Senate debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2024

Matters of Urgency


4:45 pm

Photo of Penny Allman-PaynePenny Allman-Payne (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Senate will now consider the proposal from Senator McKim:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today the Australian Greens propose to move "That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The need for the Government to cease using one of the most secretive military export systems in the world to hide from the public the export of Australian military equipment to the State of Israel, particularly as the Chief Economist of DFAT has acknowledged that DFAT data showing millions of dollars in 'arms and ammunition' being exported to Israel is credible."

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.

Photo of David ShoebridgeDavid Shoebridge (NSW, 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 need for the Government to cease using one of the most secretive military export systems in the world to hide from the public the export of Australian military equipment to the State of Israel, particularly as the Chief Economist of DFAT has acknowledged that DFAT data showing millions of dollars in 'arms and ammunition' being exported to Israel is credible.

We know that Australia exports military equipment to Israel, but the Albanese government is determined to mislead the public to avoid accountability. Previously, when I revealed that Australia was exporting military equipment to Israel, Minister Wong accused me and the Greens of misinformation. Keeping this in mind, I want to start by reading from a statement issued in the last few days by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, urging countries to stop exporting military equipment to Israel:

The United States and Germany are by far the largest arms exporters and shipments have increased since 7 October 2023. Other military exporters include France, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

…   …   …

State officials involved in arms exports may be individually criminally liable for aiding and abetting any war crimes …

Is the UN also spreading misinformation? And, as this motion mentions, the chief economist of DFAT, Penny Wong's own department, said of DFAT's data, which shows that Australia has exported millions and millions of dollars worth of arms and ammunition to Israel in the last five years, including as recently as October, 'I would say there has been no question or challenge to the credibility of any of the data we publish.' When he says that, is DFAT's chief economist accused of misinformation?

What about the Australian companies bragging about the military equipment they sell to the Israeli arms industry and the Israeli Ministry of Defense? These are companies that many Labor MPs have visited. They have taken photos amongst the production lines of the military equipment that has been exported. Are those companies spreading misinformation? What about the glossy government brochures trumpeting Australia's role in the production of F-35 parts, including the mechanisms that open the bomb bay doors of F-35s used by the Israeli military to rain bombs on Gaza? What about those glossy brochures from Defence that were mysteriously scrubbed off Defence's website since October? Is Defence lying too and spreading misinformation?

When a Palestinian in Gaza sees an Australian-made drone drifting over their home and highlighting them or their family as a target, are they not understanding what they see? When a spike missile from Rafael demolishes a Gazan hospital, guided by one of the integration kits Australia pumps into the global supply chain or when an Israeli military armoured vehicle drives over the rubble of a home in Gaza, literally protected by Australian steel, are the Palestinians who are experiencing this right now and who are facing these weapons that we exported just imagining it? Is that the line from the government? Far from stopping the arms trade with Israel, the Israeli government won't even acknowledge it's happening. It won't even own up to the violence that they are permitting with weapons that Australia sells. But the public knows and the public sees what has been done, and they can see they've been gaslighted by this government.

Today, a two-month-old baby in Gaza died from malnutrition—just one of thousands and thousands of Palestinian children. The thought that the last thing that that child might have heard was the faint buzz of an Australian drone circling above them is an appalling thought. People want Australia to be a force for good in the world and a force for peace, and instead the Albanese government has tied itself to the harm industry, just like the coalition before them. Today we saw that the Albanese government has given Australian weapons company Elbit Systems a billion-dollar contract for Australia's infantry fighting vehicle. This is the same company that announced its expectation of superprofits from the war on Gaza due to 'the increase in demand for our solutions by the Israeli Ministry of Defense'. Make no mistake; Elbit is using the brutal assault on Palestinians to sell its weapons, actively experimenting on—and then working with the Israeli military to celebrate—how effectively they kill Palestinians, and the Australian government is buying hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment from it. How on earth could any government with a moral compass do this?

