House debates

Monday, 12 February 2024

Private Members' Business

Middle East

10:36 am

Photo of Max Chandler-MatherMax Chandler-Mather (Griffith, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that since the House of Representatives' resolution of 16 October 2023 concerning Israel and Gaza, which supported the State of Israel's looming invasion of Gaza by stating that the House 'stands with Israel', the following have occurred:

(a) an appalling and increasing toll of deaths and injuries caused by the State of Israel's bombing and invasion of Gaza;

(b) a growing humanitarian catastrophe caused by the State of Israel's blockade, bombing and invasion of Gaza; and

(c) the State of Israel is the subject of recent International Court of Justice orders in South Africa's case regarding the prevention of genocide;

(2) does not support the State of Israel's continued invasion of Gaza, and calls for an immediate and permanent ceasefire; and

(3) calls on the Government to end its support for the State of Israel's invasion of Gaza.

There is a genocide being carried out by the State of Israel against Palestinians in Gaza, and still this Labor government stands with Israel and supports the invasion of Gaza. That is the bottom line. The South African case against Israel laid out in stark, horrific detail the undeniable evidence of genocide in Gaza, and if South Africa was able to find this evidence then we know now without a shadow of a doubt that Labor know as well. They knew last year when the Israeli defence minister said:

I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly.

They knew that the Israeli defence minister then said to solders, 'I have released all the restraints,' and that Gaza would never be the same, or when the Israeli President said that there are no innocent civilians in Gaza. Israel has made its intentions brutally and horrifically clear.

Labor know now that 20,000 Palestinians have been murdered by the Israeli military, including over 10,000 children. What about al-Nasr hospital? I quote from the Washington Post:

It was the height of Israel's assault on northern Gaza last month, and al-Nasr Children's Hospital was a war zone. The day before, airstrikes had cut off the Gaza City facility's oxygen supplies. Israeli tanks had surrounded the hospital complex, and the Israel Defense Forces were calling and texting the doctors, urging them to leave.

But ambulances couldn't … reach al-Nasr to transport the wounded … five premature babies were particularly vulnerable. They needed oxygen, and medication administered at regular intervals. There were no portable respirators or incubators to transport them … Then the IDF delivered an ultimatum … Get out or be bombarded. An Israeli official, meanwhile, provided an assurance that ambulances would be arranged to retrieve the patients.

All five of those babies were found decomposing two weeks later, having died slow, painful deaths. Labour know that more will die from Israel's engineered famine in Gaza than from bombs, yet still they stand with Israel and support the invasion.

But then Labor went one worse and followed the United States in pausing crucial UNRWA aid funding to Palestinians in Gaza. I quote from the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention:

… as of January 2024, 500,000 Gazans were forced into Phase 5 'catastrophic' levels of hunger—imminent risk of mass starvation and death. This represents fully 80% of all people in the world currently at risk of death by hunger. Each malnourished child, starving family, and refugee camp without access to food is a tragedy—collectively, it is a crime, the liability for which rests on those who actively and knowingly prevent access.

These are little Palestinian boys and girls dying slow, painful deaths, growing weaker by the day while their parents, if they haven't been murdered themselves, watch on in horror, unable to do anything to prevent their deaths. International lawyer Francis Boyle say these states 'are now directly violating genocide convention article II(c) by themselves':

Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

I want to be clear: what he is saying is that Australia is breaching the genocide convention.

Now Netanyahu now orders 1.4 million Palestinians who Israel has corralled into a very small area in Gaza to evacuate. But where to? We aren't told, and now we know that the Israeli military is on the verge of turbocharging this genocide in Gaza. God only knows the horrific outrageous crimes against humanity and furthering of the genocide that will occur.

South Africa has proved what moral and political courage look like. South Africa has proved what a middle power can do to prevent genocide. Labor keep saying, 'We're doing all we can,' issuing these weasel words without ever directly doing what is clear they should do in these scenarios and circumstances. Indeed, this is a moral and political test for this government that so far they have catastrophically failed: call for a permanent and immediate ceasefire, ban immediately the sale of military equipment or weapons to the state of Israel, apply sanctions on Israeli ministers and government ministers facilitating the carrying out of genocide, and join and support South Africa's case in the ICJ against Israel and the case of genocide in Gaza. It is so clear that what we need right now are moral clarity and understanding regardless of the actions on 7 October, which were horrific. Nothing that happened 7 October or the terrible death of Israeli civilians can surely justify the mass murdering and genocide of Palestinian civilians. This will not bring about peace; this will create more radicalism, more hate, more death. At the end of this there will be weasel words from this government, who claim they care about peace. What nonsense.

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Stephen BatesStephen Bates (Brisbane, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

10:41 am

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have dreamt of seeing peace between the Israelis and Palestinians my whole life. It is something that has been passed down from generation to generation in my family. I hold deep sympathy towards the Palestinian people. I want to see peace in my lifetime. It is absolutely true to be able to say that, in this country, we can have sympathy and empathy for both people. We have empathy towards the Israelis who were brutally attacked on 7 October and we must have empathy towards the real suffering of innocent Palestinians caught up in this terrible conflict.

