Senate debates

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Statements by Senators


1:33 pm

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

In recent times, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt have severed diplomatic and economic ties with the nation state of Qatar. They have implemented travel bans and precluded any diplomatic relations. Qatar Airways are not eligible to fly over these countries' land masses nor are their passengers and citizens able to transit through these countries.

The reason is quite simple: Qatar stands accused of funding state-sanctioned terrorism. It is linked very closely to the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation that of course caused such unrest in Egypt and continues to export hardline Islamism right around the world.

Qatar is also a supporter of Hamas. Now, indeed, Hamas is a terrorist organisation. It is recognised as such in the United States, Israel, Egypt and Canada. Qatar is their largest funder. The US President has also accused Qatar of being a state funder of terrorism. Indeed, his opponent in the last presidential election, Ms Clinton, whilst at the same time as the Clinton Foundation was accepting donations from Qatar and the ruling family there, was in her own emails, which were leaked, acknowledging that Qatar is fuelling and funding terrorism around the world.

Australia lists Jabhat Fateh al-Sham as a terrorist organisation, and Qatar stands accused of funding this very group. An Australian citizen known as Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir has been a top-ranking member of this group. This is a man that The Australian newspaper this week claimed was the most senior Australian terrorist. He himself is under sanctions from Australia and the US because he is specifically identified and designated as a global terrorist.

The Qatari government has set up a state owned company in Australia called Hassad Foods. It was set up in 2008 to provide food security for the Qatari people—given that they have very little agricultural land themselves, they invested heavily into it. They invested at least half a billion dollars of their initial $1 billion funding into agricultural land in Australia.

In my home state of South Australia, they have purchased farms on the Eyre Peninsula and in the mid-north. And for the interest of my colleagues from interstate, they own five properties in New South Wales, three in Western Australia, one in Victoria and one at Cunnamulla in Queensland. This begs the question: why are we allowing a state actor—a state sanctioned funder—in terrorism globally to invest in prime agricultural land, as well as in other areas, in our own country? Whilst the Qataris might be interested in food security, Australia should be interested in national security. Why are we allowing this to take place in our very own land?

Alone, the Qatari company owns 300,000 hectares of prime agricultural land in Australia. It has purchased that over the last seven or so years. That is 3,000 square kilometres of land owned by a government that funds our enemies. Three thousand square kilometres is more than 25 per cent of the Qatari nation's landmass in itself. It is bigger than the state of Luxembourg. And this investment is not driven by commercial imperative; it is being driven by strategic or political imperatives. We can have a debate and a discussion about the wisdom of foreign ownership of some of our strategic assets, but I do not know how anyone can justify a government that is recognised by its peers and our allies as the funder of terrorism owning such resources in our own country.

We ask our troops to put their lives on the line to fight terrorism. In recent times we have had Australians tragically lose their lives at the hands of Islamist extremists in separate incidents. If the federal government is serious about combating terrorism at home and abroad then they will stand up to every single person, every single entity and every single government that funds, supports or provides safe haven to the people who want to damage our interests. So, if Qatar supports those who seek to kill our people and to destroy our way of life in the name of some global Islamic caliphate, we are right to say, 'We don't want you here. We do not want your investment in our country because it jeopardises our national interests.'

I recognise this is an almost unprecedented step, but we have to ask ourselves: where do we draw the line if Qatar is recognised as a state sanctioned funder of terrorism internationally? We know it has a propaganda arm through Al Jazeera, which was the preferred communications medium for Osama bin Laden—it always had the scoop and always takes a slanted view of Islamism around the world. If they are propagating that brand of inhumanity across the globe and they are piling billions of dollars into strategic assets which are being used to generate income or food for some sort of security for themselves, which they then channel into funding our enemies, we have to ask: why are we allowing it? We would not allow North Korea to buy 3,000 square kilometres of prime agricultural land in Australia. You would not expect Iran or whoever is in charge of Libya at the moment to be able to do it, so why are we turning a blind eye to Hassad Food, the Qatari owned organisation that has over 3,000 square kilometres of prime agricultural land? The time has come to say, 'Enough is enough.' It is time for the government to ask, or demand, that the Qatari government divest itself of these strategic resources, until it renounces and ceases to fund and support terrorism, either in the Middle East or anywhere else around the world. That is the very least we can do to take a stand against the sorts of activities that are going on around the world that would not exist and could not exist without the resources of organisations, businesses and governments that are sympathetic towards or overtly supportive of their cause.