Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Suspension of Standing Orders
Pursuant to contingency notices relating to formal business, I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Black from moving a motion relating to the conduct of business of the Senate, namely a motion that general business notice of motion No. 909 may be moved immediately and determined without amendment or debate.
I am disappointed that formality was denied by the Labor Party. I wonder if this action is a reflection on the growing influence that the Muslims from Western Sydney have within the Labor Party. If this is the case, all Australians should be gravely concerned about the effects of a Muslim-directed Labor Party.
In the current federal budget, $43.8 million was allocated for the Palestinian territories. A key objective of the Palestinian Authority is its pay-to-slay program, which provides financial incentives to terrorists who murder innocent Israeli citizens. In 2018, these terrorism incentive payments are being increased to US$403 million, or around 50 per cent of the total foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority. Convicted Muslim terrorists in prisons for murdering women and children are paid $3,500 per month by the Palestinian Authority, plus extra bonuses for their wives and children. By contrast, teachers employed by the Palestinian Authority receive around US$600 per month. It is vital that Australian foreign aid does not end up contributing to these programs, or the Australian government is funding the murder of innocents by proxy and has blood on its hands.
In contributing on this suspension motion by Senator Anning, I would like to endorse some elements of this motion, because I think we have a serious issue where aid money or donations or contributions of any description are going into an organisation and then flowing on to those who are committing acts of terror or are being incentivised to do so. Having been to Israel and met with representatives of the Palestinian media authority, having heard and learnt for myself about the stadiums that are named after people who have blown themselves up—that the size of the stadium is determined by how many people have been killed in their attacks—having heard that their children are named after terrorism and that families are supported financially, I think there is a very good case that we should cease funding organisations and governments if they are sanctioning or condoning this type of behaviour. Every single thing that I've observed, both personally and in a professional capacity from other sources, reinforces that this is going on. I note that no-one is really denying—maybe someone will later in this contribution—the reality of what we're confronting. I note that Senator Leyonhjelm, yesterday, put on the record that those in the Palestinian Authority were elected to four-year terms and are serving their 11th year of those first terms. It is not consistent with our values or our principles or our objectives as a civil society.
There are those of you who believe that Palestine should exist and should be a separate state and a nation, but that is quite separate to what is being considered here. Senator Anning is, I think, very right to put this on the agenda. I also understand the contentious nature of it. Governments don't want to wade into these sorts of discussions, and nor does the opposition—sometimes the Greens do—but we can't wilfully ignore or remain silent when there are these glaring concerns about Australian aid money and Australian donations that are flowing to organisations and governments that are knowingly funding or financially supporting, via third-party means, terrorist acts. That is the essence of what we're here for. We've got to act in Australia's interests. We have a role to play, internationally. We have a role to play in global affairs, and one of those roles is not to remain silent in the face of such atrocities.
It can go on to the Human Rights Council at the United Nations. Having been there and observed that, we would be wise to reconsider our involvement when the people who are most brutally suppressing human rights, as we know them, are often in charge and make up the numbers on it. They continue to pass anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli motions through many UN bodies, and the world doesn't seem to want to know. They want to paint one picture: that the Israelis are the great oppressors. In reality, the forces opposed against them are state sanctioned by the Palestinian Authority. Iran spends more on funding terror than probably anything else right through the Middle East. We can't be naive or silent in the face of such realities.
Senator Anning, good on you for bringing this forward and good on you for raising, I think, a very difficult issue. It's one that you've had to suspend standing orders in this place to have your voice heard on. Equally, I recognise why some people don't want this to take place, but I do think it is an appropriate place to have a discussion about what is going on in our world around us and what is being sanctioned, aided and abetted not only by our aid money but by Australian donations from individuals who are sympathetic to these causes. That, I think, is an indictment on those involved. It's incumbent upon all of us to stand up and speak the truth to this sort of atrocity.
