Tuesday, 25 March 2014
Thank you. Labor is denying that this motion be taken as formal because we do not believe complex and contested matters, including matters that concern foreign relations, should be dealt with in summary fashion by this chamber. It is the case that Labor leaders and managers in this place have previously drawn the attention of the chamber to our concern about dealing with complex and contested matters by way of formal motions. We previously expressed that concern both in government and in opposition. The moving of formal motions that deal with complex and contested matters compels senators to take a binary position on these matters, without debate. The giving of short periods of notice—usually one day—means that there is often little consultation before the mover is on his or her feet seeking the support of the chamber.
Whilst formal motions remain a useful mechanism for dealing with routine motions such as committee matters, the introduction of bills and Parliamentary Zone approvals, they have much less utility when employed to pursue complex matters. For that reason, today I am restating and reaffirming Labor's long-held position that complex and contested matters should not be pursued by way of formal motions. I also flag that Labor will not support the suspension of standing orders to bring on debate on such motions, except in the most exceptional of circumstances.
Mr Deputy President, as you would be aware, the Procedure Committee is currently undertaking a review of the routine of business in the Senate, and I would encourage the committee to give careful consideration as to how the Senate should deal with motions that concern non-routine matters.
Thank you. I am not going to move to suspend standing orders. I could do that in these circumstances, and take up half an hour, but I am not going to. I just want to say that I do not accept the premise that foreign affairs matters cannot be dealt with in motions. In fact, it is often the only way you can have matters deal with in a timely manner. Only yesterday the Labor Party brought forward a motion in relation to Sri Lanka—quite appropriately, and we supported it—and the Human Rights Council is making a decision on that later this week. It is important in that context for the parliament to be able to express an opinion.
This motion relates to the Israeli occupation and illegal settlements on the West Bank. It is 2014, the United Nations Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. This motion was to call on the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ms Bishop, to publicly acknowledge that all settlements are illegal and in breach of the fourth Geneva convention. She denied that when she was in Israel recently, and the claim she made was outrageous and absolutely contrary to international law.
It is important in this context to recognise that we have to continue to campaign for the Israeli government to cease the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. I want to strongly put on the record that the Greens do want this matter debated at length. Several members of parliament attended the get-together yesterday to celebrate the UN Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. We want to express very firmly—and we will continue to do so—that Israel's illegal settlements in the West Bank cannot be allowed to continue. We have to make a stand for fairness and justice for the Palestinian people.
I want to go back to accepting the premise that foreign affairs cannot be dealt with. We argue that they can and should be dealt with in this parliament in the manner in which we are proposing. (Time expired)
Thank you. It is often fraught to deal with complex foreign affairs issues by way of motions. If this motion had been taken as formal, the government would have voted against it. I will briefly outline our reasons for that.
The Australian government does strongly support the resumption of final status negotiations aimed at reaching a just and lasting two-state solution, with Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side, in peace and security, within internationally recognised borders. The question of Israeli settlements is a key point of negotiations for any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and the Australian government will not pre-empt outcomes of ongoing final status negotiations.
Australia does stand ready to assist in any way it can to support the Middle East peace process, including through supporting Palestinian development. Australian assistance to the Palestinian territories in 2013-14 will be $55 million, focused on improving governance, rural livelihoods and the delivery of basic services to Palestinians.