Senator James Paterson – Estimates questions regarding Home Affairs’ response to Hamas’ attack

photo of Senator James Paterson
October 23, 2023

I’d like to ask about the department’s and the minister’s involvement in the terrorist attacks in Israel and the response to them. Firstly, how and when was the minister first notified about the Hamas attacks on Israel?

Senator PATERSON: I’d like to ask about the department’s and the minister’s involvement in the terrorist attacks in Israel and the response to them. Firstly, how and when was the minister first notified about the Hamas attacks on Israel?

Ms Foster: Did you say how and when was minister first notified?

Senator PATERSON: Yes.

Ms Foster: I think we all heard about the attacks through the media, but I can’t say for certain when the minister first heard.

Senator PATERSON: Can you take it on notice?

Ms Foster: Certainly.

Senator PATERSON: When did the department first provide any advice to the minister in relation to the attacks?

Ms Foster: Both Mr Burgess and I were in contact with the minister over the Sunday following the attacks, and then there were discussions progressively over the coming days. In terms of a formal brief, I would have to check that.

Senator PATERSON: That’d be good, and I’d also be grateful if, on notice, you can advise whether the minister requested advice on any specific matters or whether the department and, in this case, ASIO, provided advice about specific matters in response to the attacks. What actions, if any, did the department take in response to the attacks?

Ms Foster: As is usually the case in these circumstances, our very first actions were in relation to our own staff. We have, I think, three locally engaged staff in Israel, and we had a number of staff travelling in the region. Our first action was to ensure their safety and, in one case, to work with one of our staff who was travelling through the region, to get her back to one of our regional posts. The second wave of response is typically, and was in this case, to support the broader DFAT led response for the safety of Australians; that involved a number of players across the portfolio. The third was to look at how the department could support the government’s response to supporting social cohesion in Australia as the impacts of the attacks played out. I’ve made that sound sequential; it wasn’t. On the Sunday afternoon, we were activating our community liaison officer network to ensure they were starting up that work with community. Those are the three broad activities.

Senator PATERSON: Were there any specific recommendations to the minister in that early stage?

Ms Foster: I won’t speak for ASIO; Mr Burgess is up later today. As we were working through the options to promote social cohesion, we were providing advice on what actions would have the most impact or our analysis was telling us would have the most impact.

Senator PATERSON: Did the minister accept those recommendations and act on them?

Ms Foster: They formed the basis of the press release that came out last week, with the response to that. It’s most accurate to characterise it as an ongoing dialogue and iterative process because this is not a circumstance in which any one player or source of information is going to have the answers. We were providing input, ministers and others were getting input from other sources and that came together in the package that was finally announced.

Senator PATERSON: When did the minister first make a public statement about the attacks?

Mr Smyth : Can we just check with the office on that. We can come back to you later. I don’t have the specific times when the minister made public statements or media comments in relation to that. We’ll check and come back to you.

Ms Foster: For completeness, I should say that the other action we took, under Mr Smyth’s leadership, was to convene the National Coordination Mechanism and the ANZCTC. We also stood up an internal task force, which Mr Smyth is leading, to make sure we were integrating not only all the players within the department who would contribute to the overall effort but also colleagues in AFP and ASIO.

Senator PATERSON: I’d like to move to a related topic, Chair. I’m just conscious of time.

CHAIR: I do need to hand over the call. You’ll need another block, I’m guessing.

Senator PATERSON: Yes, several more.

CHAIR: I’ll hand the call to Senator Polley, who has some questions, and we’ll see how we go.

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