Interview with Sarah Abo, Today Show

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australian aid worker killed in Gaza; Hamas-Israel Conflict.

Sarah Abo, Host: A selfless and outstanding human being. That's how Zomi Frankcom, the Australian humanitarian worker killed in Gaza by an Israeli airstrike, is being remembered this morning.

Zomi was killed alongside six other foreign nationals working with the World Central Kitchen charity delivering desperately needed aid.

Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong joins us now live in Canberra. Senator, thanks so much for your time this morning.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Morning.

Abo: This is of course an unspeakable tragedy. Zomi's family now, like so many others killed in this war, are mourning the loss of a loved one. Have you been in contact with them, do you know how they're holding up?

Foreign Minister: The Prime Minister has spoken to the family, and I hope to speak with them soon. But can I start by, I'll start where you started, can we honour the life of Zomi Frankcom.

Abo: Yeah.

Foreign Minister: Zomi was a selfless woman. Her life was dedicated to the service of others. And can I express on behalf of all Australians our sympathy to her family and to her loved ones. Those who loved her, we mourn with you.

The Australian Government is outraged. We utterly condemn the killing of any aid worker and I spoke with the Israeli Foreign Minister last night to express Australia's views.

Abo: She was a hero, and it just actually makes you sick to your stomach to think about how this happened, why this happened. I mean Benjamin Netanyahu has admitted it was an IDF airstrike. There were three strikes. Zomi and her colleagues were on an aid journey that was approved by the IDF, their coordinates known. How on earth could this happen?

Foreign Minister: Well that's precisely the question that needs to be answered. I mean these were aid workers, an Australian citizen and others who were entering a conflict zone in order to provide aid, food, to people who are starving, people who ‑ children, who don't have enough eat.

What we see is, you know, the deaths of these aid workers, alongside, if I may say, we've seen the deaths of so many aid workers in this conflict as well as the deaths of so many civilians.

I made clear to the Foreign Minister of Israel that Australians are outraged by Zomi's death. I made clear that we believe the death of any aid worker is unacceptable, and frankly outrageous. And I made clear we expect a full, thorough, transparent inquiry and explanation and we expect full accountability.

Abo: I mean, Senator, you must be furious. The PM and you have stated you want full accountability, but have you seen any indication from Israel that that's what you'll actually get, that there will be answers here?

Foreign Minister: Well there must be.

Abo: But will there be? I mean what kind of pressure are you putting on them and how does this change now our relationship with Israel?

Foreign Minister: Well there's two questions there. Firstly, there must be and we are making that clear at the highest levels, including from me to the Foreign Minister of Israel. And the Prime Minister has said he's also seeking a call with Prime Minister Netanyahu. We will not back away from our strong advocacy for accountability here.

But more broadly, you know, I have said many times, Israel, the Netanyahu Government has to change course. We've seen so many civilians killed. We've seen aid not sufficiently able to come into Gaza, and we know there is a humanitarian catastrophe on hand.

Abo: Yeah, I mean the death toll as it stands currently is more than 32,000. The Greens say you're complicit in this. Have you been weak in your response to Israel's actions?

Foreign Minister: You know, at a time where the community is so distressed, at a time where we see so many civilians killed, dying, at a time we see people starving, the Greens' focus is on playing politics here in Australia. I think it's divisive.

We have been clear about Australia's position. It is a pity that the Greens political party choose to try and divide Australians at a time where we know our community is distressed. There are people with very different views and it's time for politicians, frankly, to act responsible when it comes to the social fabric.

Abo: To be fair the Greens have been advocating for the people of Palestine from the very beginning. I mean do you regret your approach to this war?

Foreign Minister: Sarah, we have been clear from the start about the importance of Israel observing International Humanitarian Law. We have voted for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

My point here was a different point. My point to you is you know from your own experience, as we all do, we are a diverse community, we have strongly held different views, and on this issue people are distressed.

It's time for politicians not to be divisive and look to domestic politics in this, but to try and ensure our social fabric as a nation, where we do have these different views, holds together.

Abo: Absolutely, I don't think anyone will disagree with you there, Penny. I guess the issue is that the approach perhaps to this war hasn't been strong enough. I mean have you inadvertently allowed Israel to make decisions, a reckless decision like the one we saw overnight?

Foreign Minister: Sarah, really?

Abo: Yes.

Foreign Minister: I mean really this ‑ I am outraged by what occurred overnight and those were the actions of the Netanyahu Government and the IDF.

Let us be clear about where responsibility lies for this and let us not confuse issues. I have been very clear from the start, Israel should observe International Humanitarian Law. That means the protection of civilians, that means the protection of aid workers, and that means the provision of aid into Gaza.

Abo: There's no question you've been clear on that, Senator, from the very beginning, and hopefully the restraint that's been urged is followed through. Thank you so much for joining us this morning, I appreciate it.

Foreign Minister: Thanks, Sarah.

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