Tuesday, 17 October 2023
I start today by acknowledging and mourning those whose lives have been lost as part of the ongoing crisis in Gaza and Israel. We have already witnessed a devastating loss of life and the suffering of civilians on all sides. My heart hurts for the children fleeing their homes, their future and hopes ripped away from them in both Gaza and Israel. It deeply saddens and terrifies me that the humanitarian and security situation in Gaza is rapidly deteriorating. We are all watching and waiting with fear-filled hearts: what will happen next?
Already so many have suffered horrible losses from horrible acts. Enough must be enough. Millions of people in Gaza are now left in limbo, caught between the fighting, with limited access to food, water, power and medical care. Hamas is holding hostages. All of this is against the rule of law when it comes to conflict. Australia's consistent position has been to call for the observation of humanitarian law and the protection of civilian lives.
About half of Gaza's population is under the age of 18. Think about that. Half of the population are children. This is the reality of war and conflict—innocents dying, lives ruined and communities torn apart. The unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in front of our eyes is pushing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East to the verge of collapse. That agency has called for a suspension of hostilities to take place without any delay if we want to prevent the loss of more lives.
We cannot predict with certainty what will happen next, but I am deeply concerned for the people in Gaza. I join with others in calling for Israel to operate by the rules of international law. It's always the right thing for Australia to urge restraint and for the protection of civilian lives, and to criticise that call is just wrong. Thankfully, we, the Australian government, have announced an initial $10 million in humanitarian assistance for much-needed essential supplies and support services, but that will mean little if unfettered revenge is unleashed on a civilian population already starved and isolated.
Constituents in my electorate of Cooper hold refugees and asylum seekers close to their hearts. We are a vibrant and multicultural community, including being home to one of the largest mosques in Melbourne, to thousands of Christians and to a small but caring and concerned Jewish community. We live in harmony, and all of us want that to continue. Many of them have been in touch with me, asking me to add my voice to the calls for restraint and expressing their commitment to living peacefully as neighbours here in Australia. They've been brought to tears by what they see and hear, and they all want the violence to stop.
The actions of Hamas were evil. Their abhorrent acts on innocent people must be condemned in the strongest of terms. As the Prime Minister said:
It was an act of terror—calculated, pitiless, brutality—compounded by a rain of rockets designed to kill and to terrify without mercy …
My thoughts and those of my community are with those who lost loved ones and who are now experiencing the tragedy of these acts—abhorrent acts that have advanced nothing in the name of resolution for Palestinian people who have long suffered. As my good ministerial colleague the member for Watson said yesterday:
There are legitimate aspirations for the Palestinian people. It's legitimate to want to live freely: free of occupation, free of endless checkpoints, free of a legal system which differs in the different ways that military courts do. All of that is further away now …
But the answer to the senseless killings of Hamas cannot be the collective punishment of the Palestinian people. The safety of civilians in Gaza must now be prioritised. The Australian government's guiding principle has always been the pursuit of a just and enduring peace, a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live within secure borders. For Australians trapped in the conflict, the government is communicating directly with citizens and their families. The government has now enabled six assisted department flights from Tel Aviv to London and Dubai, and we look forward to welcoming them all home safely. We acknowledge that Australians are in Gaza right now, trying to flee for their lives.
Amidst this conflict, we must also reflect on our own role when discussing this issue. As the Director-General of ASIO has reminded us, we need to safeguard social cohesion back home. We need to safeguard that harmony that I'm so lucky to have in my electorate of Cooper. We have to resist hate speech and acts. I welcome the motion moved by the Prime Minister and supported by the majority of the House, but, disappointingly, not all of the House. This moment cannot be about political pointscoring by anyone. As a government and parliament, we must constructively work together in a unified way to find meaningful solutions for peace and security at home and abroad and to give a unified message to our communities that we are fighting for harmony. We can't do anything and we can't be divided in a way that will incite any actions of hate and the targeting of individuals, of colleagues of ours here in this House, of friends of mine. This is unacceptable. Most importantly, we must use this opportunity to remember those who have lost their lives, and we have to work together to secure peace so the violence ends.