Press conference, Melbourne Airport

  • Joint transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Hamas-Israel conflict; Hamas attack; support for Australians.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Hi, everybody. Thank you very much for coming out to the airport.

Can I start by reiterating the comments I made on Saturday night. Australia unequivocally condemns the attack on Israel by Hamas. We unequivocally condemn the indiscriminate rocket fire, the targeting of civilians and the taking of hostages, a particularly distressing and egregious act by Hamas. These are abhorrent acts and I again reiterate our call for all hostages to be released.

I have spoken over the weekend to the Foreign Minister of Israel, Foreign Minister Cohen. I expressed Australia's support for Israel, our solidarity and our support for Israel's right to defend itself. I want to say at this time that Australia's thoughts are with those lost, those injured, those taken hostage and all their loved ones.

Australia always urges the protection of civilian lives. We are seeking to confirm the welfare of Australians in affected areas. We are working with local authorities and I spoke also over the weekend to our Head of Missions, our Ambassador in Israel and our Head of Mission in the Palestinian territories.

We urge Australians who are in Israel, if you have not done so, to please contact your families, to assure us all of your safety. We have also altered the travel advice. We are now at do not travel to Gaza and near border. Details are on the Smart Traveller website and we will continue to assess our travel advice. I'm happy to take questions.

Journalist: Do you know of any Australians who may be caught up in the hostile situations, injured or killed over there so far?

Foreign Minister: I don't have any information at this stage about Australians hospitalised or - hospitalised or injured or any fatalities. But obviously, as I said, we are seeking to ascertain the welfare and whereabouts of Australians on the ground. And I again reiterate, if you are in Israel, please make sure, I'm sure everybody has, but if you haven't, please make sure you make contact with your family to assure us of your safety.

Journalist: What measures are being taken to get people out of the country if they want to leave?

Foreign Minister: Well, we will deal with that as and when required, but at this stage, we are seeking to ascertain whereabouts and safety. Sorry, I can't hear you.

Journalist: Is Australia providing any support for nationals fleeing Israel or Gaza?

Foreign Minister: I don't have any advice on that today, but at this stage, we are still ascertaining people's safety and whereabouts. Those issues, if required, we will deal with in coming days.

Journalist: We know that the US is shifting their military posture in terms of sending some tanks over there, what's the Australian Defence Force doing? What's Australia doing in terms of helping out Israel there?

Foreign Minister: Look, when I spoke to Foreign Minister Cohen, there was no request at that stage for any assistance. Obviously, we do have ADF personnel in operation, what's called Operation Paladin, which is the peacekeeping arrangements in the region. But I reiterated to him our deep condolences and sympathy and our solidarity with Israel at this time.

Journalist: And do you condemn the actions of the Palestinian supporters in Western Sydney overnight? They were protesting outside Lakemba Station.

Foreign Minister: There were also comments that were made about these tragic events. And what I'd say to all Australians: the targeting of civilians and the taking of hostages is never a cause for celebration.

Is there anything further?

Journalist: You've been criticised for tweeting, "Australia urges the exercise of restraint." Why did you say that, and do you stand by it?

Foreign Minister: I think it is always the right thing for Australia to urge restraint and the protection of civilian lives. Are people suggesting that we ought not be in any conflict calling for the protection of civilian lives? Of course we should.

Journalist: In terms of those Palestinian supporters, what's your message to them about continuing this protesting that they're doing on the streets of Australia?

Foreign Minister: I would say, whatever people's views about the history of this conflict, we can never condone the targeting of civilians and the taking of hostages. And I think that is something all Australians would agree with or many Australians would agree with. And I would urge people to recall what is happening on the ground to individuals at this time.

Journalist: Do you support Israel, defending their own territory, when they are proactively attacking Gaza?

Foreign Minister: I think Israel has to make its decisions about how it's best to defend itself in a circumstance where it has been attacked. Overnight, where its citizens have been targeted, its citizens have been taken. But we will always, in any conference, urge all parties to look to protect civilian life. I think that is the right thing to do.

Journalist: Will the Government light up Federal Parliament?

Foreign Minister: I've seen some requests for this. Our view is obviously that's ultimately a matter for the Presiding Officers but our view is we stand in solidarity with Israel. There are a number of, I think the Opera House and other national buildings are being built up. So I think that would be an appropriate thing to do. But ultimately, it's a matter for the Presiding Officers. Thanks very much for coming out.

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