House debates

Tuesday, 17 October 2023



6:16 pm

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

I rise on this motion to suspend standing orders to discuss and pause in relation to the current events occurring in Israel and the attack by Hamas. I'm deeply saddened by the shocking and tragic loss of civilian lives in the recent Hamas attacks on Israel. I unequivocally condemn the atrocities perpetrated by the terrorist group Hamas on innocent civilians—young people enjoying freedom at a music festival. The accounts are horrific. My thoughts are with those killed and injured, those taken hostage and all affected by the ongoing hostilities. These are horrific events. It's a devastating setback for both the Israeli and the Palestinian people, and I urge the protection of all civilian lives and the de-escalation of the conflict. I strongly support the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians for statehood and the two-state solution, but Hamas is an acknowledged terrorist organisation, and those attacks were terrorist attacks.

This is a very distressing time for many Australians, especially those in the region and their friends and families here. I want to acknowledge and thank those constituents in Warringah who have contacted me with their concerns for both the Israeli and the Palestinian people caught up in horrific conflict. It's heartening to see the outpouring of concern for the many affected by this conflict. I thank the Jewish community who invited me last week to attend a ceremony to acknowledge and give solidarity to their community in their time of need. They were distressed by the antisemitic messaging that had been written in public places and that had been chanted by some during the protests in Sydney. It's important that they feel supported and able to go about their lives in our free, democratic country. There is no place in Australia for that kind of conduct.

To help protect the innocent lives at stake, particularly as the news unfolds, I encourage the government to advocate a safe corridor to ensure civilians can get out of harm's way. Acknowledging Israel's legitimate right to defend itself against Hamas, it is also critical that the international rules of law be observed. I strongly denounce the senseless killing and hostage-taking perpetrated by Hamas, and I call for the release of those hostages.

I also am concerned about the innocent Palestinian lives in Gaza. Innocent lives of men and women and children must never be used as shields in a war zone. It's a horror of terrorism and war that means that all too often it is innocent civilians who pay the price. I know that there are genuine concerns at this time from Australia and other countries that this conflict could escalate with other regional powers seeking to use the conflict to their own end. Calmer heads at the diplomatic and military levels must prevail to ensure this does not happen.

I supported the government's motion in the chamber yesterday as I felt it struck the right balance in what is a very complicated conflict with deep historical roots. Many are hurting from the ongoing news of these events and now, more than ever, it's important for Australia, as a multicultural society, to show love and respect for our diverse and peaceful nation. Antisemitism and Islamophobia have no place in our country, and I strongly condemn any who display such conduct. No Australian should ever feel fear to go about their lives, to go to school, to go into public places in the event that they might face such conduct. I know many in the Jewish community felt that way as a result of the chants and some of the antisemitic rhetoric that came from the protests in Sydney. That is wrong. At the same time, we have to acknowledge the Palestinian community within Australia are also hurting and worried about their relatives. And so that is where innocent civilians are too often caught up in the war zones and acts of terrorism.

I have been dismayed by the tone of some in parliament this week, and in the chamber yesterday in the context of this motion, using words and phrasing, turning up the volume on fear and division for what I consider base political objectives in a confected contest. We cannot let that be the record. We are a nation, and as leaders in this place we have a responsibility to ensure, as representatives of the Australian people, we moderate our language. The challenge for political leaders is to moderate language, to not whip up further civil unrest that leads to more instability and ultimately innocents being caught in the crossfire.

We must not repeat the vilification lest it encourage others to do so openly, and so I call on members in this place not to put on the record phrases and vilification as that then officially enables it because it has been put on the record. Mike Burgess, the head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, is clear: moderating your language is the right thing to do right now. All parties must consider the implications for social cohesion when making public statements. Let us stand united, spreading love, understanding and hope during these challenging times.

I applaud the government's initial response to provide an initial $10 million in humanitarian assistance through trusted partners for civilians affected by the conflict in Gaza. I also echo the support of the Australian government for the work the United States, Egypt and others are doing to open the Rafah crossing for humanitarian purposes. I understand that more than 1,400 previously registered Australians have now left Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. I understand DFAT is in contact with a further number of registered Australians in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. I note that the Australian government flew a significant number of people from Tel Aviv to Dubai overnight, including some 75 Australians and 96 people from Pacific nations and citizens of partner countries. I thank the government. I urge the government to maintain those efforts and ensure those pathways remain open. I know that six assisted departure flights from Tel Aviv to London and to Dubai, including the three RAF flights, have now operated to repatriate people out of Israel, with further government assistance being provided to assist Australians with onward travel.

Obviously the situation in Gaza is extremely challenging. The government has advised that DFAT is in direct contact with Australian families seeking to leave Gaza and Israel to provide updated advice on options to leave. We support the work of the US, Egypt and others to open the Rafah crossing. It's incredibly important that Australians with families in Israel or Gaza or territories that want to leave and need assistance with departure should register with DFAT or call the 24-hour consular emergency centre.

The government has noted that there have been a lot of spare seats on flights for two days in a row. I can understand that in the flexibility and uncertainty of the situation, but I urge those seeking to leave to take this opportunity. The situation remains fluid and challenging and so you don't know when that window of opportunity may close. Take the opportunity whilst it is there in a safe and secure way. It is really important.

Finally, I would like to thank again everyone who has written to me from Warringah expressing their deep concern in relation to the Israeli people and Palestinians caught in the conflict in Gaza. I echo their concerns. It's at these times that we must come together as a peaceful nation to provide other solutions to resolve these conflicts that do not involve such innocent lives being caught in the middle. But at all times terrorism activity must be called out, and the actions of Hamas are simply inexcusable.


No comments