Senate debates

Tuesday, 6 February 2024

Matters of Urgency

Middle East

5:20 pm

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

The Senate will now consider the proposal from Senator McKim. Is consideration of the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

With the concurrence of the Senate, the clerks will set the clock in line with the informal arrangements made by the whips.

5:21 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

At the request of Senator McKim, I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The Australian government must publicly support, and formally intervene in, South Africa's genocide case at the International Court of Justice.

Australia must voice its support for South Africa's genocide case against the State of Israel, which is currently being considered by the International Criminal Court. South Africa's case brings together compelling evidence that the State of Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians right now in Gaza.

On 25 January, the ICJ made a historic interim ruling. They decided that, based on the evidence presented by the nation of South Africa, the State of Israel is to refrain from acts contravening the genocide convention. It has been ordered to prevent and to punish direct incitement of genocide towards Palestinians, and it is to take all measures to ensure people in Gaza can access humanitarian assistance. The court has sent a clear message: it is the court's expectation that the world will not sit in silence as the State of Israel continues its ruthless military campaign against Palestinians.

Even after the UN made clear that the court's ruling must be considered binding, the Albanese government has failed to take decisive action. The Albanese government's response so far has been completely inadequate. As a signatory to the UN's genocide convention, Australia has an obligation to take measures to prevent and punish the crime of genocide. And the Albanese government has so far failed to take action that is appropriate to the scale of the devastation that we are witnessing. Instead of calling for an end to the genocide, instead of calling for an end to the war crimes, the crimes against humanity and the destruction which rains down daily upon the people of Gaza, the Australian government has cut aid funding to the very organisations trying to keep people alive while continuing to supply resources and give support to the IDF forces as they carry out these atrocities. Shame!

The Greens are imploring the Australian government to send a strong message that these war crimes are unacceptable to the Australian community. We have seen thousands joining rallies and picket lines across the country. They are united in their calls. It is time for the Australian government to publicly support South Africa's case in the ICJ. The Australian government must make its position clear in support of South Africa now, as we enter this substantive stage of consideration by the court. The community expects that the Australian government will formally intervene, and the Australian Greens will continue to place pressure upon the Albanese government to ensure that they do just that. The time for sitting by in silence is over. We must hear the voices of the Palestinian people. We must answer their cry for justice. We must take tangible action to ensure that crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes are punished under international law.

5:25 pm

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this urgency motion moved by the Greens. We are all extremely troubled by the ongoing loss of life in Gaza caused by Hamas. We all want the conflict to end as soon as possible. But once again we see the Greens come into this chamber with a motion that completely ignores the fact that the Hamas terrorists can end the conflict in Gaza today. They could have ended this conflict on any day during the last four months by surrendering and by releasing the hostages who they have now held in cruel and inhumane conditions for more than 120 days.

Of course, this motion also doesn't mention that the only reason there is an armed conflict in Gaza right now is that Hamas terrorists carried out one of the most barbaric, deliberate mass murders the modern world has ever witnessed. Not only did they murder in cold blood more than 1,200 Israelis and take hundreds of hostages; they then promised to carry out such attacks again and again as soon as they were able. Hamas have stated genocidal intent to wipe Israel from the face of the map. They aim to kill as many Israeli Jews as they can, and they openly celebrate when they are able to do so. They have hidden themselves and the hostages they've taken in a tunnel network that they have spent 15 years building, with the specific intent of placing the civilians of Gaza in danger. That is the context in which Israel are attempting to rescue their citizens and destroy the terrorist group Hamas, and it's the context which, sadly, the Greens choose to ignore once again.

Members of the Senate are, of course, entitled to express a view about Israel's attempt to rescue its people and destroy a terrorist group which murdered 1,200 of its people. But what members of parliament should not be doing is misusing the word 'genocide' in a way which directly parrots the propaganda of Hamas and their funders in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nor should governments, including the Australian government, be misusing that word, as this motion calls for the government to do.