I'm grateful to Senator Bernardi for conceding that this is a contentious issue. It's a complicated issue. It's a matter of foreign affairs. It's a dispute that has been going on since prior to 1948. It's one that is disputed and encompasses a whole range of issues that are incredibly complex, so much so that, since before 1948, the world has been unable to resolve this conflict. It's a conflict that has had many spin-offs across the world. It's one of the great tragedies and failures, I think, of the international community.
We know already that of course the government is monitoring all our aid and is looking at these issues very closely. We certainly do not need a resolution of the Senate to ensure that the government is actually carrying out its fiduciary responsibility in respect to the spending of aid. But it is really the height of all arrogance to think that this Senate, by passing a resolution, would contribute in any constructive or positive way to the resolution of this horrific dispute that has been going on for so many decades. It really is the height of all arrogance to admit that this is a complex matter, a difficult matter, yet say we should bring it to the Senate and have a simple yes-or-no vote on such a thing. I don't think it's right. I think it's consistent with the position the opposition took yesterday in denying formality to these sorts of motions; it does not help with the conflict. I really don't get why anyone would bring such a resolution here, if they're really serious about aid. The government is on top of that and looking at all those issues already and, of course, making those appropriate arrangements. But to think that a resolution of the Australian Senate is going to assist in the resolution of this conflict is just beyond me. I would have hoped the government would have supported—
Yes, and I've addressed that, I think, a couple of times already. Senator Bernardi, I think, belled the cat on that argument, quite clearly conceding that these are contested and difficult matters. We had a similar debate yesterday on a matter. I'd be disappointed if the government wasn't also supportive of denying formality. I'd be disappointed if the government actually voted to suspend standing orders on such a matter.
I'd be happy to have a debate about some of these matters if it were to be brought on properly in the Senate. Let's have that debate. This is a debate that's been going on internationally and in Australia for many years. But don't just bring a resolution to do a simple up-and-down vote to have some sort of moral authority and think that that actually reflects the view of the Senate, when none of these things will be taken in context. We have denied formality for reasons that I think are absolutely consistent with not having contested foreign affairs matters debated in this section of the Senate's time, which is simply for an up-and-down vote; it's an inappropriate way to move forward. This debate won't do this Senate any credit, and I think we ought to be consistent and oppose this suspension.
The foreign minister wrote to her counterpart on 29 May 2018, raising concerns and seeking assurances that Australian funding does not, in any way, enable or encourage acts of violence. The foreign minister has received a response to her letter and is now working through the next steps. The foreign minister also raised concerns on this issue with her Palestinian counterparts during her visit to Ramallah in September 2016, as did trade minister Ciobo during a visit in December 2016. DFAT maintains strict due diligence, regular monitoring and reporting, and comprehensive financial and counter-terrorism checks are in place for all activities receiving Australian aid in the Palestinian territories. DFAT understands the Palestinian Authority provides to the Palestine Liberation Organization, a parallel entity of the Palestinian Authority, funds for financial assistance to Palestinians convicted of politically motivated violence, and their families, through a martyrs fund. This undermines the prospects of a meaningful peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
This chamber deals with many matters that are contentious and complicated. In fact, we just had a vote on something particularly contentious and contested: the issue of end-of-life care and physician-assisted dying. We did that just a moment ago. We will continue to debate matters in this chamber and vote on matters in this chamber that are contentious and complicated. So we don't support denying leave on that basis. If you don't like the motion that's in front of you, don't vote for it; it's simple. If you've got concerns about a motion, just don't support it. If you agree with the sentiment behind a motion, support it. It is an opportunity for us to put on the record our various positions on these matters. Regarding the way denying leave has been used, if we agree with your position, it's not a complicated foreign policy issue; if we don't agree with your position, then it is a complicated foreign policy issue. We don't support denying leave simply on the basis of something being contentious, complicated or, indeed, contested.
I go to the substance of Senator Anning's motion and his disgraceful contribution. To be frank, saying to this chamber that the reason that a political party in this place won't support a particular motion is that they are appealing to one group of the community or are dictated to by one group of the community is repugnant and offensive. I'd much rather, as the leader of a political party, that we embrace people from all faiths, all religions and all backgrounds, with the one exception of the bigots from One Nation and the former One Nation senators. The reality is that the motion by Senator Anning is all about undermining Australia's aid program.
