THE HON MARK DREYFUS KC MP
ACTING FOREIGN MINISTER
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
THURSDAY, 28 DECEMBER 2023
SUBJECTS: Australians killed in Lebanon, TikTok.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: Overnight the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed the death of two Australian citizens in an airstrike in southern Lebanon. The Australian Embassy in Beirut stands ready to provide consular assistance to the family if required. We are aware of the announcement made by Hizballah claiming links to one of the Australians killed. We are seeking to establish the facts. However, Hizballah is a listed terrorist organisation under Australian law. There is daily military activity in southern Lebanon, including rocket and missile fire, as well as airstrikes. For Australians in Lebanon we urge you to leave while commercial options remain available. In the context of the current conflict, Australia has consistently called for civilian lives to be protected and we have consistently raised our concerns about the risk of this conflict spreading. It is why we have been working with countries who have influenced in the region to prevent further escalation and that is why we have been advising Australians not to travel to Lebanon.
JOURNALIST: Is the Australian Government aware of this person's links to Hizballah?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We are continuing to make inquiries, but I'd repeat. Hizballah is a listed terrorist organisation under Australian law. It's an offence any Australian to cooperate with, to support, let alone to fight with, a listed terrorist organization like Hizballah.
JOURNALIST: Is the Australian Government aware of this man, or any other Australian citizen being linked with Hizballah?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We will continue to make inquiries about this particular person with whom Hizballah has claimed links. Of course, there are examples in the past of Australians having had links with Hizballah. One of the reasons why the Australian Government has listed Hizballah, in both its arms, as a terrorist organisation, is because of the potential links to Australia and Australians.
JOURNALIST: Were they dual citizens or did they only have Australian passports?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We're continuing to make enquiries. Both of the Australians who've been killed are Australian citizens.
JOURNALIST: What's the purpose of your ... what are you enquiring about?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's important that the Australian Government be as informed as possible when this sort of event happens.
JOURNALIST: Has the Government been able to confirm that they were killed by an Israeli air strike?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: As we understand it, that is correct.
JOURNALIST: Do you think Israel should have been more careful in its airstrikes?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: What we have in the region at present, and what we have in southern Lebanon and in northern Israel, is continuing conflict. That's the reason why the Australian Government urges any Australians who are presently in Lebanon to leave while commercial options are available.
JOURNALIST: Has the government made any representations to Israel in relation to this?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We've communicated with the Israeli Government obviously. I'm not going to disclose those communications.
JOURNALIST: What are the consequences for Australians who are found to have been fighting?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Any Australian fighting with Hizballah is committing a very serious terrorist offence under the Criminal Code. There are very heavy penalties attaching to committing that kind of offence. And I'd repeat, because Hizballah is a listed terrorist organisation it's an offence for any Australian to provide financial assistance to that terrorist organisation, to fight with that terrorist organisation, or to be associated with it.
JOURNALIST: If the people in question are dual citizens, is it possible for them to lose their Australian citizenship?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Our government dealt with the, regrettably, unconstitutional laws that were passed by the former government providing for the stripping of citizenship in certain circumstances. Just before the Parliament rose this year we put in place what we believe to be a constitutional law that provides for the stripping of Australian citizenship from someone who has been convicted of, among other things, a serious terrorist offence. That stripping of citizenship constitutionally is required to be by a court and it will be something that will potentially arise in the future, on the sentencing of someone for a serious terrorist offence.
JOURNALIST: Has the government been made aware of any other Australians trying to travel to Lebanon to fight with Hizballah?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'm personally not aware of any such reports.
JOURNALIST: What's your message to anyone who would be thinking about doing that?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Don't. It's very important that Australians not travel to Lebanon. The reason why the Australian Government has listed the whole of this organisation Hizballah, a number of other terrorist organisations, as terrorist organisations, is to provide a deterrent to Australians from giving their assistance to, or joining with, let alone fighting with, terrorist organisations.
JOURNALIST: To clarify, at this stage, has the Australian Government confirmed that he was a fighter for Hizballah?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: What I've said in my opening statement is that Hizballah has claimed this Australian as one of its fighters. Now, our enquiries are continuing.
JOURNALIST: And I also just clarify that the two that were killed, were they both brothers? And as I understand it there was a woman killed as well.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: There are two Australians who have been killed. And a third person has also been killed. Our enquiries are continuing.
JOURNALIST: The families here in Australia say they're very angry and devastated by the news of the deaths. They've asked for a government response to the killing of an Australian citizen by Israeli warplanes. Is there any kind of government response?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I've given a very, very clear response on behalf of the Australian Government, which is to make the point that there has been a travel warning not to travel to Lebanon in place now since mid-October. It remains in place. Australian should not travel to Lebanon. Australians in particular should avoid conflict zones. Southern Lebanon is a conflict zone and the Australian Government urges any Australians who are still in Lebanon to leave while commercial options are available.
JOURNALIST: On another matter, has TikTok breached Australia's privacy laws by harvesting data from websites without seeking their consent?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The Australian Government is very concerned to protect the privacy of Australians and the privacy of Australian children. We are very pleased that the Privacy Commissioner, who is the Australian official charged under the Privacy Act with investigating privacy breaches, has commenced an investigation. I'd make the point that we've shown how seriously we take breaches of Australian privacy by last year legislating to increase the penalties, massively increase the penalties for breaches of privacy by corporations. And we've also, at the same time, legislated to give additional powers to the Privacy Commissioner. I expect that the Privacy Commissioner will be using those additional powers in this investigation.
JOURNALIST: And what would your message be to TikTok?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: To cooperate with the Privacy Commissioner in their investigation. That's something that all Australian companies should do and particularly TikTok, with serious allegations of this nature being raised, that we expect TikTok will be cooperating fully with the Privacy Commissioner.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: After a decade of inaction under the former government, where Australians were left unprotected and ill-prepared for the technological changes that pose a threat to the privacy of Australians, we've acted. We've acted to increase the penalties in legislation last year. We've acted to give additional powers to the Privacy Commissioner and I have published the Government's response to the largest review of the Privacy Act in many, many years. I'm working now on legislation to to bring appropriate reforms to the Privacy Act to the Parliament in 2024.
JOURNALIST: Will the right to erasure and other reforms be a part of that legislation?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We have published a very, very extensive review of the Privacy Act conducted by my department over the last number of years. These sorts of reforms are all under active consideration. We've got very extensive reforms that are needed to give effect to the kinds of protections that are needed against the technological changes that we're all now having to confront.
JOURNALIST: Just one more on the brothers who died. Noting that one of them there is no suggestion he was a Hizballah fighter, will you be expressing condolences to the family?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Of course I express my condolences to the family of the man who has travelled to Lebanon. I say again, as I said in my opening statement, that the full assistance of Australian consular officials in Beirut are available to the family.