The Albanese government should have been faster and clearer in providing Australia's response to this claim and making clear that, along with the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and other like-minded partners, we do not believe that Israel is committing genocide and we do not believe that South Africa's application to the ICJ is appropriate. Israel has an inherent right to self-defence, which was recognised in the ICJ ruling. Israel is in an incredibly difficult position of conducting a defensive war to remove Hamas from a position of power and influence and as a terrorist threat in the region. Hamas, incidentally, have repeatedly refused not only to surrender but even to accept a ceasefire which would see hostages released and further aid able to be safely provided to civilians. The only way the lives of civilians in both Gaza and Israel can be protected is to remove Hamas from a position where they deliberately use Palestinians in Gaza as human shields and place them in greater danger and jeopardy.

It is deeply troubling to have propaganda being spread in our country that seeks to save Hamas, keep them in power and keep the civilians of Gaza under this oppressive, misogynistic, murderous rule of a terrorist regime. We want to see civilians protected and terrorism defeated. Hamas, on the other hand, wants to see civilians on both sides killed, and they have done and continue to do everything in their power to make that happen. Any effort which ignores the need for Hamas to be removed from power is not a serious proposal for peace; it is a proposal for ongoing violence against Jews, women and the innocent civilians of Gaza.

5:30 pm

Photo of Raff CicconeRaff Ciccone (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to make a short remark with respect to the urgency motion before the Senate this afternoon. The government won't be supporting this motion that has been brought forward by the Australian Greens regarding the International Court of Justice matter brought by South Africa concerning the State of Israel. We do so because Australia is not a party to the matter that South Africa has brought to the International Court of Justice. Indeed, the ICJ has not invited interventions from other states, a point that sometimes has been missed in some of the commentary of late.

This motion shows, with the greatest respect, sheer ignorance to the reality of what is actually before us today. Australia respects the independence of the International Court of Justice. We respect the role that it plays in the international legal system and the maintenance of an international rules based order. It's with this respect that it also follows that we also expect every single state around the world will act in accordance with the rulings of the court. I note in particular that the court has already made a ruling on provisional matters in the matter, a ruling that constitutes merely an interim decision, not a final determination.

I stood here in October of last year to condemn without qualification the horrific terrorist attacks that were committed by Hamas against many people in the State of Israel on 7 October. What happened on that day will always be remembered in the hearts of many with great sorrow. Since that time, the Australian government's position has been unequivocal and consistent. There is no justification for terrorism. There can be no excuse for what happened on that day. Like any other state, the State of Israel has a right to defend itself, and, in doing so, like any state, it must have regard for international law.

Whilst not a party to the matter brought by South Africa to the ICJ, that does not mean that Australia isn't continuing to work for peace in the region. Indeed, although not a central player in the Middle East, we are a respected voice, and with that voice we are able to advocate, and have said so many times, for sustained peace. Throughout this conflict the Australian government has been consistent in calling for civilians to be protected. We have consistently called for more humanitarian aid into Gaza and unimpeded passage for relief for those in great need. We've also used our voice to advocate for the immediate release of hostages, the delivery of humanitarian assistance, respect for international humanitarian law, caution at the prospect of regional escalation, and a sustainable ceasefire—a ceasefire which cannot be one sided.

As Australians, we mourn the loss of innocent life in all conflict and pursue enduring peace in the region. That is our shared goal. Therefore it remains our view that such peace can only be achieved through a two-state solution where security and dignity for both parties is guaranteed.

5:34 pm

Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I stand before you today to advocate for a cause that resonates with our shared values of justice, compassion and human rights. I support the motion that the Australian government must publicly support and formally intervene in South Africa's genocide case at the International Court of Justice. Our commitment to truth demands that we confront injustice wherever it occurs, regardless of borders or political affiliations.

The ongoing conflict in Gaza has resulted in untold suffering and loss of life, particularly amongst innocent civilians, including women and children. In a historic legally binding ruling, the ICJ declared that it is highly likely that genocide is occurring in Gaza and that Israel is not doing enough to prevent it. By endorsing South Africa's efforts to hold Israel accountable at the ICJ, we send a powerful message that Australia stands on the side of justice and humanity. Our support is not just a matter of policy. It's a reflection of our values and commitment to the promotion of peace and justice in the world.

As a signatory to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, we cannot turn a blind eye to such horrendous violations of human rights and crimes against humanity. Let's not ignore our duty to speak against inhumane cruelty. Let's stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed and marginalised, wherever they may be, so that it actually never happens again anywhere, to anyone. Thank you.

