Senator David Van – Estimates questions regarding treatment of Embassy staff in Israel and Ukraine

Photo of Senator David Van
October 26, 2023

Given that Israel’s now at war and missiles are reaching Tel Aviv, would you not apply the same rules that you’ve applied to the embassy in Ukraine, in Kyiv, to Israel?

Senator VAN: Thank you, Ms Chan. That is all I have on that topic. Ms Adams, have you withdrawn the ambassador in the embassy from Tel Aviv now that Israel’s at war?

Ms Adams : The ambassador and staff remain in Tel Aviv. We have offered voluntary departure for dependants, and many of those have taken up the option to leave.

Senator VAN: Given that Israel’s now at war and missiles are reaching Tel Aviv, would you not apply the same rules that you’ve applied to the embassy in Ukraine, in Kyiv, to Israel?

Ms Adams : I am actually paying very close attention to the staff security in Tel Aviv. They have been operating under security challenges for some time. We have made careful assessments. Our assessment at the moment is that we can have the staff there, but dependant families have, in large part, left.

Senator VAN: However, our ambassador to Ukraine remains in Warsaw. Is that correct?

Ms Adams : He is operating out of Warsaw. He has made one short-term visit to Kyiv but is continuing to operate out of Warsaw. That’s correct.

Senator VAN: It seems to me that you are holding a double standard in how you are managing two very similar situations.

Ms Adams : I don’t think they are similar situations both in terms of the external security environment but also in terms of the security measures and protections we have in place in each of the locations.

Senator VAN: Why wouldn’t you upgrade the protections in Kyiv?

Ms Adams : Some of the security arrangements that we provide for various missions around the world can be very, very expensive. Some things you simply can’t mitigate against. There are a lot of factors that go into these security assessments. My predecessor having taken the decision to withdraw, it’s quite a threshold for me to decide to return.

Senator VAN: Why is that? What are the differences? During the last estimates, we heard testimony in the public works committee hearing about how they were spending about $40 million on hardening the embassy in Nigeria.

Ms Adams : Yes. That’s right. Security is expensive.

Senator VAN: Given the importance of having an ambassador in Kyiv, why would you not authorise the hardening of the embassy or creating a safe environment in Kyiv for our ambassador and his staff?

Ms Adams : We are constantly reviewing what we can do in that regard. I will ask Ms Walsh to add—

Senator VAN: I have been asking these questions now for about 18 months.

Ms Adams : Yes. Unfortunately, the war is still continuing.

Senator VAN: But there is also one now in Israel and you’re not taking any actions there.

Ms Adams : There are clear differences, as I said, both in the external environment—

Senator VAN: What are the differences?

Ms Adams : I am not in Senate estimates going to give my assessment of Israel’s—

Senator VAN: Why not? You are accountable to the Australian people through estimates.

Ms Adams : security compared to Ukraine’s security capacity in Kyiv, but our assessment of our capacity to provide the context that will allow us to meet our occupational workplace health and safety obligations varies in both places.

Senator VAN: How?

Ms Walsh : There are different circumstances, as the secretary has said, in each of our locations. We do very rigorous assessments about our ability to put in place the provisions that we need to make these decisions. To give you an example, you referenced Kyiv and hardening of the embassy there. We are co-located with a different government and another country’s embassy.

Senator VAN: The Canadian embassy is in that building.

Ms Walsh : That’s right. So it changes our ability to do things from, for example, if we had a standalone embassy where we had complete control. It’s not just in terms of in country; it’s also other mechanisms by which we feel we can mitigate those risks. I want to assure you that we take every precaution that we can.

Senator VAN: Thank you.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard