Press Conference Adelaide

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

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Can I start by making some comments in relation to the agreement we have seen announced today in relation to the Hamas-Israel conflict. Can I first recognise the persistent brokering efforts of the United States, of Qatar and of Egypt. Australia has consistently called for the release of hostages, for humanitarian access and for the protection of civilian lives. We have also said that we want to see the next steps towards a sustainable ceasefire, but that it could not be one sided. What we see today is progress towards each of these goals and we welcome it. Details are still emerging, but if the deal holds, it will see progress, as I said, on the calls we have made, alongside many in the international community, with the release of at least 50 hostages and 300 aid trucks entering Gaza per day, as well as a pause in the fighting. But of course, this is an important and necessary step. But what we must ultimately work towards is a long term, enduring peace. And I again reiterate that a long term enduring peace requires a two-state solution, with Israelis and Palestinians living securely and prosperously within internationally recognised borders. Australia has been working with countries that have influence in the region to help protect and support civilians, to help prevent the conflict from spreading and to reinforce the need for the just and enduring peace that all of us want. I'm happy to take questions.

Journalist: Is there any update regarding Australians leaving Gaza?

Foreign Minister: Yes, I can indicate overnight - let me just find the numbers - we saw 67 Australians, 67 individuals, including Australians, permanent residents and their families, were able to cross the border at Rafah overnight. This is the second group to cross this week after we helped 31 people cross the border on Monday. They are being supported by consular staff in Cairo. To date, we have so far facilitated a departure of a total of 127 Australians, permanent residents and their families.

Journalist: How would you describe that progress, is it moving at the pace you’d like?

Foreign Minister: Well, obviously we would have wanted all Australians and permanent residents and families to have been out within days. But we recognise this is a very difficult situation and I have engaged not only with the United States, but also with Qatar and Egypt in relation to the Rafah crossing on more than one occasion. And I want to publicly again state our thanks for their assistance in enabling this crossing, as well as the Israeli government.

Journalist: Is there still a considerable number of Australians…

Foreign Minister: Yes, and I don't have an up to date figure on that, but I can provide that shortly.

Journalist: More than 800 visas have been issued for Palestinians. That's a lot of people to let in.

Foreign Minister: Well, I'll just make a few points about that. Over the same period, I think between the 7 October and a couple of days ago, we had 1,793 visas issued to Israeli citizens. So, obviously there is a lot of demand from those in the region for Australian visas, for people who are eligible. I would again say this, people who obtain visas to Australia are subject to appropriate security checks.

Journalist: Would you like to see an ongoing ceasefire?

Foreign Minister: Look, I think we would all want to see a sustainable ceasefire, but we also know that cannot be one sided. And we recognise that the steps that have been taken today with this agreement that has been negotiated is progress towards these goals. But I want to say this; we remain deeply concerned about the loss of civilian life and I know so many Australians are deeply concerned about the loss of civilian life. People are distressed about the horrific attack by Hamas. People want the hostages released and people are distressed by the loss of civilian life. In the period we have seen in these last weeks.

Journalist: These 800 visas for Palestinians, when did they start begin to be issued?

Foreign Minister: This is over the period 7 October to the 20 November. As I said, in the same period we had a substantial number of applications which were granted also from Israeli citizens.

Journalist: And can you rule out any connections to Hamas?

Foreign Minister: Well, again, I go back to this. People who obtain Australian visas are subject to appropriate security checks and these people have been subjected to the same security checks by Australian Border Force and authorities, as you would expect, any visa applicant would be required to meet.

Journalist: Can I get your reflections on a pro- Palestinian protest in Port Botany overnight involving a demonstration against an Israeli cargo ship.

Foreign Minister: Well, I would say to Australians, I understand people are distressed, but it's very important we don't allow distress to turn to anger and hatred and that we work to ensure our country is not divided by this conflict. Australians have a right to be safe. Australians have a right to feel safe. And no one in this country should be fearful because of who they are or because of their faith. There is no place for racism, there is no place for antisemitism, there is no place for Islamophobia, there is no place for hateful, prejudice in our country. We do believe in a right to peaceful protest, a right to peaceful protest. But I also want to make this point. There's a lot of misinformation on social media in relation to the provision of weapons. I again say what the Deputy Prime Minister has said; Australia has not supplied weapons to Israel since the start of the Hamas Israeli conflict. And people, when reading some of the information on social media, should remember that the Minister for Defence and the Deputy Prime Minister has made that clear.

Journalist: Is the Australian Government offering any aid to the Palestinian civilians during cease fire?

Foreign Minister: Yes, well, we have already committed $25 million. We did that, I think, in the first week of the conflict. And I made clear at that time that Australia was prepared to provide further assistance if that is required. We have a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. And the 300 trucks, obviously in the context of that catastrophe and the widespread suffering of civilians, is a welcome step.

Journalist: As you said, a lot of visas have been issued on both sides. Where will all these people go?

Foreign Minister: Settlement in Australia or entry to Australia, obviously, those are matters that others deal with. But I again emphasise this point because I know that there is a lot of emotion in the community; people are subjected to appropriate security checks.

Journalist: Is today's news a somewhat relief?

Foreign Minister: I think all of us want to see a sustainable ceasefire. The hostages released, the humanitarian aid to be provided, and all of us are deeply concerned about the loss of civilian life. We know that any ceasefire can't be one sided and this one obviously has a range of steps associated with it. It is welcome and we hope that we can see not just the next steps towards a sustainable ceasefire, but the next steps towards a political process which has a political resolution to this, as ultimately peace will require that political resolution. Thank you.

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