We heard the contribution from Senator Georgiou just a moment ago. He doesn't believe that there's any role for Australia to advocate for human rights or support people who are condemned to a life of poverty overseas. In condemning Australia's aid program and undermining the US, Senator Anning and One Nation senators don't support international aid, full stop. They don't support it. They continue in the long tradition of individuals who don't understand that we are all global citizens and we have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters right around the world to do what we can and to acknowledge the privilege that many of us enjoy in this country. We can look after people here in Australia. That's why the Greens have continued to advocate for an increase to Newstart and why we want to address issues like homelessness here in Australia. We can also extend the support we can give to people living overseas.
This undermines the important work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. I'm sure Senator Anning hasn't done his research, but, if he bothered to look, he'd know that the agency supports 5.3 million Palestinian refugees; it provides food aid to 400,000 people in Syria and one million in Gaza; and it's now facing an unprecedented funding gap, thanks to the decision of President Trump to slash US contributions. We are now weeks away from cutting emergency assistance to men, women and children—people who are living in a displaced environment; people who are struggling to feed themselves and put a roof over their heads. Now is the time to redouble our efforts to support international assistance, regardless of the circumstances, and now is the time to support the UNRWA and not criticise it.
It is important for us to consider what is actually being asked of us today and what Senator Anning's motion is asking us to consider. The action part of the motion reads as follows:
... calls on the Australian Government to:
(i) maintain scrupulous oversight of Australian aid to the Palestinian Territories ...
I would have thought, even for Senator Gavin Marshall, that would not be an important issue that needs a lot of consideration. I would have thought everybody in this place would be able to give a yes or no answer to whether we should maintain scrupulous oversight of Australian aid to the Palestinian territories. Then the second part says:
... demand proper investigation into the content and delivery of education services provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
At a time when it has become very apparent that the Palestinian Authority are substituting aid to enable them to support what they call the 'Martyrs Fund'—in other words, the suicide bombers who are seeking to destroy the state of Israel—I think those sorts of questions are rightfully asked, especially when you consider that Israel is the only beacon of democracy in the Middle East.
It is the only beacon of a society that believes in the rule of law. It is the only society and body politic that has regular elections. Indeed, the Palestinian Authority continue in office. I think they had their last election 11 years ago—whereas in Israel the Knesset have had members who have been of Arab origin, I think about a third of them. There have even been people in the Knesset who have believed in the destruction of the state of Israel. That is how pluralistic a society Israel is. That is why it is such a beacon in the Middle East. And, sadly, that is why certain people want to destroy it. If our aid is unwittingly assisting the destruction of the state of Israel—the beacon that it is of democracy, of the rule of law, of pluralism—I think that is something that is a proper matter for this chamber to consider, and consider in the terms of Senator Anning's motion.
So, Mr President, this matter is something that is worthy for us to consider. I support the suspension of the standing orders and the final motion, which really is about the issues at stake in the Middle East. Some of those who serve on the Senate Standing Committees on Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade may well be aware of the questions I have been asking about these issues over a number of years. They are real, live issues. They have been aired and ventilated in the Senate committee process. Indeed, the media have now been exposing it as well and, therefore, it is very timely that Senator Anning should come to this place with a motion of this nature. It does not seek to resolve the Middle East conflict. All it seeks to do—and I re-read the action part of the motion—is call on the Australian government to 'maintain scrupulous oversight of Australian aid to the Palestinian territories'.
I trust that everybody would want scrupulous oversight of all Australian aid, but there is a particular concern in relation to the Palestinian Authority, that I have already outlined, and to demand proper investigation into the content and delivery of education services provided by the United Nations. Similarly, one would want proper oversight of all United Nations aid, but in this particular circumstance there are very real and detailed allegations as to how funding is being misused. In those circumstances it is a real, live issue.
It is a matter that deserves the consideration of the Senate. I, for one, commend Senator Anning for bringing the motion forward and for having the determination to move the procedural motion to overcome the fact that Labor and the Greens sought to deny leave.