Press conference, Hallett Cove Primary School
Part of this transcript has been redacted in accordance with Digital Transformation Agency guidelines.
PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: But I hope people will understand I also, today, have to speak a bit ‑ respond to some events and have to speak about the situation in Israel and Gaza.
First of all, flights. I can confirm, and I'm very happy to confirm that the first Australian Government-assisted departure flight landed in London this morning. 238 Australians and their families on board. I'm very relieved to know that these Australians have landed in London, and that they're on their way home, and I want to thank all the Australian officials who worked on this operation, and I thank Qantas for its support.
I said yesterday, or the day before ‑ I'm sorry, things are moving quite fast ‑ we would have more flights. I can confirm that the next flight is a government‑supported charter flight which will land in Tel Aviv today, that is Saturday local time. That will proceed from Tel Aviv to Dubai. We continue to work on the travel arrangements for those Australians.
We are also moving quickly to secure options for Australians who want to leave Israel or the occupied territories. About 825 Australians have now departed Israel and the occupied territories, and my department continues to assist a number of Australians who seek to leave Gaza, numbering about 20.
I want to again echo what I said yesterday to all Australians who are in Israel or Gaza: if you wish to leave, please do not delay. If you wish to leave, please take the first available flight. Please do not wait for another option.
I would emphasise that the situation on the ground is changing quickly, it is extremely difficult. I also know that not everyone can easily get to the airport, the security situation is very dangerous in some areas.
We are supporting Australians who have registered with DFAT's Consular and Emergency Services, and we update people with details regularly; details of the flights, if they've not been provided already will imminently be provided.
I would ask people who are in Israel, or the occupied territories, again, who want to leave but don't have plans to depart, please register with our crisis portal, or by calling the 24‑hour Consular Emergency Centre, +61 2 6261 3305.
If I could turn now to the broader situation. I again say what I said in our very first response on behalf of Australians to these events: we unequivocally condemn the attack on Israel by Hamas, abhorrent acts of terror against innocent civilians. We are a steadfast friend of Israel. Israel has a right to defend itself.
Australia calls for the immediate release of all hostages held in Gaza, and all of those mourn the loss of life. President Biden himself has called on Israel to operate by the international rules of law. I join him, Australia joins him and others in that call. We urge the protection of civilian lives in Gaza, where many innocent people are at risk.
We know Hamas is a brutal terrorist organisation, and we know it does not represent the Palestinian people. Australia calls for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to those affected, and we support efforts to establish a humanitarian corridor to enable humanitarian needs to be met in the Gaza Strip. We commend the work of the US, Egypt and others towards this goal.
We continue to engage with other countries in an effort, alongside others, to ensure that the conflict does not spread, and to seek to avert the humanitarian situation deteriorating further.
Australia's principle has always been, that we are guided by the pursuit of peace and a just and enduring two‑state solution.
I'll say this, one of the many tragedies of what Hamas has done is that they have undermined the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people themselves, and they have pushed peace further from reach. All people, Israelis, Palestinian civilians, deserve to live in peace, security and prosper within internationally recognised borders.
JOURNALIST: Was Australia asked to sign a statement with France, the UK, the US and Germany in support of Israel, and if so why didn't we?
FOREIGN MINISTER: This is the Five Partner Statement --
JOURNALIST: I believe so.
FOREIGN MINISTER: Yes. I'm not sure - I think my public comments are almost identical to that statement, so, you know, obviously it's very important that the international community are as one.
This is a conflict that has a long history, but we need to be really clear about this. Hamas is engaged in a set of abhorrent terrorist actions and from day one we have been clear about our unequivocal condemnation.
JOURNALIST: Israeli officials have confirmed that some Australians are flying to Israel to join the IDF. What's your message to those people who are joining the war?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, people make their own choices, and I understand their motivation. You know, we have travel advice, people should look at that advice, and they should make an informed decision.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of Israel's call for 1.1 million people in the northern Gaza area to evacuate within the next 24 hours. What do you think about that call?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, certainly the United Nations has been clear in its call, raising concerns about the viability of that prospect. [Indistinct]. We also urge the observation of international law.
JOURNALIST: Can you just give a bit of an explanation as to what happens next for those Australians who are headed to London? Is it that there are free flights ‑‑
FOREIGN MINISTER: We are working on onward journey arrangements for all Australians, those who have landed in London, and those who we hope will be leaving tonight, Israeli time.
JOURNALIST: Do you have an update on the families stuck in Gaza, such as the South Australian family still there?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Yes, they are, and my officials have been working with the Israelis and Egyptians in the last days to try and arrange passage out of Gaza. It's obviously a very difficult situation, and I can indicate I personally spoke to the Israeli Ambassador and the Egyptian Ambassador last night to request, again, at my level that arrangements be made for foreign nationals to exit the Gaza Strip, including the 20 Australians who seek to leave.
Thank you very much.
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