I urge this chamber to support this motion. I urge the government to admit not just to the public but to the world Australia's complicity in what's going on in Gaza. Why hide? Why gaslight? It's because the government knows that the public is against it on this. The government is trying everything it can to disempower the millions of Australians demanding a better world. But enough is enough. It's time for the government to stop the two-way arms race with the State of Israel. It's time to call for an immediate ceasefire. It's time to— (Time expired)

4:50 pm

Photo of Andrew BraggAndrew Bragg (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make some remarks on this urgency motion. I do so by starting with the context here. These have been very difficult matters that I know are debated widely across our community, and there are very strong feelings in the Australian society about this foreign conflict. And that's what it is: it is a foreign conflict. It is a matter, therefore, of foreign policy as to how Australia engages. Yes, there are strong domestic feelings on either side of the debate, but ultimately the parliament has to come to a judgement on whether to support the Western alliance and to support the values and principles that we believe in, which I believe are under the greatest threat that has been seen for some decades. I see a large part of this attack on Israel as a broader attack on the West. That is my starting point in this debate.

It is undeniable that the 7 October attacks were an almost unbelievable conflict, and that is where this all started. People have debated over the last few months. We know this was the bloodiest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust. This now has descended into a very bloody conflict over the last few months. When I reflect on how we would react if we were attacked in the way that Israel was, I think most Australians would expect that there would be a full defence of our society, of our nation, against an attack like that. The idea that Israel, as a democracy and as a partner and an ally of Australia, would not be able to avail itself of a defence and then attempt to destruct the organisation that brought the attack is, I think, patently ridiculous.

And so the position Australia has taken has been to support Israel in its attempt to disarm and destruct Hamas. That is the position. I think that is the only position that Australia can take, because any other position would be giving into an organisation that doesn't believe that there should be a Jewish state. That is the bottom line here. The perpetrators of these attacks, the people who started this war, do not believe that Israel should exist. If Israel were not to defend itself against this threat, there would not be a Jewish state. That may be something that some political parties would like to see. It is not something that is a reasonable objective, in my view. Putting that aside though, I understand that there are very strong feelings about this in the community, but the reality is that Australia cannot take any other position, other than to support Israel against this insurgency, which is designed to wipe Israel off the map.

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

It's genocide!

Photo of Andrew BraggAndrew Bragg (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I take the interjection. Yes, it is an attempt at genocide by Hamas, which does want to eradicate the State of Israel from the map. I believe that is what we're looking at now, as we consider this complex matter of foreign policy. There will not be a Jewish state if Hamas is allowed to continue in its way.

I note the very strong feelings in the community and the differences of opinion, but I honestly don't believe that there is any alternative other than Israel rooting out and eradicating Hamas with our support and the support of the Western alliance. I don't think there's any other reasonable position that we can take. This is not a blank cheque for Israel, but it is the only position we can take as a fair and decent society.

4:55 pm

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

The government has been very clear on the matter of defence exports to the State of Israel, and the facts have been laid out in the Senate and by Defence officials in Senate estimates as recently as the last round only a few weeks ago, but I want to take the opportunity to reiterate what the government has already made very clear. Australia has not supplied weapons to the State of Israel since the conflict began and for, at least, the past five years. Let me repeat that, so there is no confusion. Australia has not supplied weapons to the State of Israel since the conflict began and for at least the past five years.

Australia has a stringent export control framework, which is designed to ensure our military and dual-use items are used responsibly outside of the Commonwealth of Australia. This framework applies to a wide range of goods and technology, including items used for civilian and commercial purposes, and, as such, export permits should not be confused with weapons sales. Defence undertakes a rigorous assessment of each export application. This includes determining if there is an overriding risk that the export may be used in ways contrary to Australia's national interest or international obligations. If this risk is identified, Defence refuses the permit. As a matter of course, this framework accounts for changes in the strategic environment to ensure exports continue to align with our international obligations—noting that Australia is a party to and fully implements all major international arms control treaties, including the Arms Trade Treaty. I would also note the proactive steps that this government is taking to reform and strengthen Australia's export control framework. The committee I chair, the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, is holding a hearing this Friday on the Defence Trade Controls Amendment Bill 2023, which will strengthen Australia's export controls framework.

The Hamas-Israel conflict is a deeply distressing issue for many in our community here in Australia, and one where people hold very different views—as is their right. It is only right that our language matters on such issues and matters before us and the truth underpinning them. It's important that we maintain that respect for each other. People come to Australia because they want to live in a country that is peaceful, tolerant and respectful. We must also work together to ensure that distress in our community does not turn into hatred. As community leaders, we need to be careful about how we say or articulate our points in this place. But sadly, time and time again, there are senators who peddle a false narrative on blatant misinformation.

