Radio Interview with Sabra Lane - ABC AM - 03/04/2024

03 April 2024



Subjects: Death of Lalzawmi ‘Zomi’ Frankcom; Hamas-Israel conflict.

SABRA LANE, HOST: The Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, joined me earlier. Penny Wong, good morning. You've spoken with Israel's Foreign Minister overnight. What's he said?

PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, can I first start by expressing my deepest sympathy and condolences of all Australians to Zomi's family. Australians are with you, we are mourning with you. We know that Zomi's life is a life - was a life dedicated to the service of others, and it is a tragedy what has occurred. I spoke to the Foreign Minister of Israel last night. I expressed the outrage of the nation. I said that the death of any aid worker is outrageous and it is unacceptable. I expressed the view that we expect full accountability for these deaths. We spoke about his intention to ensure that there was a thorough investigation.

LANE: Israel's Defence Minister said a professional team will investigate what happened. The United States has said that this must be impartial. Has Mr Katz been explicit with you about how that inquiry will happen and who will conduct it and how transparent it will be?

FOREIGN MINISTER: We spoke about the importance of full accountability and transparency. And obviously we will continue to work with the Israelis on the detail of this investigation. What we expect is a transparent, full accountability for what has occurred, which is the death not only of this Australian, Zomi Frankcom, but also a number of other aid workers. No aid worker should die in this way in a conflict zone and it is frankly outrageous and unacceptable that this has occurred.

LANE: Benjamin Netanyahu has also spoken overnight saying that the killings were, and I'm going to quote here, "a tragic event in which our forces unintentionally harmed non-combatants" and that "this happens in war". What's your response?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, international humanitarian law applies to Israel and that law protects civilians, and that law protects aid workers. I don't think this can be dismissed in any way and we expect full accountability. I would say to you that the expectation of the Australian Government is full accountability for these deaths.

LANE: Israel says it will now set up a joint situation room to coordinate with aid agencies their movements in Gaza. Does that assuage you, given that the World Central Kitchen said that this team had been coordinating with the military about their movements?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Yes, that is what - I've read those reports as well, which makes this situation even more distressing. This has been a conflict which has been particularly fatal for aid workers. I note that the UN Secretary General said overnight some 196 aid workers have been killed in this conflict. This is unacceptable.

LANE: In six months, the figures are, I think, something like 32,000 people have died in Gaza. 74,000 have been injured. We don't know how many of them are Hamas combatants, but most of them probably aren't. How comfortable are you with that?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Not at all comfortable. I don't think anybody's comfortable with this conflict, with the civilian lives which have been lost, with the hostages who remain unreleased. As you said, more than 30,000 civilians have been killed. More than half a million Palestinians are starving. What we have said to the Netanyahu Government directly is that they must change course. We've also said we support an immediate humanitarian ceasefire consistent with the UN Security Council resolution. And unlike Mr Netanyahu, this government supports progress towards a two-state solution.

LANE: Israel has ignored those calls for ceasefire. What do you think it will take for it to listen to what most of the world is saying, and for that to happen?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, what I would say to Israel, and I have said this publicly, and I have said this privately, that unless Israel changes course, it will continue to lose support. And certainly the tragedy that you and I are discussing will further damage Israel's standard.

LANE: The Australian Greens say that the Prime Minister should be held accountable for this as well. It says that the United States is about to send fighter jets to Israel that contain Australian parts and that jets will be used to kill innocent people and that Australia should end arms sales with Israel. What's your response to that?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I think all Australians will look at the way in which the Australian Greens are trying to make this a partisan political issue, in the light of such a tragedy, very dimly. The Australian Greens know what the government has said, which is we are not exporting arms to Israel. The Australian Greens continue to seek to politically utilise this conflict here in Australia and I think it does them no credit.

LANE: Do you worry about the community hanging together in Australia on this, given that we are seeing quite extreme views on both sides?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Yes, I do, which is why the actions of the Greens, and frankly, others, are so detrimental to the fabric of Australian society. And we are an extraordinarily diverse country. We have people whose heritage comes from all over the world. One in two of us has a parent born overseas, or was born overseas. Part of what has held us together is we have held onto some central values around our democracy, around respect. Recognising that we don't all agree, but how we express that and how we engage matters. I am concerned about the way in which some politicians have been using this conflict in a way that is detrimental to that social fabric. And I think all of us need to take greater responsibility.

This is an awful war. And as you said, we've seen some in excess of 30,000 people who have died and we know that people are starving. And what we must do is continue to hold the position Australia always holds, which is we say to Israel, you must comply with international law, including, if I may say, the recent decision of the ICJ to ensure without delay the delivery of aid at scale. And here in Australia, we must work to hold our community together when people are grieving.

LANE: Penny Wong, thank you for talking to AM.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Good to speak with you.

LANE: Penny Wong is the Foreign Minister.


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Authorised by Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.