Topics: Israel; Lebanon; PM travel to Israel

09:20AM AEDT
Friday, 20 October 2023


Danica De Giorgio:  Australians are being advised not to travel to any part of Lebanon as the situation in nearby Israel and Gaza escalates. The travel advice for Lebanon has changed to ‘do not travel’ because of the volatile security situation. Any Australians who wish to leave the country are being told to do so on the first available commercial flight. It comes as the last group of repatriated Australians who have fled Israel are due arrive in Sydney today. Joining me now live is Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Birmingham. Appreciate your time this morning. DFAT says there are around 15,000 Australians in Lebanon – should the repatriation efforts extend to Lebanon now given the updated advice and the threat of this war spilling into the region?


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Danica. Good to be with you. The Albanese Government should absolutely be ensuring that it has extensive contingency plans in place for what it can do for Australians in Lebanon, as well as what it may still need to do for Australians in Israel. To bring to an end the repatriation flights at present may reflect the fact that demand for getting on those planes out of Israel at present was dwindling in the immediate sense. But of course, they need to make sure they’ve got contingency plans across the board in relation to these regions. But obviously Australians also have a responsibility to take into account the travel advisories that have been issued; clear travel advisories ‘do not travel’ in relation to Lebanon. And so Australians there, where there remain commercial options and other means to be able to leave, should if they are able to do so, leave to ensure their safety; to be in compliance with those travel advisories and of course, if they are choosing to stay need to make sure they have arrangements in place for their safety and wellbeing in country.


Danica De Giorgio: Israel is possibly now gearing up for a ground invasion. In fact, its defence minister has told troops that that command will come. We know that there are at least 45 Australians stuck in Gaza. The Government has said it’s working very hard to get these Australians out. Have you been given any more updates on that effort?


Simon Birmingham: I don’t have any updates that that we’re able to share at present. What we all wish to see is for the border crossing into Egypt to be opened for those international citizens to be able to leave – also to be opened for humanitarian assistance to be able to enter Gaza. It’s a two-way crossing that we really wish to see happen there, so that that humanitarian assistance and medical supplies and other essential equipment to help innocent Palestinian civilians can flow through as well as for those Australians, Americans and citizens of many other nations. And we know that the Australian Government rightly has been working in concert with our partners to try to negotiate that safe passage through that border crossing into Egypt and we continue to hope to see progress in relation to that for those citizens.


Danica De Giorgio:  With those escalating tensions that we are seeing in the region at the moment, are you worried that that anger may spill over onto the streets here in Australia as well?


Simon Birmingham: There are of course real concerns and we’ve seen that highlighted in the statements made by the Director-General of ASIO about the increasing engagement of extremists, both right-wing extremists and Sunni extremists engaging in chatter and with material online that could be provocative; that could give rise to actions in Australia. Now, of course, we know that our security agencies continue to work closely to monitor that; to intervene where necessary. The Opposition continues to seek briefings from the Government and we appreciate those security and foreign affairs briefings that we receive which have been provided to Leader, Peter Dutton, as well as briefings that the Home Affairs Shadow Minister, James Patterson and I will be receiving. They’re all important for us to understand the challenges that are being faced and critically the work that is being done by security agencies. We need to be clear in remembering what happened two weeks ago; the absolute tragedy – the appalling atrocity that occurred with Hamas undertaking its terrorist actions; killing babies, children, young people at a music festival, grandparents. We need to remember that they are still holding hostages who should be released and the horror and trauma that comes with that. And of course, the enormous pain being felt still by the Jewish-Australian community. But also recognise that yes, there is pain being felt and concern for people who are suffering across Gaza in terms of access to those humanitarian supplies, who have had to relocate due to the warnings that Israel has given and of course, those difficulties are felt also in Australia and we understand that and the pain and anguish in Palestinian and across people of Muslim faith in Australia too. And we want to make sure that all know that they are welcome in Australia, because Australia asks just one thing of people as well; and that is when you come to Australia, you are welcome to bring your culture, your faiths, your differences, but leave the fights at the door – leave those other differences in terms of geopolitical conflict at the door when you come to Australia – we want all to be here working and living as harmoniously as one too.


Danica De Giorgio:   Labor Ministers, Anne Aly and Ed Husic are at odds with the Prime Minister on their stance of the situation over there. Do you think that there’s division within the Albanese cabinet on this matter?


Simon Birmingham: There appears to be some clear division in terms of language. The language used by those Ministers is not language that we support. We recognise Israel’s inherent right to self-defence and the need for Israel, given the appalling and atrocious acts undertaken, to remove Hamas from a position of power, a position of influence and a position of ability to be able to launch such terrorist strikes into Israel in the future. And so, Israel is well within its rights to undertake those actions. Israel has shown a marked difference of approach – where Hamas actively targeted civilians; actively killed children and babies; Israel has provided warnings, it has been targeted in its actions to date, it is showing restraint in terms of not undertaking the scheduled land invasion for some time, and it is focused in removing Hamas and that of course, is a focus that is important. We all in the long term want to see a structure for Palestinian people that isn’t one led by terrorists but is instead one led by individuals who can negotiate and hopefully achieve a peaceful solution for Palestinians and Israelis alike to live side by side into the future.


Danica De Giorgio:  Just before we let you go, we’re running out of time, it’s understood that the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will not visit to Israel and will not follow the lead of the US President and UK Prime Minister. Would you urge him to reconsider, should he go to Israel?


Simon Birmingham: I do encourage Prime Minister Albanese to reconsider and to look at travelling to Israel either on his way to the United States over the next week or on his way back. It would be a very important signal of Australia’s support for Israel and it would be keeping with a wide number of leaders across Europe as well as the Americas who have undertaken that trip or are undertaking that trip to show their solidarity, their support and also to advance the type of cause and messages that we all want to see in terms of the removal of Hamas, but also the provision of humanitarian support and that ultimate objective of securing a longer term peace that we would all wish to see for people who have lived in conflict and difficulty for so long.


Danica De Giorgio:  Alright, Simon Birmingham, we have to leave it there. Thank you for joining us.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you, my pleasure.