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

Yes. Some of them are very senior!

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

The Australian government provides information in the interests of transparency, but sadly we continue having interjections from the Australian Greens. The Australian Greens deliberately misinterpret that information for political campaigns. This only divides the community and undermines trust in public institutions. We have seen the cost of that around the world.

Repeatedly, we have heard Defence officials advise that Australia has not supplied weapons to the state of Israel, despite the Australian Greens continuing to ignore that advice. For the past five years, not a single weapon has been sent over there. Yet we hear the Greens continue to incorrectly conflate export permits with the sales of weapons.

Australia has a stringent control framework which ensures that military and dual-use items are used responsibly outside of Australia in ways that do not violate human rights. It has been a long-held practice of successive Australian governments to seek to be transparent on these matters, as well as balancing national security considerations and commercial sensitivities.

All Australians have a right to be safe and feel safe, but everyone should also engage in peaceful and respectful dialogue, not reproduce overseas conflict in Australia. I call on all senators to ensure that they are respectful in the debates in this place.

5:01 pm

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

For years, the Australian government has sought to become one of the world's top arms dealers. In fact, it was a policy taken to an election by the Liberal Party, and endorsed by the Labor Party, that Australia should become one of the top 10 arms dealers in the world—one of the top 10 merchants of death and purveyors of destruction; members of a global fraternity capitalising on the moral failure of war.

The last few weeks and months have made very clear what the consequences are of being an arms exporter. What does the result of this industry actually look like? It looks like dead children. It looks like razed cities. It looks like suffering of an unimaginable extent—unimaginable to so many in this place, and yet the daily life, the daily reality, of the people of Gaza.

Australia sells what it calls 'defence export permits' to countries all around the world. Now, behind this seemingly innocuous term, this is the truth: the system that has been created to enable Australian corporations to sell arms overseas has been specifically designed to obscure from the Australian people what weapons are being sold, how many weapons are being sold and what those weapons are being used for. The Albanese government has sold defence export permits to the Israeli defence force—equipment that has almost certainly been used to kill innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip and potentially in the West Bank and Lebanon as well. Australia has sold defence export permits to Saudi Arabia and to the United Arab Emirates, two countries that are infamous for their war crimes during the Yemeni civil war, of which, the foreign minister has made clear, her department is aware. Other countries we have sold defence export permits to include Indonesia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, all of whom are known to have committed serious human rights violations and violated international law, and, yes, committed war crimes. The government has talked a lot about the importance of the international rules based order, but what has become clear is that they do not care how much harm is caused to people, wherever they are in the world, as long as they can make money from selling guns—from selling weapons.

Let me tackle head-on the nonsense that is being trotted out here to gaslight the Australian public, to lead the Australian public to believe that our government is innocent of selling weapons to the State of Israel. The incredibly slippery word use by this government, in making false definitions between a bullet and the chip that guides a missile, brings all who let it pass by their tongue into disrepute. The Australian public know exactly what is meant when an Australian corporation sells armour for an armoured vehicle or when a Tasmanian corporation builds the engine for a drone. You think the public fools. They are not, and at the election they will hold you accountable for every one of the times you have tried to imply that they are fools.

5:06 pm

Photo of Penny Allman-PaynePenny Allman-Payne (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on what is a national disgrace. As we watch in horror at the unfolding genocide beamed into our living rooms from the Middle East, the Labor government has used one of the most secretive military export systems in the world to support the State of Israel's atrocities against the people of Gaza. Providing military aid to this regime is a stain on the character of this country and it implicates us all in the slaughter of Palestinian people. Over the last five years, Australia has provided $10 million in arms and ammunition to Israel, and today it's reported that the Australian government has provided Israeli weapons company Elbit Systems with a $190 million defence contract. In doing so, the Labor government is contributing to the means through which these companies continue to facilitate the murder of civilians, obliterating entire families and orphaning children.

It's despicable that Labor continues to completely deny Australia's involvement in the supply of arms to Israel. Their complicity in Israel's crimes against humanity must never be forgotten. What hope is there for a lasting peace in Israel and Palestine when countries like Australia deny the reality of what is happening in Gaza, while facilitating the supply of the very weapons that Israel is using to carry out its indefensible campaign of violence? Supporting military exports to aid the genocidal ambitions of an apartheid state is a deep moral failing of this government, and it makes Australia a party to an egregious campaign of desecration and destruction. Ceasefire now. Free Palestine.