5:36 pm

Photo of David ShoebridgeDavid Shoebridge (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Today we're asking this place to support something that millions of Australians want our government to do: to publicly support and formally intervene in South Africa's genocide case at the International Court of Justice, to do what we all have an obligation to do—not to be complicit in a genocide, not to be silent, not to be indifferent, and not to do what our government seems quite willing to do, to actually be complicit. But we have an obligation individually and collectively, under the genocide convention, to prevent genocide and to prevent a potential genocide. That's why South Africa, to their great credit, brought this case in the ICJ—to identify the evidence as to why any fair-minded observer believes that genocide is occurring in Gaza, being directed by the Israeli military.

Let's remember the evidence the ICJ had before them. I'll read from the judgement:

On 9 October 2023, Mr Yoav Gallant, Defence Minister of Israel, announced that he had ordered a "complete siege" of Gaza City and that there would be "no electricity, no food, no fuel" and that "everything [was] closed". On the following day, Minister Gallant stated, speaking to Israeli troops on the Gaza border:

"I have released all restraints . . . You saw what we are fighting against. We are fighting human animals. This is the ISIS of Gaza. This is what we are fighting against . . . Gaza won't return to what it was before. There will be no Hamas. We will eliminate everything. If it doesn't take one day, it will take a week, it will take weeks or even months, we will reach all places."

Since then, to the eternal shame of the Israeli military and to the eternal shame of those governments who have been willing to support it, that's what's been happening. It wasn't hiding; it was in plain sight. And when we called for an urgent ceasefire it was because we saw this happening. When the world called for an urgent ceasefire and Australia, the United States and the UK, in a tiny little club, refused it, it was because these statements were made, and then it was happening in real time.

I've spoken with NGOs like Doctors Without Borders. We keep hearing from the government about delivering more aid. Doctor Without Borders say aid is not the answer, because they can't run the hospitals, because their patients are killed by Israeli snipers shooting through the windows, because the Israeli military storm into hospitals and execute patients in their beds, because they get blown up by weapons platforms that are in part delivered by Australia. Doctors Without Borders aren't saying we need more aid. Doctors Without Borders are saying, 'Stop the war and the violence and the genocide and don't be complicit, and care about Palestinian kids.'

Many millions around the world have seen the images of what this war is doing to kids, and mums and families who are told that they should—what? Go where? Nowhere is safe in Gaza. Imagine having your kids in a place where nowhere is safe, where at any moment your kids could be killed by bombs or snipers or a tank. Imagine that was you and your family, and your government did nothing or, what's worse, was complicit. Join the case. Advocate to enforce the convention. Do what we all have an obligation to do—individually, collectively, through our government—and prevent a genocide. For the Albanese government to come in here and oppose this and, in their opposition, not even mention the word Palestine is shameful. Join the case.

5:40 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I think we all need to be very clear about what the Australian government's position currently is, what the Australian Labor Party's position currently is and actually what this Senate's and this parliament's shameful position currently is. It is to stand with the State of Israel in regard to what that state, what its government and what its armed forces are doing in Gaza. Let's be very clear about what they are doing in Gaza: there is a genocide underway in Gaza perpetrated by the State of Israel, and the Australian government is complicit. If there is a genocide underway and you are not doing everything you reasonably can to stop it, you are complicit. If there's a genocide underway and you are not railing against that genocide at every opportunity, you are complicit. If there is a genocide underway and you are facilitating that genocide by selling military hardware that is being used in that genocide, you are complicit.

The Australian government is complicit in this genocide because it is supplying military hardware, because it is failing to speak out against it at every opportunity and because it is failing in the obligations it has under the genocide convention to do everything it reasonably can to stop that genocide and prevent it from happening. That's the position of the Labor Party, and, shamefully, the position of this parliament is to stand with the State of Israel in the perpetration of that genocide. The very least we should do is join with the case in the International Court of Justice brought by South Africa, and the very least we can do is reverse the frankly catastrophic decision made recently by Labor and by the Australian government to suspend funding to the United Nations relief and works agency, the primary provider of humanitarian relief in Gaza. That is a shameful decision made with absolutely no evidence to support the contention that UNRWA did anything wrong, and it was taken, as Minister Wong implicitly admitted today, because we were told to by Israel and the United States.