The way we talk about it matters. The way we talk about it here in Australia matters. Our language matters. We cannot use this to talk about gaining political points or wedging people. We need to be respectful of each other in Australia, and the debate has disintegrated.

In many things over my political career, I don't find myself that far away from the Greens but, at the moment, I am absolutely in shock about the way in which they have ignored standards within their own party. Jenny Leong, in December last year, said:

The Jewish lobby and the Zionist lobby are infiltrating into every single aspect of what is ethnic community groups. … Their tentacles reach into the areas that try and influence power and I think we need to call that out and expose it.

That is one of the most blatantly racist and bigoted statements by any elected official in Australia. That is a matter for Ms Leong. But the thing that is really hurtful, the thing that really matters, is that not one, not one Greens MPs, state or federal, has called out and publicly rebuked Ms Leong—not one. They all have remained silent in a blatant anti-Semitic statement by one of their colleagues. If that happened in the Labor Party, whether directed at the Jewish community, the Islamic community, any community, it would be unacceptable. Do not take my word for it. At the moment, there are Jewish people who are leaving the Greens. I want to read a quote from a friend, who said, 'We do not advocate for repeal of 18C or the Indigenous voice in ethnic forums to influence power. Jews on the left advocate for what we believe in based on values that speak to us from our ancient holy books which remind us: what is hateful to you, do not do onto others.' That is from a Greens member who has publicly spoken out about how disillusioned they are with the Greens and how a party that is meant to be progressive is allowing this to fester within their own circles.

Let me say this from another Greens member, who, in the last week, has publicly come out and spoken out against the Greens. I'm not going to name this person, because they said it on their own social media, but they said this: 'I am disgusted, saddened and hurt that the party purporting to be the party of antiracism, in which I've tried to find a place over the past two years, is letting this rhetoric infiltrate its highest levels. This isn't about Israel or Palestine. It's Jew hatred, plain and simple. Believe a Jew when he says so. Where is the outrage from my Greens colleagues? I find the silence deafeningly isolating.'

This conflict in the Middle East is absolutely shattering. I want to see an end to it as soon as humanly possible. I want to see an end to innocent lives being lost. I want to see an ability for Palestinians to rebuild their lives in Gaza. I also want to see an ability for Israelis to return to their home in southern and northern towns. There is a real terrorist threat that they have faced that we saw on 7 October. It is a complicated, deep history, one that we must be mindful and respectful of when we're talking about this issue. But the way we talk about this in Australia really matters. And to have blatant racism and targeting of a minority community from a major political organisation in this country is just shattering.

I would say to the Greens, be mindful of the way in which you are talking about this issue. Be mindful of the way in which it is impacting a minority people in this country, because that is something that we can control. We have an ability to make sure Australians feel safe and respected, and right now Jewish people in Australia don't feel safe and respected by the Greens. I think it's a great shame, and I pray for more peaceful days ahead.

10:46 am

Photo of Stephen BatesStephen Bates (Brisbane, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Israel's invasion of Gaza, which this parliament has backed, has seen to the death of more than 28,000 people—children, mums, dads, teachers, nurses, countless journalists, doctors. The City University of New York's Graduate Center has worked to map destruction across several of the war zones. From space, Gaza is now a different colour. Israel's offensive has likely either damaged or destroyed more than two-thirds of all structures in northern Gaza, including tens of thousands of homes as well as schools and hospitals. In fact, UN monitors have estimated that 70 per cent of school buildings across Gaza have been damaged. More than a million people are displaced from their homes, starving, living in appalling and cramped conditions. Many are in camps that are flooding, with one toilet for hundreds of people and extremely limited options to bathe.

There are, though, humanitarian organisations on the ground in Gaza. These agencies, against all the odds, are trying their best to prevent deaths. One of the largest of these, though, had their funding cut by this government. The government responded to allegations with no solid evidence to deprive millions of Palestinians of help that is desperately needed. The government's choice to suspend funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, in Gaza was a grave mistake. The needs of the people in Gaza have not suspended. The needs for basic supplies of shelter, of clean water, have not suspended. There are surgeries being performed with dirty or no water at all, with no anaesthetics, with no chance to sterilise tools and with no drugs to fight resulting infections. It is inhumane and it is heartbreaking.

This government must restore and maintain funding to UNRWA as a matter of priority. And it's time for Australia to join other countries and uphold our obligations under international law to prevent genocide. Despite the evidence presented at the International Court of Justice, where it was concluded that there is a plausible case of genocide happening in Gaza, this government has not withdrawn its support for Israel's invasion, called for a permanent ceasefire or committed to ending military exports to the Israeli government. What is the point of a government recognising the International Court of Justice when it then takes no actions in light of its findings?

