PRIVATE MEMBER'S BUSINESS - GAZA
I last spoke here about both the scale of civilian deaths in Palestine and the murders and kidnappings by Hamas four months ago and I'm appalled that the hostages are not all home and that there has been increasing loss of life in Gaza, beyond what I could have imagined. Despite the calls by Australia and 152 other countries for a humanitarian ceasefire and a permanent peace, despite the efforts to negotiate a peace by countries with influence in the Middle East and despite the calls by Australia and so many others for Israel to abide by the International Court of Justice ruling that it take measures to prevent genocide in Gaza, the death toll and destruction continues and the safer space for Palestinians gets smaller and smaller.
More than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed, the vast majority of them women and children. There are now around 1½ million people in the southern district of Rafah, people who are reported to be thirsty, cold and hungry —many wounded. With disease spreading, many are no doubt exhausted and traumatised. They crowded into schools, hospitals, mosques and tents. Yet we are told Rafah is Israel's next offensive. Our aid is struggling to get in, with the World Health Organization warning that there are near-insurmountable challenges. It is a humanitarian crisis.
I think most of us struggle to comprehend why this is happening and we want it to end. It's the last thing many Australians see before they go to sleep and it's there in their social media feeds when they switch on in the morning. Is it any wonder the levels of distress at home are so high? For many, it has raised issues about which they knew little—issues about decisions made more than 75 years ago, about the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Gaza and the West Bank, about decades of illegal settlements and about the increasing violence in the West Bank. These are things people have not had the opportunity to see firsthand, as I did seven years ago. But I know that many elected representatives on all sides of this parliament have been to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and are well aware of the complexities and of the urgency of reaching peace in this region. That's why I'm profoundly disappointed by the way the distress of good and compassionate people across our communities is being manipulated and their grief weaponised to create greater division here in Australia.
At our national conference last year I remarked that, as tensions continued to escalate and more lives on both sides were lost, I couldn't imagine there was a single person in that convention room who would want anything other than for us to work together towards a just and enduring peace. I would hope there is not a single person in this parliament who doesn't also want to see a just and enduring peace for Palestinians and Israelis. We've called out the obstacles to this on both sides and we've said consistently that there can be no enduring Israeli presence in Gaza after this conflict and no reduction of territory. We support the Palestinian aspiration for statehood as part of a negotiated settlement, and I personally have spoken of my desire to see that sooner rather than later.
Rather than seek to divide and attack people who for decades have advocated for a two-state solution for Palestinians and Israelis for the sake of some likes on social media and to pick off votes, I especially urge the Greens to resist the instinct to fuel the conflicts, spread misinformation and set one side against the other. Instead, work with us on what we can do as a respected player in the Middle East. We may not have the role that we have with our closer Pacific and South-East Asian neighbours, but Australia has long had a commitment to playing whatever role we can in a two-state solution. I urge the opposition and Greens not to continue to peddle errors. For instance, Australia has not provided weapons to Israel since the conflict began, nor for the last five years. Contrary to the claims of the opposition leader, our legal advice is that our funding of UNRWA is entirely within the law. We hold firm with the view that UNRWA is the only aid organisation that can effectively deliver largescale aid into Gaza. We welcome their swift response to allegations against their staff, and the independent review that is currently underway.
Research out of Britain shows that, when conflict is portrayed as a simplistic, two-sided thing, people can
feel forced to take a side and that social media portrayal gives licence to a small but vocal fringe of conflict
entrepreneurs and extremists to use the conflict as an opportunity to sow discord and hate. Don't let this continue in Australia. Set aside the politics, for the good of our fellow Australians. Help to rein in the Islamophobia and antisemitism and work with us for a two-state solution.
Watch Susan deliver this speech in Parliament here.