I will seek further advice, but my recollection is that a call was requested after the attack. My recollection is that, when I last spoke to the Prime Minister’s office about this, the call had not yet been scheduled. Obviously, there has been a lot of engagement with the Israeli government, in particular via the ambassador.
Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:12): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Wong. Has the Prime Minister spoken with the Prime Minister of Israel since the horrific attacks by Hamas on 7 October? If not, has the Prime Minister sought to schedule a call with Mr Netanyahu, and has one been scheduled?
Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:12): I will seek further advice, but my recollection is that a call was requested after the attack. My recollection is that, when I last spoke to the Prime Minister’s office about this, the call had not yet been scheduled. Obviously, there has been a lot of engagement with the Israeli government, in particular via the ambassador.
I would make this point, and I would encourage all in this place to heed the words of Mr Burgess about the importance of handling issues sensitively, particularly at this time and particularly given the events overnight. We know, as I said when this motion was being debated, this is an issue about which some in Australia’s community feel very deeply. We know that there are strongly held different views in our community. We know it is important that all Australians, regardless of their views on this issue, do feel that they are not being excluded and that their perspective and their experience are something that those in leadership positions, those in this parliament, are aware of. I would continue to urge there to be a mature, measured, bipartisan approach to these issues, given the sensitivity of these matters within the Australian community.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Birmingham, first supplementary?
Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:14): In February, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet confirmed that the only communication with Prime Minister Albanese and the Prime Minister of Israel, Mr Netanyahu, was a phone call on 4 August 2022 and a letter on 5 January this year. Since then, has the Prime Minister, Prime Minister Albanese, had any further contact with Israel’s Prime Minister, and, if so, what has been the nature of those points of contacts?
Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:15): I can advise in relation to the primary question. I can confirm a call was sought on Sunday formally, which was obviously very soon after the attack. We are yet to receive a confirmed time for a call from the Israeli government, which is perfectly understandable given the circumstances Israel is facing.
I would say to you, Senator, that obviously the Prime Minister has, as have I, engaged with members of the Jewish community and the ambassador of Israel. I know the Prime Minister has engaged with the ambassador personally. I would also indicate, as I did earlier in the week, that, consistent with our view that escalation or spillover of this conflict is neither in Israel’s interest nor in civilians’ interests across this region, we have reached out to governments of the region to express that view.
The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Minister. Senator Birmingham, second supplementary?
Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:16): Leaders from the United States, the European Union and Germany have visited or are visiting Israel to demonstrate their country’s strong support for the Israeli people, to send a strong message regarding the savage attacks perpetrated by Hamas and to seek to ensure the conflict does not further widen. Leaders of the UK and France are also expected to visit in coming days, and even President Zelenskyy of Ukraine is seeking to visit. Will Prime Minister Albanese follow the lead of Australia’s allies and visit Israel?
Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:16): I would make the point, in terms of that list, that obviously, with the relevant members of the P5 and others who have more direct engagement with the region, we would want to support very much their engagement and their work, for the reasons I outlined. Our focus here is on what it is we can do from afar. Well, we’ve had a number of focuses, obviously—bringing home those Australians who needed assistance to come home. We have done that, and I do thank all those who were involved in doing so. I thank Senator O’Neill, who was there when people arrived because I wasn’t able to attend. Thank you for that work.
The second focus has been to try and do what we can to prevent this conflict escalating. (Time expired)