Tom Connell, Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Israel-Palestine conflict, Consular efforts, Voice to Parliament referendum.

Part of this transcript has been redacted in accordance with Digital Transformation Agency guidelines.

Tom Connell: Let's return to this story now on these attacks carried out by Hamas on Israel. At least 700 Israelis confirmed dead. Kidnappings happened as well. Joining me now live, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts. What's been your reaction to what's happened over the weekend and is a continuing situation, obviously?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, Tom, it's been a grim and appalling couple of days, hasn't it? Like many people, I've been watching the horrific footage coming out of Israel in recent days. And the Australian Government unequivocally condemns this horrific attack by Hamas on innocent civilians in Israel, indiscriminate rocket attacks, the massacring of civilians in the streets, attacking a music festival, and horrifically kidnapping hostages to take them back to Gaza.

We've unequivocally condemned these terrorist attacks on civilians and Penny Wong has contacted her equivalent in Israel, the Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, overnight to express our solidarity with the people of Israel and express our support for Israel and its right to defend itself.

Clearly, there's a significant consular challenge here as well. Australia and Israel are deeply connected and there are anywhere up to 10,000 Australians living in Israel at any period of time, many of whom will be dual nationals. And we think about 45,000 Australians visit Israel every year as tourists. So, we're working hard to confirm the welfare of any Australians that might be caught up in these attacks and our Consular Emergency Centre is operating 24 hours a day to support that work.

Tom Connell: Okay, is there any bad news on that front at this stage?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: I don't have anything to update you on that front at the moment, Tom, other than to say that, as the Prime Minister pointed out, this is a fluid situation. Conflicts like this are complex and you fill in the pieces of the picture as you go. But Australian officials are working very hard on the ground, they're working with local authorities. We do request that any Australians who are in Israel, if you haven't done so yet please get in touch with your friends and family, let them know that you're okay. That helps with the job. And if you're an Australian who is concerned about the status of a friend or a family member who is an Australian in Israel, you can call the Consular Emergency Centre on 1300 555 135. And that will put you in touch with that consular effort to establish and confirm the welfare of any Australians who might be caught up with this.

Tom Connell: Yeah, it particularly helps if you're in the area and you haven't been able to touch base with family or friends. You mentioned before, you echoed the Prime Minister's words of supporting Israel's right to defend itself. We heard from the Israel Defence Force earlier on Sky News who said from here they would, quote, "Annihilate the military capability of Hamas." Is that fair enough? Is that Israel defending itself?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, Hamas is a terrorist organisation and frankly, the barbarity that we have seen from them in recent days is entirely consistent with the rhetoric that they have used for many years. So, a response to Hamas on those terms Israel has a right to defend itself. We've made that clear from the Prime Minister on down.

Tom Connell: Okay. And that description annihilating their military capability. That's fair enough, going to that length?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Hamas is a terrorist organisation. It should not have a military capability. Israel has a right to defend itself.

Tom Connell: Okay. Do you think this is a reminder as well for all the talk of wanting both sides to try to step towards peace, a two-state solution, which I guess probably fewer people have confidence in at the moment, that while Hamas is effectively in charge in Gaza, that's not going to happen?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, Tom, our guiding principle is the promotion of peace. And the enduring and just two-state solution is the best prospect of that. That's something that can't be achieved through military means alone. It needs to be achieved through discussions between both sides of this long-standing conflict. We've always been clear in calling out actions that undermine the prospects for peace. So, terrorist actions of all kinds, attacks on civilians, these are things that undermine the prospects for peace, there's no progress or gains to be made from those kinds of activities.

Tom Connell: The approach, the recent one put out there through actions and also words from Prime Minister Netanyahu has been less about a two-state solution and the so called Abraham Accords, wanting to have accords with as many nearby Arab nations as a way to achieving some sort of peace rather than a two-state one. What do you make of that?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, Tom, ultimately the resolution of this is a matter for the parties. As I say, our guiding principle is the promotion of peace. And that means an enduring and just two-state solution is the best way of proceeding. In Australia we can support the parties, but there is a limit to what we can do from here. That's our guiding principle and that's what we'll support.

Tom Connell: One thing the Labor Government did do was drop the reference to West Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Do you stand by that?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Tom, everything that we have done since coming to government is designed to help promote the peace process. To promote a just and enduring agreement between the parties, leading to a two-state solution. That's what's informed us. That's the principled approach that we've taken, and we don't resolve from anything we've done in that respect.


Tom Connell: Speak to you on the other side. Tim Watts, thank you.

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Thank you, Tom.

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