5:08 pm

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

The Labor government has been boldly telling the Australian people an insidious lie. Since 7 October we've heard senior ministers tell us over and over again that Australia has not been exporting military equipment to the Israeli state. We heard Senator Ciccone just now saying, 'Australia has not supplied weapons'. But the facts just do not add up. That statement means that it's a definitional thing—that parts of F-35 bombers parts of the bomb bay doors, which Australian companies supply, are defined as not being weapons, despite them being the very thing that turns the F-35 from a plane into a bomber. It defines drones not as weapons. It defines armour not as weapons. These are weapons—these are part of weapons. They are parts of Australian sanctioned weapons that are being supplied to the Israeli state and they are part of the genocide which is going on in Gaza.

It's outrageous to learn that there are over 50 companies making essential parts for every F-35 fighter jet that the Israel Defense Forces use to kill innocent Palestinian civilians—this, in the most serious of contexts, in circumstances where the International Court of Justice has said there's a credible risk of genocide, where 30,000 people have been killed at the hands of the Israeli government, where 100,000 people have been injured, where millions of people are currently living in absolute fear for their lives in Rafah, starving, desperately trying to keep their children and themselves alive in the throes of famine and disease while being threatened with further invasion and further attacks. In recent days, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Michael Fakhri, has said:

Intentionally depriving people of food is clearly a war crime. Israel has announced its intention to destroy the Palestinian people, in whole or in part, simply for being Palestinian. In my view as a UN human rights expert, this is now a situation of genocide. This means the state of Israel in its entirety is culpable and should be held accountable—not just individuals or this government or that person.

And many of those weapons being used in this genocide have direct ties to Australia.

Australia also plays a major role in Israeli and US surveillance. In November, Michael West Media reported:

The Pine Gap US surveillance base located outside of Alice Springs in Australia is collecting an enormous range of communications and electronic intelligence from the brutal Gaza-Israel battlefield—and this data is being provided to the Israel Defence Forces

data that is probably directing where those bombs are going to be killing people. Who knows what kinds of violence and devastation the Israel Defense Forces are using this data for, but Australia should and must not play a part in it.

Tens of thousands of Australians are on the streets every week, protesting, speaking out for humanity and for Australians to do more. We Greens support them, and we are with them. The Australian community overwhelmingly sees what's going on, and I salute every person who is speaking out. But, instead of helping to end the violence, our Labor government is continuing to lie and sell military equipment to Israel, has cut aid to Palestine and refuses to sign onto the International Court of Justice investigation. Our foreign minister and our Prime Minister mouth weasel words about 'how Israel conducts itself matters' and make hypocritical statements of concern about the plight of the Palestinian people but refuse to take any action to back up these sentiments. These actions and this lack of action are making our nation complicit in a genocide. Enough is enough. We need action from the government, not lies and worthless statements. We have a responsibility to act decisively, to stop the crime of genocide and to support punishment for genocide wherever it occurs, and there is so much that we could be doing to stop—

Photo of Penny Allman-PaynePenny Allman-Payne (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Rice, just resume your seat. Point of order?

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

I wouldn't normally interrupt a senator's contribution, but I think that over the last week or so the word 'lie' has been deemed to be unparliamentary by not just the President but also the Deputy President. I just would ask that the senator either withdraw or reconsider that use of word in the future.

Photo of Penny Allman-PaynePenny Allman-Payne (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

That is the case. Senator Rice, would you like to withdraw and rephrase?

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

I will withdraw and say that the Australian government is misleading the Australian community. There is so much more that Australia could be doing. We must be calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire. We must end all military and security trade and cooperation with Israel. We should be formally, publicly backing South Africa's proceedings against Israel in the ICJ. We should be sanctioning Prime Minister Netanyahu and his entire war cabinet. And, as we called for in our motion that we attempted to debate on Monday, we should be unequivocally withdrawing our support for the state of Israel.

Photo of Penny Allman-PaynePenny Allman-Payne (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by Senator Shoebridge at the request of Senator McKim be agreed to.