Television Interview with Natalie Barr – Sunrise – Friday 20 October 2023


SUBJECTS: Travel warning to Lebanon; Israel-Hamas conflict

NATALIE BARR: Well, travel advice for Lebanon has been dramatically upgraded to “Do Not Travel”. The government’s Smart Traveller Service is warning Australians to avoid visiting the country due to the volatile security situation brought on by the neighbouring Israel-Hamas war and the risk of it deteriorating further. Authorities are particularly worried about intensifying civil unrest and increasing attacks on Israel’s northern border by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Let’s bring in Education Minister Jason Clare and Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley. Good morning to both of you.

Jason, there are more than 90,000 Lebanese born people in Australia, particularly in western Sydney and northern Melbourne. We just talked to the Lebanese Muslim Association. They told us the first they heard of this travel warning was when Channel Seven called them yesterday. Should we be doing a bit better than that? I know it’s a difficult situation.

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: I thank you for broadcasting this message as well, Nat. It’s important to get this message out to all Australians as quickly as possible. Obviously, what’s happening in the Middle East is changing minute by minute and hour by hour. The short message here is, if you’re thinking of travelling to Lebanon, don’t. And if you’re an Australian in Lebanon now, then make arrangements to get the first available commercial flight home. Because we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow or the next day. But Lebanon shares a border with Israel and as this conflict continues, and the risk of things getting worse, not better, that Australians thinking about travelling to Lebanon shouldn’t, and Australians in Lebanon should, if they want to come home, make arrangements as soon as possible.

BARR: Sussan, this affects a lot of Australians, at least 15,000 Lebanese people living in Lebanon, tourists, people who have family in Australia. What are you thinking about the government’s handling of this situation?

SUSSAN LEY: Yes, it does affect so many of our Lebanese Australians, and I know they’ll be really worried right now, Nat. And as those family reunion scenes showed, this is always a very human issue, but travellers must check the website Smart Traveller, listen to the warnings and heed them. And I know the US has issued similar warnings to its citizens in that part of the world. So, obviously we’ll stay close to the government on this and we appreciate their briefings and I’m sure we’ll hear more of them.

BARR: Okay, moving on, Labor Ministers Ed Husic and Anne Aly have broken ranks to slam Australia’s response to the Israel-Hamas conflict, saying we have failed to properly consider the plight of the Palestinians. The pair say Israel is subjecting civilians in Gaza to collective punishment, accusing the Jewish state of committing war crimes. Sussan, you have said this raises serious questions about our government’s official stance on the conflict. What should the PM do here?

LEY: There’s a real problem here, Nat, and it goes to the cabinet of this government and a key cabinet minister who is speaking against the government position. I think we should ask Jason on this program whether he thinks that Israel is collectively punishing Hamas and whether he also thinks, as his cabinet colleague does, that that is or should be the official government position. Because you don’t get to freelance on government policy, on foreign policy, when you’re a cabinet minister. It’s a position that you share with your colleagues and with the government.

Now, the Prime Minister’s got a real problem here. He’s going to Washington. He may well be asked who’s running foreign policy in Australia? Is it Penny Wong? Is it Ed Husic? What’s actually going on? Because this is a minister who has stepped right out of line and he’s got a chance today to correct those remarks. Otherwise, I think he should seriously consider his position.

BARR: Jason, what’s your response? The view here is that the 2.3 million Palestinians are being collectively blamed for the crimes of terrorists here. They are in the middle and they are innocent.

CLARE: Nat, everyone condemns the actions of Hamas, the slaughter of innocent people in Israel which has caused this war. I think it’s important to point out that Hamas is not Palestine. Hamas is a terrorist political organisation. There are millions of Palestinians in Gaza now and there’s a real risk that they’ll get caught in the crossfire here. The point to make here is that Israel, like any country, like Australia, has got to comply with international law and that means doing everything that they can to make sure that innocent people aren’t killed here.

I’ve spent pretty much all of this week talking to Jewish Australians and Muslim Australians. We’re three Anglo Australians. I’ve got to tell you, this war for Jewish Australians and Muslim Australians is different. Those dead bodies on both sides of the border, they have names. And a lot of Australians of Jewish background and Muslim background know those names. That’s why they’re afraid. That’s why they’re frightened. That’s why they’re asking for a bit of compassion here. And what’s happening on the other side of the world has an impact here in Australia. We’ve got to make sure that we keep our country together. It’s why we’ve announced over the last 48 hours more than $100 million to invest in keeping our schools safe, our synagogues safe, our mosques safe, as well as investing in the mental health, particularly of our kids. But our whole community here, we can’t let what’s happening on the other side of the world tear us apart here in Australia.

LEY: And much of that I agree with, Jason, especially around humanitarian assistance and not wanting to see lives lost. But you haven’t answered the question. Do you agree with Ed Husic about the term collective punishment being used?

CLARE: Sussan, this is too important to play politics with…

LEY: It’s not political…

CLARE: If I wanted to play politics, I could pull out the statements…

LEY: Your Prime Minister is making the right statements…

CLARE: I didn’t interrupt you.

LEY: And your Premier is making the right statements…

CLARE: Susan, if I wanted to, I could pull out the statements that you made when you were the chair of the Friends of Palestine that are in stark contrast with Peter Dutton. I’m not going to do that on live TV because I don’t think it is in the national interest. We’ve got to work together here as Labor and Liberal to keep the country together at this moment.

LEY: Your Prime Minister is leading and your Premier is leading, but not your cabinet minister.

BARR: I think we’ve both had our say. Thank you very much. See you next week.