Australian Prime Minister Transcript – Press Conference

Prime Minister

: Have you spoken with Benjamin Netanyahu and has the Government been provided with any answer as to why these aid workers were targeted?

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: I spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning, with a phone call that was organised overnight. I expressed Australia’s anger and concern at the death of Zomi Frankcom. Zomi was an Australian aid worker working for the World Central Kitchen, providing support for people who are suffering from tremendous deprivation in Gaza. This is someone who is volunteering overseas to provide aid through this charity. This is completely unacceptable. The Israeli Government has accepted responsibility for this and Prime Minister Netanyahu conveyed his condolences to the family of Zomi Frankcom and to Australia as a result of this tragedy. When I spoke with the Prime Minister, I emphasised the importance of full accountability and transparency, and Prime Minister Netanyahu has committed to full transparency about how this tragedy could possibly have occurred. There is a need for a thorough investigation into what happened here, and Prime Minister Netanyahu committed to that. I made clear again that it is Australia’s view that humanitarian assistance must reach people in Gaza unimpeded and in large quantities. The Foreign Minister has also spoken to her Israeli counterpart. I conveyed to Prime Minister Netanyahu in very clear terms that Australians were outraged by this death, by this tragedy of this fine Australian. And I indicated to Prime Minister Netanyahu as well, just some of the characteristics that I spoke with Zomi’s brother about yesterday. This is an Australian who we can all be proud of, someone who not only was in Gaza assisting people in need, but had in the past provided support for people in Bangladesh, in Pakistan, here in Australia after the bushfires. This was someone who was clearly committed to benefit her fellow humanity and someone who is, whose loss is very deeply felt by her family, but I think felt by Australians as well.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) Mr Netanyahu if his Government does not change course and if it doesn’t do a satisfactory investigation – in other words, have you flagged with him any actions Australia might take in relation to this or the course of the war more generally?

PRIME MINISTER: I indicated and confirmed what Australia’s position has been over a considerable period of time. I indicated my concern with a ground invasion of Rafah, and the consequences for the civilian population there. I reiterated Australia’s concern at the loss of life that has occurred in Gaza. I reiterated Australia’s condemnation, unequivocally, of the events of October 7 and of Hamas as a terrorist organisation. I indicated very clearly Australia’s view, as I have in every conversation I have had with Prime Minister Netanyahu, our support for a two-state solution in the Middle East – support for Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security with prosperity side by side. And that that was in the interests of both Israelis and Palestinians.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, overnight, Benjamin Netanyahu described this incident involving the aid convoy as something that just happens in war. How do you interpret those sort of comments? Do you think he is trying to avoid some sort of responsibility on the Israeli Defense Force’s behalf by making such a remark?

PRIME MNISTER: Well, Prime Minister Netanyahu did accept responsibility on behalf of the Israeli Defense Force for this tragedy. So, there was no equivocation there. But I think that Australians will look at this and be deeply, deeply concerned that someone going about their work providing aid in an exercise of humanity could lose their life in this way is completely unacceptable. The response of global leaders, I note the response of Prime Minister Sunak in the United Kingdom saying he was appalled by the deaths of British citizens, President Joe Biden has said he is heartbroken by these events, and the US Secretary of State, Secretary Blinken, has called for a swift, thorough and impartial investigation into the attack, consistent with what Australia’s position has been. These people are heroes. They are, as Secretary Blinken said, these are people who are providing support, support for people in need, at risk to themselves, people they don’t know. And that is an extraordinary circumstance which has occurred. Canada’s Foreign Minister has also called for full accountability, as has the United Nations. So, Australia will join with all of those nations, with a consistent demand for full accountability here. And we await that to occur.

JOURNALIST: Is the Government considering expelling Israeli diplomats? Are we considering recalling our Ambassador from Israel? And do you think, given that Israel has basically ignored international criticism and condemnation, an event like this will finally convince the Netanyahu Government to perhaps pull back and change what it’s doing?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I was very clear and firm in expressing Australia’s view to Prime Minister Netanyahu. We continue to have a consistent position that we have called for, which is that whether it be the loss of life of aid workers, but also our strong view expressed through motions in Parliament, expressed through statements that have been issued by myself with the Prime Minister of Canada and the Prime Minister of New Zealand, our strong view as expressed by the Melbourne Declaration by ASEAN leaders, that every innocent life matters. And there has been an extraordinary loss of innocent life, primarily Palestinians in Gaza. All of those lives matter, just as those people murdered by Hamas on October 7, their lives matter as well. We have been very clear as well, as we have said in the joint statements that we have released, that innocent Palestinian civilians cannot be also the victims of Hamas and the aftermath of the October 7 attack that occurred on Israel.

JOURNALIST: Do you want to see charges laid? Is that the kind of accountability you want to see?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we have expressed very clearly that we need a full and proper explanation for how this has occurred. The first step is the acceptance of responsibility. And that has occurred. But we want a very fast, immediate, clear and transparent process to occur.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how was your message received when you laid out Australia’s position on a two-state solution, on a sustainable ceasefire? Was there a sense of acquiesce? Do you feel like your message was being heard?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we can put our message, which we have clearly not for the first time, as we have, to the way that we have voted in the United Nations, as we have through the statements that we’ve issued. But we had a reasonably long conversation this morning. Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his views and I expressed the views of Australia.

JOURNALIST: Some voters might be disappointed that Labor hasn’t initiated a conversation about an Australian Republic. Noting the vice regal appointment today, is it possible that Ms Mostyn might be the last person to serve in the role? Would you like to see that debate come forward?

PRIME MINISTER: Today’s the day for the appointment of Australia’s next Governor-General. I made it very clear that I had one referendum in mind. And that took place last year.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the many civilian deaths in Gaza, you note the deaths of many aid workers. Do you believe that Israel is at risk of losing the power of moral persuasion?

PRIME MINISTER: I think that the global community is very concerned about the death toll that has occurred in Gaza. This latest incident will add to that concern which is there. We saw an extraordinary resolution of the UN Security Council just last week, with the United States not vetoing that proposal. That gives a clear indication of global opinion, not just of leaders as well, but I think people, when they look at what is happening in Gaza, are very clear about the extraordinary loss of life which is there. And I believe that Australians are very concerned about that. Australians don’t want the conflict – any conflict globally – to be played out here. Australians are concerned, as am I as Australia’s Prime Minister, something I have expressed consistently, I’m concerned about social cohesion here in Australia. I’m concerned about any attempt to try to seek some political advantage over that happen in other parts of the world. We have a multicultural nation here in Australia and we have communities – both the Jewish community is feeling traumatised, the Arabic and Islamic communities are feeling traumatised as well. And part of my job as Prime Minister is to support social cohesion. And that is what I intend to do.

JOURNALIST: How is the Australian Government supporting the grieving family? And given the situation over there, is there any opportunity for her body to be returned to Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: Certainly, we’re working through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. When I spoke with Zomi’s brother yesterday, I indicated to him – I gave him my personal, private mobile – I indicated to him that I would be available at any time, at any time to provide whatever assistance my office or the Australian Government could provide to him and his family, noting that members of the family are overseas themselves, and that this is an enormous personal tragedy for them, but this is also a significant loss for our nation. Thanks very much.

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