We're in the same situation, very sadly, that every other nation with Foreign Nationals is, with, in terms of Foreign Nationals in Gaza, there has not been exit permitted. We have been engaging with the Israelis, with the Egyptians, with others, to try and assist, or ensure that the Rafah Crossing, which is the crossing which would enable people to exit, is opened.
Unfortunately, despite the best efforts, not just of this government, but the Americans and many others, that crossing has not yet been opened.
Lane: Are Australians coming home quickly enough from Lebanon? The Department seemed a bit frustrated that people aren't returning in the numbers they'd like to see. Do you share that concern?
Foreign Minister: Look, I do, I do. And I understand that people have lives in Lebanon, that many Australians are living there. But what I would say to all of you now, our concern is that if armed conflict increases it could affect wider areas of Lebanon, it could close Beirut Airport. So the government's advice is that Australians in Lebanon should leave now while commercial flights remain available.
The reality is, if we see a deterioration in the security situation, if there is armed conflict, obviously government will always do its best. But the government may not be able to assist everyone who wishes to leave to leave.
Lane: Has bipartisanship broken down on Israel?
Foreign Minister: I'm sure that Mr Dutton, as always, is seeking to make political points, to find political difference, because that is his instinct. He always wants to find political difference. What I would say is this is a dreadful, tragic conflict. We are seeing loss of life. We are seeing civilians on both sides have been murdered. We have seen civilians up on both sides in a lot of pain, and obviously, we still have Israeli hostages who have been taken, that Hamas is still holding.
What I would say is this, though, when Israel's friends urge Israel to protect civilian life, as we have, it is critical that Israel listens. We are seeing continuing civilian deaths, which is, I think we saw in the United Nations vote, that the international community will not accept continuing civilian deaths.
Lane: The US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, says that Israel should be taking every possible means to distinguish between Hamas terrorists, who are legitimate military targets, and civilians who are not. The US obviously has concerns.
Foreign Minister: Well, I think Jake's words are precisely the same position as I'm articulating. We do think it's critical for Israel to ensure it does everything it can to protect civilian lives and to protect ‑ to respect International Humanitarian Law.
Foreign Minister: Mr Dutton always wants to find difference. He always wants to make political points, and it does say something about this man, that in the midst of this conflict, with this loss of life, after he voted for a bipartisan motion moved by the Prime Minister in the House, that he still wants to make ‑ find political points to make.
We're focused on what is really happening here. We've seen a terrorist attack, we've seen hostages taken, and we are seeing continued loss of life. That's the focus we are taking.
Lane: Would you like a bipartisan approach?
Foreign Minister: I would always prefer that on foreign policy. I would always prefer, you know, there not to be domestic differences made. I think it is not the right thing for the country. I think we should be looking to national interest, and I think also there are so many Australians who are rightly distressed by what is happening in the Jewish community, in our Islamic communities, Palestinian communities. This is a very, very difficult time for many in Australia. It's not the time for Mr Dutton to be playing politics. But I'm not sure he knows anything else.
Lane: The Prime Minister is off to China shortly. Will this mean that relations have normalised?
Foreign Minister: Look, we've said for a long time we wanted a more stable relationship with China. I don't think it was good for the country, the very political, domestically political approach that Scott Morrison took.
We know that there are things on which we can cooperate. We also know there are things on which we're going to disagree, but what we have to do is continue to manage this relationship, including the differences we have wisely. Part of that is engagement, and that's why it's important for the Prime Minister to go, and we're very pleased that that visit will take place.
Lane: Penny Wong. Thanks for talking to AM.
Foreign Minister: Good to speak with you.
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