And why is it that the ICJ came to this conclusion? Well, it was based in part on statements from the Israeli government itself, such as defence ministers stating, 'We are fighting human animals; we will eliminate everything.' This invasion is well beyond self-defence. This has become a slaughter. Israel's imposition of a total siege now threatens to kill hundreds of thousands of Palestinians over the coming months through hunger and infectious diseases.

The laying to waste of Gaza through indiscriminate mass bombardments has already seen whole residential neighbourhoods razed. This situation deserves international pressure. It's our best chance to stop this carnage. Australia has a role to play in this, and the government has a responsibility as well. We have seen the majority of the world's countries call for a full and permanent ceasefire. The foreign minister is on record as saying that the government has taken a constructive approach to this conflict, but the actions of the government demonstrate nothing of the sort. Labor cannot keep sitting on its hands while this horror goes on. Enough is enough.

As parliament sits today, Israel has announced its intention to start a ground incursion into Rafah, telling civilians to move. Rafah was supposed to be the last remotely safe space for civilians. Where are they supposed to go? More Palestinians in Gaza will be killed. Around half of those killed will be children. Statistically, a child will have been killed while I've been delivering this speech. The government must not continue its support of Israel's genocidal actions in Gaza. We want to see Palestinians and Israelis living in equal justice, in equal peace and in equal security. We must have a full and permanent ceasefire. We must have an end to the invasion and occupation. This chamber and parliament must join almost every other nation in the world and say enough is enough.

10:51 am

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I last spoke here about both the scale of civilian deaths in Palestine and the murders and kidnappings by Hamas four months ago and I'm appalled that the hostages are not all home and that there has been increasing loss of life in Gaza, beyond what I could have imagined. Despite the calls by Australia and 152 other countries for a humanitarian ceasefire and a permanent peace, despite the efforts to negotiate a peace by countries with influence in the Middle East and despite the calls by Australia and so many others for Israel to abide by the International Court of Justice ruling that it take measures to prevent genocide in Gaza, the death toll and destruction continues and the safer space for Palestinians gets smaller and smaller.

More than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed, the vast majority of them women and children. There are now around 1½ million people in the southern district of Rafah, people who are reported to be thirsty, cold and hungry—many wounded. With disease spreading, many are no doubt exhausted and traumatised. They crowded into schools, hospitals, mosques and tents. Yet we are told Rafah is Israel's next offensive. Our aid is struggling to get in, with the World Health Organization warning that there are near-insurmountable challenges. It is a humanitarian crisis.

I think most of us struggle to comprehend why this is happening and we want it to end. It's the last thing many Australians see before they go to sleep and it's there in their social media feeds when they switch on in the morning. Is it any wonder the levels of distress at home are so high? For many, it has raised issues about which they knew little—issues about decisions made more than 75 years ago, about the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Gaza and the West Bank, about decades of illegal settlements and about the increasing violence in the West Bank. These are things people have not had the opportunity to see firsthand, as I did seven years ago. But I know that many elected representatives on all sides of this parliament have been to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and are well aware of the complexities and of the urgency of reaching peace in this region. That's why I'm profoundly disappointed by the way the distress of good and compassionate people across our communities is being manipulated and their grief weaponised to create greater division here in Australia.

At our national conference last year I remarked that, as tensions continued to escalate and more lives on both sides were lost, I couldn't imagine there was a single person in that convention room who would want anything other than for us to work together towards a just and enduring peace. I would hope there is not a single person in this parliament who doesn't also want to see a just and enduring peace for Palestinians and Israelis. We've called out the obstacles to this on both sides and we've said consistently that there can be no enduring Israeli presence in Gaza after this conflict and no reduction of territory. We support the Palestinian aspiration for statehood as part of a negotiated settlement, and I personally have spoken of my desire to see that sooner rather than later.

Rather than seek to divide and attack people who for decades have advocated for a two-state solution for Palestinians and Israelis for the sake of some likes on social media and to pick off votes, I especially urge the Greens to resist the instinct to fuel the conflicts, spread misinformation and set one side against the other. Instead, work with us on what we can do as a respected player in the Middle East. We may not have the role that we have with our closer Pacific and South-East Asian neighbours, but Australia has long had a commitment to playing whatever role we can in a two-state solution. I urge the opposition and Greens not to continue to peddle errors. For instance, Australia has not provided weapons to Israel since the conflict began, nor for the last five years. Contrary to the claims of the opposition leader, our legal advice is that our funding of UNRWA is entirely within the law. We hold firm with the view that UNRWA is the only aid organisation that can effectively deliver large-scale aid into Gaza. We welcome their swift response to allegations against their staff, and the independent review that is currently underway.

Research out of Britain shows that, when conflict is portrayed as a simplistic, two-sided thing, people can feel forced to take a side and that social media portrayal gives licence to a small but vocal fringe of conflict entrepreneurs and extremists to use the conflict as an opportunity to sow discord and hate. Don't let this continue in Australia. Set aside the politics, for the good of our fellow Australians. Help to rein in the Islamophobia and antisemitism and work with us for a two-state solution.

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.