House debates

Tuesday, 13 February 2024

Constituency Statements

Mahmoud, Dr Olfat

4:03 pm

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with a heavy heart that I inform the House of the death of a great woman, activist, nurse and friend, Dr Olfat Mahmoud. Dr Mahmoud was a second-generation Palestinian refugee. She was a descendant of the Christian and Muslim people who fled their beloved homeland in 1948 to live in the refugee camps in Lebanon after the founding of the State of Israel. Olfat was born in that refugee camp. She faced incredible challenges her whole life. She endured and survived the unfettered violence of Sabra and Shatila in 1982. It was in the aftermath of that that she came into contact with volunteer nurses—Australian Nursing and Midwifery members, actually—who were giving their time and skills to care for the refugees in the camps. These nurses formed the origins of APHEDA-Union Aid Abroad, an organisation auspiced by the ACTU. Its mission is a passionate commitment to global justice, peace and equality.

Another wonderful woman, Dr Helen McHugh, was one of those nurses, and it was her experiences in those refugee camps that ignited a fire in her belly to start APHEDA. Dr Mahmoud saw the care provided by those nurses, especially to women and their children, and she wanted to help—to help her own people. She came to Australia in 1986 on a community nurse training program run by APHEDA. She desperately wanted to take those skills back to Lebanon and care for the Palestinian refugees in her community, and that is exactly what she did. In 1993, Dr Mahmoud established the important Palestinian Women's Humanitarian Organization. After gaining a doctorate in psychology and teaching in this area, she published a book about her refugee story, Tears for Tashiha, in 2018, referring to her family's home town, which she was never permitted to return to. She undertook many speaking tours advocating for the rights of Palestinians.

Dr Mahmoud, my dear friend Olfat, showed exceptional leadership, courage and bravery throughout her life, and she will be greatly missed. She died, after a long battle with cancer, on 24 September last year. Olfat would be deeply distressed by the unfettered and abhorrent violence in Gaza. She would agree with the United Nations's highest legal body, the ICJ, who found that 'the situation in Gaza is catastrophic' and that 'Israel should do everything in its power to avoid killing innocent Palestinians, causing them serious bodily or mental harm, creating intolerable living conditions in Gaza or deliberately preventing Palestinian births.' In a joint statement with New Zealand, Australia's foreign minister noted that the decisions of the ICJ are binding and we do expect Israel to act in accordance with the ICJ's ruling, including to enable the provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance.

Dr Mahmoud is survived by her husband, four boys and two grandchildren—third- and fourth-generation Palestinian refugees. Vale and rest in peace. (Time expired)