Topics: Death of Australian aid worker in Gaza; International Democracy Union (IDU) Forum 2024, Asia-Pacific 

11:19AM AEDT
4 April 2024


Kieran Gilbert: Let’s get some reaction now from the Coalition. Joining me live from Wellington, New Zealand, is the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham. You’re there for a democratic union conference. I’ll get to that in the moment but, on what the Prime Minister has said this morning in relation to Israel, he says it’s not good enough to say, in relation to the death of Zomi Frankcom, that this is something that happens in war; he said it’s a breach of international law. Do you agree?


Simon Birmingham: Kieran, the death of Zomi Frankcom is clearly an enormous tragedy and a terrible mistake that occurred, in relation to her death and those of her co-workers who were there doing such important and valuable aid to save the lives of others, and we can all feel the pain and the grief that her family, her loved ones and indeed her partners in the charity would be feeling. It’s absolutely appropriate that Australia should expect there to be a full and thorough investigation and that we should expect there to be transparency around the conduct and the findings of that investigation and Australia would expect no less in relation to–


Kieran Gilbert: Do you agree with the Prime Minister that you can’t simply say this was a mistake in the fog of war?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Kieran, the tragic reality is that mistakes do happen in war. I’m not going to leap to pre-judge what should be a full and thorough investigation and the findings of which should appropriately be made transparent. As I was saying before, Australia would expect no less in any other circumstance where an Australian citizen is killed, particularly where they are killed through the actions of a foreign government or their defence forces, so it’s appropriate for us to have those expectations but it’s also appropriate for us to test the findings of those investigations when they are made public, as we should expect them to be made public, and then to move on to any conclusions that can be drawn once we see them.


Kieran Gilbert: So you agree there should be full accountability. Do you agree with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, who both expressed anger and outrage to their respective Israeli counterparts – is that the right thing to do in the wake of this tragedy?


Simon Birmingham: Well, this should not have happened and it’s very clear it should not have happened and it is a terrible and tragic mistake and of course Australia should make its views known. Now, this is part of a tragedy that goes all the way back to October 7 and the way in which the war in Gaza is conducted is made all the more complicated by virtue of the fact that Hamas didn’t just start this conflict, on October 7, through the tragic killing and slaughtering of innocent Israeli civilians; it has added to the humanitarian toll and the catastrophe of this conflict by the way in which it embeds itself in civilian infrastructure across Gaza, the way in which it uses innocent people as human shields, and all of that has added to the tragic toll of this and, of course, this conflict could come to a much quicker end if Hamas were to release the many hostages they still hold, and have been holding since October 7, and were to surrender unconditionally the terrorist capabilities and infrastructure they have.


Kieran Gilbert: Do you agree with Penny Wong, though, that this… all of what you said is true… absolutely, everything you said there is true but it wasn’t relevant to this one, this tragedy, because the car was marked, they weren’t hiding militants; these were aid workers. Do you agree with Penny Wong that Israel… that all of the context you gave does not remove Israel’s responsibility to abide by international humanitarian law?


Simon Birmingham: We’ve said all along that Israel has responsibilities in relation to its regard for international law and how it conducts itself with regard for international law. Hamas, of course, has never shown any such regard. They didn’t on October 7 and they haven’t on a single day of this conflict since then. Israel has those responsibilities, we would expect them to be respected and that is why we should have, in relation to this tragic, tragic incident that has occurred and this terrible loss of life that has happened on top of all of the other terrible loss of lives that have occurred throughout this conflict… we should expect that thorough investigation, we should expect it to be transparent and we should take appropriate steps, once it is made transparent, to make assessments about the consequences from there.


Kieran Gilbert: And on a war crimes investigation, that Zomi Frankcom’s… Zomi Frankcom’s family are supporting a war crimes investigation – would you?


Simon Birmingham: Well, there are many investigations that are undertaken in relation to Israel’s conduct, in fact far more perhaps than in any other circumstance around the world, and that pre-dates October 7. As for this, as I just said in response to the previous question and have said a couple of times, we should expect this to be a full and thorough investigation, we should expect it to be transparent and then conclusions can be drawn about the next stages from there.


Kieran Gilbert: Okay, can I ask you… I want to ask you quickly… we’re almost out of time but the International Democracy Union, you’re there speaking alongside Peter Dutton. It comes at an interesting time, internationally: 75th anniversary of NATO and at a time when US support for NATO can’t be guaranteed. Just quickly, what’s your message there, at the IDU, over coming days, in New Zealand?


Simon Birmingham: It is so crucial for liberal democracies of the world to work together, to cooperate, and that includes in terms of support for NATO and the security alliance that has been built there and, critically, we need to deliver a consistent message of support for NATO’s support for Ukraine and to have resolve in seeing Ukraine succeed, because, if Ukraine is defeated, if the West is seen to be weak in relation to its support for Ukraine, then that will be seen to be weakness everywhere, not just in relation to Ukraine or Europe.


Kieran Gilbert: Simon Birmingham, joining us live from Wellington, appreciate it, thanks.