5:43 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Twenty-six thousand—that's a conservative underestimate of the number of Palestinians who have been killed in Israel's attacks on Gaza since 7 October. Twenty-six thousand people is one per cent of Gaza's population—one per cent of the population wiped out at the hands of the Israeli government in just four months. It's more than the number of people killed in the Nakba of 1947-49, when the State of Israel was created and approximately 15,000 Palestinians were killed in a series of mass atrocities. It's more than the number of civilians killed in the Russian Ukraine war over the last four years.

This statistic does not account for the thousands of Palestinians unaccounted for or the millions more displaced. It does not account for the grief, the terror, the fear and the trauma that each individual has faced as their families, their homes and their communities have been viciously destroyed by the Israeli government. In these four months of violence and devastation, Australians have watched in horror while the Labor government has stubbornly refused to even call for a permanent ceasefire. Personally, I broke down in tears a few weeks ago as I was cooking a recipe from a Palestinian cookbook and I thought of the home cooks of Gaza who have been killed in the last four months and those Palestinians who are still alive but for whom cooking their special meal is currently impossible, who are living in stench, in mud and under flimsy plastic shelters, cooking on wood fires if they are cooking at all, and whose kids are starving rather than being nurtured and nourished with maqluba, falafel and fattoush.

Silence in the face of these atrocities is not an option. Australia has a responsibility to act decisively to stop the crime of genocide and support punishment for genocide wherever it occurs, which is why the Australian Greens are calling for the Labor government to publicly back South Africa's proceedings against Israel in the International Court of Justice. The Labor government has previously intervened in ICJ court cases involving Ukraine, and we see no reason for it not to intervene now. South Africa's case presents serious and compelling evidence that Israel is committing the crime of genocide. By supporting these important proceedings, Australia can demonstrate that no country is exempt from international law. The Greens are also calling on the government to sanction Prime Minister Netanyahu and his entire war cabinet, to end all military and security trade and cooperation with Israel and to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire. Labor, show courage and demand justice for Palestinians.

5:46 pm

Photo of Dorinda CoxDorinda Cox (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in strong support of this motion brought by my colleague and to urge the Australian government to publicly support South Africa's case before the ICJ. The Greens have proudly supported Palestine and will continue to do so. As a proud First Nations person, I join the calls for an immediate end to the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, for allowing unrestricted humanitarian access and for ending Australia's complicity, which is making Israel's war crimes possible and which is what my colleagues have already spoken about. I stand in solidarity with Palestinian people in their struggle against settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing, and I join the many calls to uphold the rights of the Palestinian people and for these rights to be enshrined in international law.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been killed. Over half of these have been children. The deaths also include thousands of women and hundreds of health personnel and journalists. These are just the deaths that we know about. Even more have been injured and even more still displaced. Israel continues to cause massive destruction and severe damage to vital infrastructure facilities in the Gaza Strip. These facilities include schools; industrial facilities; health facilities, including hospitals, clinics and ambulances; mosques; and churches. Water, food, electricity and all humanitarian assistance have been cut off, with the United Nations, the World Health Organization and other international bodies describing this as an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe that is inhumane and amounts to a death sentence.

The history of state sponsored dispossession is one that we are familiar with here in Australia. We, as First Peoples of Australia, continue to live with the colonial legacies of disenfranchisement, poverty and economic devastation that have been imposed on us and manufactured by British, European and US imperialism. Just as my ancestors before us were subjected to massacres, enslavement and oppression, Australia continues to carry an outstanding and ongoing colonial debt that it is yet to settle with the First Peoples, as far back as the invasion of this country.

In recent weeks and months, we have seen an acceleration of Australia's campaign to criminalise and defame those who stand in solidarity with Palestinians. A perfect example was the Invasion Day rallies across Australia on 26 January. Defamed and dehumanised by the media and by politicians, Palestinians and their allies have been actively pursued, targeted and threatened with criminalisation when showing expressions of solidarity, including their national identity and especially the Palestinian flag. I see the many attempts, small and large, to suppress the voice of Palestinians in Australia and make them invisible. First Nations communities right across this country continue to support and stand in solidarity. Join the ICJ case.

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by Senator McKim be agreed to.