Topics: Israel conflict; Rafah border crossing; Greens/Teal motion;

07:35AM AEDT
17 October 2023

Peter Stefanovic: Let’s go to Canberra now. Joining us live is the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Birmingham. Simon good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. We’ll start with this statement by Penny Wong late last night on X, she mentioned that one more repatriation flight has left Tel Aviv and there would be one more flight to come. But that could change because of the rapidly evolving security situation. So time is obviously running out. What are your thoughts on that?

Simon Birmingham: Well, Pete, we want to see as many people who are seeking to leave Israel, as many Australian citizens as who are seeking to leave Israel safely evacuated as possible. Now, obviously, the government has to be conscious of the security considerations and safety considerations for flights getting in and out. We’ve seen that with schedule changes over recent days. But they also need to be transparent about how many Australians are seeking to leave and how many will be supported through these flights. If there is only one more flight planned, is that going to ensure that all Australian citizens who are seeking support to leave have successfully been evacuated? And if not, how many Australian citizens is the government proposing to leave there without plans or assistance in place to help them leave?

Peter Stefanovic: There’s probably a lot of Australians who are there though, or expats who just don’t know that. Perhaps torn?

Simon Birmingham: Indeed, Pete, there will be those who are Australians who are potentially dual citizens who will be choosing to stay, choosing to stay with family, choosing to stay in a range of circumstances. Some, of course, who may even be called up as dual citizens, as Israeli citizens to serve alongside Israel’s defence forces. So, there’ll be a range of different circumstances. But if there are people who are Australian citizens who have registered to leave Israel and are seeking to leave Israel and there aren’t enough seats on flights. Well, then the government needs to be clear about just how many will be left and what contingencies or positions they’re putting in place to help those people.

Peter Stefanovic: So, in your view, given the security situation and given there’s already been a few flights go, is there a limit to how many flights should or could be arranged, or should it just be done indefinitely until all Australians who want to get out can get out?

Simon Birmingham: Well, so long as there remain limits on commercial flight availability and access. And clearly the security situation is causing such restrictions to be in place, then the government should be looking for what solutions it can provide. It’s not acceptable to say, well, we put on a few flights and we’ll just leave it there and we’ll leave however many hundreds or thousands behind if those people are seeking to leave. Clearly, the government needs a comprehensive solution for all Australian citizens who are seeking to leave and who do not have other means to be able to leave.

Peter Stefanovic: What about- I mean, I’m not sure anything can be done in the meantime for the Australians stuck in Gaza. What’s your view on that? They’ve just got to wait it out until Rafah reopens.

Simon Birmingham: With a desire certainly is to see the Rafah border crossing between southern Gaza and Egypt opened, opened as soon as it can be. So, that those foreign nationals, Australians and others can safely leave Gaza and transit into Egypt, where they will be able to exit the region and so that humanitarian aid can get into Gaza. Now, lots of effort and negotiation is clearly taking place from governments around the world to try to achieve that. One thing that would clearly help would be for Hamas to release the hostages. It shouldn’t be lost amongst all of this, that Hamas still claims to have hostages who they took in those brutal attacks more than a week ago. If Hamas wants to see goodwill in terms of action being undertaken by Israel, then they should show without condition the goodwill of releasing those hostages, which would be a very small gesture against the great horrors that Hamas has undertaken to date.

Peter Stefanovic: The problem at the Rafah border crossing, though, is Egypt doesn’t want Hamas militants, terrorists. They don’t want them in Egyptian territory. So that’s definitely what slows down the process there. And, you know, those Australians who are in Gaza are likely to get caught up in that. Again, points to the delays and the complexities of the situation.

Simon Birmingham: There are lots of complexities there, no doubt about that. And obviously for Egypt, there is a controlled opening of that border or an uncontrolled opening of that border. And nobody is suggesting at present that Egypt should be having an uncontrolled opening of that border. We understand those concerns. That’s where governments are all negotiating to seek to make sure that humanitarian aid can get in through that southern border crossing. Also, that foreign nationals, potentially others of particular high need, can get out and receive appropriate assistance and they are the types of steps that we would like to see.

Peter Stefanovic: Sorry, Simon. Just a final one here. I know you’ve got to go, but I want to get you on the greens. And the two Sydney teal MPs, Kylie Tink and Sophie Scamps. They sought to erase a statement declaring Australia stands with Israel and recognises its right to defend itself and replace it with a condemnation of war crimes perpetrated by the State of Israel, including the bombing of Palestinian civilians. What are your thoughts on that unsuccessful move?

Simon Birmingham: This is a type of disgraceful false equivalence that some seek to try to create. Hamas is a terrorist organisation. They’ve behaved like a terrorist organisation. They’ve killed babies, they’ve killed children, they’ve killed people, young people at a music festival. They’ve killed grandparents, they’ve killed a whole swathe of people without any regard at all for civilian life. And there should be no creation of false equivalence between those terrorist attacks of Hamas and the legitimate right of Israel to defend itself from those sorts of terrorist attacks. And it’s a disgraceful attempt by the Greens or others to also think about just some of the other broader picture issues, you know, where would you rather be in terms of the respect for diversity, equality? Many of the other rights that the Greens like to champion endlessly in countries like Israel who respect LGBTI rights, just like Australia does, or in places like Hamas or Iran, where of course such people are persecuted. So the false equivalence is created are appalling. It shouldn’t happen. We have to be very clear about the difference between a terrorist organisation masquerading as a government, which is Hamas, versus a democracy in Israel that needs to show regard to international law. Yes, but equally is defending itself, quite rightly, from that type of terrorist activity targeting its civilians. And Israel has shown in return the appropriate response in terms of providing warnings, evacuation notices, a whole range of different steps taken and indeed not proceeding to date given requests from international community and elsewhere with full scale land invasion into Gaza, because it is recognising those civilian casualties that could ensue, which is a strong contrast to the disregard for civilian life and indeed the targeting of civilian life that Hamas showed.

Peter Stefanovic: Simon Birmingham, thanks, as always for your time. We’ll talk to you soon.