Tuesday, 17 October 2023
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Wong. Following the abhorrent attacks by Hamas on Israel, can the minister update the Senate on the Albanese government's efforts to help Australians seeking to leave Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories?
Thank you, Senator Smith, for your question. Thank you for your ongoing interest, alongside your colleagues, in our efforts to help Australians seeking to leave Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Overnight, Australia airlifted some 194 people from Tel Aviv to Dubai. These included 75 Australians, their families, and citizens from partner countries. As we speak, I'm very pleased that 222 Australians are on their way home from Dubai on an Australian government assisted departure flight. An assisted departure flight is also due to leave London for Sydney tonight. We have also secured seats for Australians on commercial flights and flights organised by partner countries. More than 1,400 Australians previously registered with DFAT have now left Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including more than 500 Australians and their families, on six assisted departure flights from Tel Aviv. I thank all those who have helped in these efforts.
We have for some time been encouraging Australians who want to leave to take the first option available to them. I will be clear: we have seen a lot of spare seats on flights for two days in a row, and we have people who have indicated they wish to fly who did not seek to fly. At this stage, we have no further flights from Tel Aviv scheduled, but we will continue to assess need. I want to be clear: my department is communicating directly with registered Australians, and we will notify with any updates.
I can also advise the Senate that Minister Watt has given approval for the National Emergency Management Agency to activate the AUSRECEPLAN. This will include coordination between federal, state and territory governments to support the reception of people arriving in Australia through assisted departures, helping connect people with homes and families, and providing community support and government support where required. (Time expired)
I think we all know that there is a very dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, and the situation for Australians in Gaza and their families at home is deeply distressing. DFAT is now in direct contact with 45 Australians who are seeking to leave Gaza and is keeping them updated. I want to assure everyone that, through my own engagement and the engagement of officials, including in the region, we are doing all we can to support the work of the United States, Egypt and others to make the Rafah border crossing open for humanitarian purposes, including the passage of civilians. Regrettably, efforts to secure passage have not yet been successful, despite many attempts. We are already planning accommodation and onward travel for Australians in Gaza if safe passage through the Rafah crossing is secured. I welcome Secretary Blinken's update this morning. (Time expired)
Thank you, Senator Smith. I may just update the Senate first on Secretary Blinken's statement this morning that the US and Israel are developing a plan to enable humanitarian aid to reach civilians in Gaza, including the possibility of creating areas to help keep civilians out of harm's way. We support these efforts.
As Senator Smith indicated, we have seen the Pacific family working together in this crisis. Prime Minister Rabuka and I met today, as he is here on this guest of government visit. I thanked him personally for Fiji flying 13 Australians from Israel earlier this week. I indicate to the Senate that the Australian government has now flown 96 people from Pacific island nations on assisted departure flights from Tel Aviv overnight. This brings the total number to 135 citizens from Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Samoa. This is what family can do together.