TV Interview with Laura Jayes - Sky News AM Agenda - 12/04/2024

12 April 2024



Subjects: Palestinian statehood stance, investigation into aid worker strike and negotiating release of Julian Assange

LAURA JAYES, HOST: Let's go live to Adelaide now the Foreign Affairs Minister, Penny Wong, joins us. Foreign Minister, thanks so much for your time. It's been a big week.

PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Good to be with you, Laura.

JAYES: This is a good first question. What is your position on Palestinian statehood?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, we've had a longstanding position that two states, the state of Israel and a Palestinian state, is the only pathway to enduring peace in the region. I mean, that is, in fact a longstanding bipartisan position. The question has always been, how do you get there? And the point I have been making is, beyond the immediate conflict we need to look at how we create that pathway to peace. And that's the discussion that has been happening in the international community.

JAYES: So, your position has not changed? The foreign policy position on this issue hasn't changed. But this week it seemed that you were trying to front run the argument by talking about a Palestinian statehood when a lot of water needs to go under the bridge. Is that a fair assessment?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, what I did was set out the reasons for why a Palestinian state is important for Israel's security. And I made the point that this was a matter being discussed in the international community. I mean, the change in foreign policy position actually isn't with the government. The change in foreign policy position is with Peter Dutton, who in his usual attempt to try and land domestic political punches, is actually walking away from what has been a bipartisan position between the parties.

JAYES: How do you say that he's walking away from that? He has criticised your timing of the idea of a Palestinian statehood and the inference that the world, and I think you cited the UK, could recognise a Palestinian statehood, or at least express support for that as a way to bring negotiations to a head.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, I think what we know about Peter Dutton, Laura, is he always wants to raise the temperature and his inflammatory language this week is just yet another example. You don't hear Peter Dutton talking about how we find a pathway to peace. You don't hear Peter Dutton talking about how we protect civilian lives or the lives of humanitarian workers. What you do hear him engaging in is overblown, inflammatory rhetoric. I mean, the reference to Port Arthur, I think, was really poor. And he does it because his instinct is always to have the domestic political fight.

Our job, you know, as the Australian Government, in the face of what is a horrific conflict, what was a horrific terrorist attack by Hamas, an organisation which, as I said in my speech, is intent upon destroying the Jewish people and the Jewish state. And then we see after that, we see the conflict in Gaza and the humanitarian catastrophe there. So, as Australians, what we need to be doing is advocating for those principles which matter, international law, international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians. And we also need to be part of the conversation that is occurring, whether Peter likes it or not, about what is the pathway to peace. That's a responsible thing to do.

JAYES: You accused Peter Dutton of playing domestic politics here. There has been an assertion this week, the idea that you floated this and made these comments in this speech for a domestic audience sympathetic to Palestine. Is there any truth to that?

FOREIGN MINISTER: This is a principal position, but I did say something for the domestic audience, and those are the comments in the speech about social cohesion. Where I made very clear and strong comments about my concern, as to what we're seeing now. We are seeing Australians unable to listen to each other, unable to treat each other with respect, delegitimising each other, diminishing each other. We see rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. And what I said was, we are a pluralist democracy and we need to protect what matters to us. And that includes being able to disagree respectfully. So, I did make very clear comments about, which were aimed at domestic politics, and they're aimed at social cohesion and trying to frankly remind both Mr Dutton and the Greens, both of whom immediately turned to domestic politics on this. There are consequences to our social fabric if you use the distress that people are feeling in order to gain political advantage, its not the right thing to do.

JAYES: When you talk about social cohesion. In retrospect, perhaps your speech did the opposite of that. And what is the, I mean, you've seen the reaction from Jewish groups in particular. How do you explain that?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Oh, well, look, I'm very, I'm very happy to engage with Jewish community and political leaders about what I said and the way forward. I think that it's regrettable that some of the ways in which people have understood what I said have been exaggerated by Mr Dutton. And I think we surely in this country can have a discussion about how we contribute to or how we think about this pathway to peace. That is a discussion that is already occurring internationally without people being described as Hamas sympathisers or betrayers. I mean, this is, we really need to try and talk to each other in ways which are respectful. And that's certainly how I will try and deal with this issue. And it's how I've seen, I think this is the way in which this is being discussed in the community at times is as distressed and angry as I have ever seen a political issue. And it's up to politicians, including me, but including Mr Dutton, not to inflame that distress and anger, but to try and work through the issues without inflaming them.

JAYES: Has Israel responded to your request to have Mark Binskin investigate the strikes against aid workers yet?

FOREIGN MINISTER: First be clear, I haven't asked him to investigate. I've asked him to advise me on the Israeli investigation. I think that's an important distinction, because what we want is that advice from him. And we want the transparency, and I think Australians want confidence in what the findings are and full confidence in any accountability which is determined. We're engaging positively with Israel. We will continue to do that on this issue.

JAYES: What does that mean? Have you requested anything of them? Have they directly responded to any requests you've made in this space?

FOREIGN MINISTER: No. We are at a diplomatic level. I have obviously said publicly, as has the Deputy Prime Minister, that we want to appoint a Special Adviser and we are engaging diplomatically to enable that to occur.

JAYES: So, without Israel's cooperation here, what level of cooperation is required for Mark Binskin to be able actually to do his job here?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, what we want is full transparency in relation to Israel's investigation and actions. I mean, if the logic is, Australians do want to have confidence in this process. Zomi Frankcom's family want to have confidence in this process. And that is why we have asked the former Chief of the Defence Force, who is a very impressive person, a very principled man, to assist us in this.

JAYES: Ok, let me ask you about Julian Assange, because there was some positive tones out of the US President this week. Has Australia, first of all, formally requested the US drop charges against Julian Assange? And when you look at the comments of Joe Biden, saying, we're considering it this week, can you give us any more information on exactly what they are considering?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I think it's probably best if I answer at the highest level, Laura, which probably won't satisfy you, but I think that's the responsible thing to do. We have consistently said both publicly and reflected that in our private engagements at prominent leader level, Foreign Minister level and others, that we believe nothing is to be gained from Mr Assange's continued incarceration. I have made reference to the fact that, you know, we can't dictate or direct what another country does in terms of its legal system. In part, that is also something that Mr Assange's legal team needs to deal with. But we would, we have been encouraging this matter that, encouraging publicly and privately that this matter be resolved.

JAYES: So, were you as surprised or pleasantly surprised as us when we saw Joe Biden utter those two or a couple of words, we are considering it three words, we are considering it four words. Or are we jumping at shadows there? It's been a long week.

FOREIGN MINISTER: It has indeed. I thought that is, I thought it was an encouraging thing to hear. And we hope that there will be positive consideration to whatever positive momentum behind whatever discussions which occur. I would again make the point that ultimately, this is something, these are matters that Mr Assange and his legal team have to be engaged in.

JAYES: Ok. We shall read between the lines there. Penny Wong, always appreciate your time. Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Good to speak with you.


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