Interview on Sunrise

Subjects: Niagara Falls explosion; Hamas-Israel conflict; temporary ceasefire and release of hostages; visa provisions to Palestinians and Israelis.

Matt Shirvington, Host: Well, let's get some more on this breaking news. For more, we are joined by the Foreign Minister, Penny Wong. Good morning to you, Minister. Can we ask you firstly, what have you heard in relation to this car explosion in the US? Have you been briefed?

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Morning, Shirvo, morning Nat, and morning to all your viewers. Look, I have seen those reports, and obviously we are concerned. But as you said, this is a matter that's still being investigated, people are still assessing what has occurred, so I'll await commenting until we get something further from the FBI or the Canadian authorities.

Natalie Barr, Host: Minister, in this current world climate that we are in, we know it is heightened, we are watching the protests here and around the world. What does this mean for Australia in particular, as far as our terror alert level, our safety level, especially when you see things like this, this morning, that could in fact be terror‑related?

Foreign Minister: Sure. Well, I guess the first thing, Nat, is let's pause until ‑ before we ‑ until we know what has actually happened before we make an assessment about what's happened on the Canadian‑US border.

But look, it is a reasonable question. I know that people are concerned, I know that we've seen a lot more, you know, debate and at times division in our community alongside what's happening in Gaza in the Hamas‑Israel conflict.

What I would say is this, first, our security agencies always make sound judgments, seek to make sound judgments, about what is occurring in Australia and work very hard to keep us all safe.

The second point I'd make is this, you know, we know this conflict has caused a lot of distress, sometimes a lot of anger. It's really important that all of us work together to ensure that anger doesn't lead to hatred, and certainly to violence. And that's why we keep talking about the importance of coming together.

Matt Shirvington: Let's talk about more on this conflict in the Middle East, and in some good news, the first 50 hostages held by Hamas will be released in the coming hours. It's part of a hostage exchange deal between Israel and Hamas that was mostly brokered by Qatar.

Part of that agreement includes a four‑day pause in fighting for the first time since the conflict broke out on October 7. This deal has been welcomed around the world, we know that, it's fantastic, and no doubt those hostages' families are just eagerly awaiting to see their loved ones again.

But what about the Australians still caught up in the conflict in Gaza? How are we helping to get them out?

Foreign Minister: Well, first, in terms of the arrangements or the agreement that you describe, look, this is welcome progress, but we need to see more, obviously; we want to see all the hostages released, and we want to see genuine steps to a durable peace.

But in terms of Australians in Gaza, obviously this has been a very stressful situation for many Australians who have family in Gaza.

We've assisted about 127 Australians, permanent residents and immediate family to leave, there are some 69 still who we are assisting, obviously not everyone who wishes to leave has been able to leave, and we are seeking to prioritise Australians citizens, permanent residents and their immediately family.

Natalie Barr: So the Government's also proved these 860 visas to Palestinians. Can you tell us who they've been given to, and can you guarantee their backgrounds have been checked?

Foreign Minister: Look, we've issued visas in a normal process to people in Israel and in Gaza, 1,700 in Israel and I think, as you said, just over 850 in Gaza. These people have been subjected to the normal security and identity checks and character checks.

What I would also emphasise is just because someone has been given a visa obviously doesn't mean they're able to leave where they are, and we know that it has been very difficult for people, including Australian citizens to leave Gaza, and we've been working on this for weeks.

Matt Shirvington: Normal security checks, shouldn't it be more scrutinised than that?

Foreign Minister: Well, this is ‑ we do have the normal ‑ I'm not quite sure what you're asking me, Shirvo, I mean this is ‑‑

Matt Shirvington: Well, I mean it's very volatile situation ‑‑ and the security level is heightened.

Foreign Minister: Yes, we are ensuring that the people who apply for visas, both relatives of people who are in Gaza, but also people in Israel are processed with the appropriate character checks, the appropriate security checks, the appropriate identity checks, and that's as it should be.

Matt Shirvington: Okay. Thank you, Minister.

Natalie Barr: Minister, thank you very much for your time on Sunrise this morning.

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