House debates

Tuesday, 13 February 2024


Middle East

7:55 pm

Photo of Alicia PayneAlicia Payne (Canberra, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This week Israel has launched attacks on Rafah, where around 1.4 million people, about half of Gaza's population, have fled trying to find safety. They were told to go there to be safe, but now they are subject to air strikes and an impending ground offensive. This must stop. We need an immediate ceasefire. We need an end to the sickening, indiscriminate killing in Gaza.

The scale of unmitigated destruction in Gaza is simply unfathomable. Entire neighbourhoods have been levelled. Entire families have been killed. I have met with Palestinians here in Canberra who have lost 30 or 45 family members. Others are in constant fear for their loved ones. A devastating new acronym has emerged in Gaza's hospitals: WCNSF—wounded child, no surviving family. How many WCNSFs will there be before this ends? The health system has collapsed, and this affects not only those injured but everyone else too—for example, cancer patients who cannot access treatment and people in need of life-saving medication, such as children with diabetes. People are starving. An estimated 28,000 civilians have been killed, two-thirds of whom are women and children.

I want to make something very clear. It is that to criticise or even to question the Israeli government is not antisemitism. Antisemitism is abhorrent and should have no place anywhere, ever—full stop. But it is right that the international community question and monitor any government that is engaging in military action, particularly when civilians are being killed—in particular, at the scale we are seeing in Gaza.

Israelis have the right to live in peace and be safe from terrorist attacks such as the vile attacks carried out on 7 October. Of course Israel has a right to defend itself, but what we are seeing in Gaza at the moment is not self-defence. Children are not terrorists. We must be concerned by the language that has been used by Israeli government members—language such as, 'We will eliminate everything,' and much worse that I won't repeat. We must question what Prime Minister Netanyahu means by the 'absolute victory' that he says is within reach. We must be concerned when he reaffirms his position that there should never be a Palestinian state.

There must be a Palestinian state. That is the fundamental human right of the Palestinian people, a resilient people who will never give up on the aim, the simple thing that so many of us are lucky enough to take for granted every day: living in peace and freedom under the umbrella of statehood. The two-state solution and the recognition of Palestine stand firm in Labor's platform and are both things I will always support, but this will not be possible if we see the complete destruction of Gaza, which is what we are seeing right now.

Last month, the International Court of Justice put Israel on notice, saying that it must take all measures within its power to prevent its troops from committing genocide and that it must take steps to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza. It is right that the international community is applying this scrutiny, and I note that our government has stressed this decision is binding on Israel.

This brings me to the importance of humanitarian aid in Gaza, to which Australia has committed $46.5 million since October. Many in my community have written to me about our government's decision to pause additional funding to UNRWA in response to allegations about staff in the organisation. I share my community's deep concern about any disruption to aid in Gaza at this critical time. UNRWA does life-saving work and, at the moment, more than 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering in their facilities. I want to assure people that the pause has been applied only to the recently announced additional $6 million and does not affect Australia's annual core funding of $20.6 million, which has already been provided for this financial year.

The House transcript was published up to 20:00. The remainder of the transcript will be published progressively as it is completed.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs Andrews ) took the chair at 16:00.