Interview with Sarah Abo, Today Show

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

Sarah Abo, Host: We are joined now by Foreign Minister, Penny Wong in Adelaide. Senator, thanks so much for your time this morning, and we appreciate this is of course a developing story, local US media reporting this is a possible terror attack. It is alarming. What's your response?

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Well obviously it is, you know, distressing events, but what I would say to you is let's wait till we get further information from the American and Canadian authorities. I know President Biden has made clear he's being briefed, and I'll await commenting other than saying, obviously, this is a distressing situation, until we see further reports from the North American authorities.

Sarah Abo: Yeah, I mean only a couple of weeks ago the head of the FBI warned of heightened terror risks off the back of what we're seeing in the Middle East. Does our terror alert back home here reflect that too?

Foreign Minister: Oh, look, our security agencies work very hard to keep Australians safe, and the Government is very intent on making sure we keep Australians safe.

But I would say one thing does matter, and that is what we do with the distress and the anger that we're seeing as a consequence of what is occurring in the Middle East, and I've said, and the Prime Minister has said, it's very important we don't allow distress to become anger and hatred which leads to violence. And all of us, all leaders have to do – have to ensure, we encourage Australians to remember what we share.

Sarah Abo: Yeah. I mean you must have some concerns though, and we would hope plans in place should there be ramifications here.

Foreign Minister: Oh, look, obviously we are very conscious of, you know, security issues, we're very conscious of making sure we work to keep Australians safe, and work very closely with agencies to do that. But what I would say again, it's very important that we remember what brings us together as Australians, we're an accepting nation, we respect one another even when we have differences.

Sarah Abo: Absolutely. All right. Well, more than 800 temporary visas have been granted to Palestinians. That's in addition to the nearly 1,800 offered to Israelis, the news coming as Israel and Hamas reach a temporary truce to release hostages.

Senator, those in Gaza will be people with links to Australia, but there are concerns about the timing of this, the number of people and really the vetting process. How are you selecting candidates?

Foreign Minister: Well, this is ‑ these people have been granted visas in accordance with our normal processes. They've been subjected to character, identity and security checks.

So, let's be very clear about that, that is both cohorts, those in Gaza, and as you said, the over 1,700 visas to people in Israel.

I would make this point though in relation to those in Gaza, that not everyone who gets a visa can leave, and as you know, we've been working for weeks to get Australian citizens, permanent residents and their families out of Gaza. So far, we have 127 who have left, we have 69 we are still assisting.

I make that point to say just because people have a visa at this stage, given the situation in Gaza, does not mean they will be able to leave.

Sarah Abo: And that is the problem that you articulate there. There's a number of issues, I mean there could be false hope for those who think they can get out where we all well know that it's almost impossible for them to get out, and then of course, would you have got the opposition, you know, Senator Canavan on our show earlier just saying, the timing of this doesn't quite stack up for them.

Foreign Minister: Well, I've no doubt the Opposition will try and find, you know, make a political point, that's what Peter Dutton and his team always do.

What we will do is, in a calm way, deal with this situation. We've been working to get people out, we've been working to engage with countries of the region to try and ensure this doesn't spill over, obviously with very bad consequences for all of us. And we've been encouraging, continuing to call for the hostages to be released, continuing to call for humanitarian pauses, humanitarian corridors, and saying, you know, we all want to take the next steps towards a sustainable ceasefire.

Sarah Abo: Absolutely. And just very quickly, Senator, before we let you go, obviously you've been calling towards this pause in hostilities that we've now seen. It's something you no doubt welcome.

Foreign Minister: Oh, look, I welcome the ‑ first of all, I'd say I welcome the release of the hostages, and it must be, you know, I'm sure that this will be such an important day, such a profoundly important day for the families of those hostages who are being returned, and we call for all hostages to be released. But look, this is welcome progress, and we hope we can see more.

Sarah Abo: All right. Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

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