Questioned the status of the UN resolution on an inquiry into the deaths of Palestinian protesters in Gaza, the public response to Australia’s position on the resolution, and whether DFAT has considered the applicability of the Montevideo Convention to Palestine.
My supplementary question is about the response within the Australian community. Is the department aware of any concerns raised with the department or with the minister about the Australian position in terms of the vote? Have there been correspondence or concerns raised formally with the department or with the minister’s office about our position, and clarifying the minister’s statement?
Whole interaction Ms HK Yu (First Assistant Secretary, Middle East and Africa, DFAT), Dr Justin Lee (First Assistant Secretary, Multilateral Policy Division, DFAT), Ms Frances Adamson (Secretary, DFAT) and Mr James Larsen (Senior Legal Adviser, Legal Division, DFAT) during Senate Estimates (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Foreign Affairs and Trade Portfolio).
For context see Senator Richard Di Natale’s questions about the same UN resolution, immediately prior to this interaction.
Senator MOORE: In your understanding, what is the situation now in terms of an independent inquiry?
Ms Yu : In terms of the UNHRC’s inquiry?
Senator MOORE: Yes.
Ms Yu : I understand that the inquiry design is being put together. We are closely monitoring it, but we don’t actually have the final description of how the inquiry will be undertaken.
Dr Lee : It has not yet been decided as to how that inquiry will go forward.
Senator MOORE: The understanding is that there will be an acceptance of an independent inquiry; is that your understanding?
Dr Lee : That’s correct. We voted against the resolution but the resolution was passed. But it’s not yet been decided.
Senator MOORE: That’s in the context that the core issue is the independent inquiry, and it’s your understanding that that will occur?
Ms Yu : That is going ahead and—
CHAIR: Can I get broadcasting to check, because a number of the microphones, both for senators and for the witnesses, are coming in and out, which is making it a bit difficult to hear. Senator Moore, do you want to start again?
Senator MOORE: It’s to clarify exactly the situation around the independent inquiry resolution. Is it your understanding that that will go ahead?
Ms Yu : Yes.
Senator MOORE: We are waiting to have the public advice about what form that will take?
Ms Yu : Yes.
Senator MOORE: Will that be subject to a further vote?
Dr Lee : I’m not aware at this stage whether it will be subject to a vote. We can check that.
Senator MOORE: Please, yes.
Dr Lee : My understanding is that that will not be subject to a vote. The commission of inquiry will proceed, when it’s decided how that will proceed. But I can double-check that.
Senator MOORE: My supplementary question is about the response within the Australian community. Is the department aware of any concerns raised with the department or with the minister about the Australian position in terms of the vote? Have there been correspondence or concerns raised formally with the department or with the minister’s office about our position, and clarifying the minister’s statement?
Ms Yu : Yes, there have been a number of inquiries made, both in terms of clarifying why we voted the way we did and in terms of agreeing with the way the vote was placed.
Senator MOORE: You’re getting it from both sides?
Ms Yu : Yes.
Senator MOORE: And they’re getting responses back. Is that through the department or through the minister’s office?
Ms Yu : Some have been through the department directly. Others, I believe, are coming through the system, through the minister’s office.
Senator MOORE: With the timing of your understanding of the information about the format of the independent inquiry, has there been any discussion about when that will come back for consideration?
Dr Lee : No, we’ve not been informed of that yet. That’s still to be decided.
Senator MOORE: That will come back to the human rights committee?
Dr Lee : It will be within the Human Rights Council.
Ms Adamson : Chair, Dr Lee would like to clarify one point.
Dr Lee : Yes, on that last subject for Senator Moore, I can confirm that there will not be a further vote on the commission of inquiry, nor resolution. It will proceed based on the resolution that’s been passed. But we are waiting for details.
Senator MOORE: That will contain the details of who will be doing the terms of reference and timeframes; is that right?
Dr Lee : Yes. So it will come back to the Human Rights Council and we’ll get further details of the commission of inquiry. But there will not be a further vote nor resolution needed.
Senator MOORE: Thank you very much, Mr Lee.
Senator MOORE: I’ll just ask a couple of questions on clarification. It’s a backgrounder point about the Montevideo convention. I’m looking at how the convention sets out the terms of the Palestinian situation. They are very straightforward questions. I’m wanting to run through a couple of questions about the process with the Montevideo convention. I’m checking to see whether the department has considered the Palestine situation around the Montevideo convention, particularly around a series of points in that convention. It’s just to see what the process has been. If they need to be taken on notice, I’m cool with that as well because I know it’s a convention that’s quite complex. I’m wanting to know, in the department’s consideration—if there have been any—does the current situation with Palestine satisfy the qualification of a permanent population as set out in Article 1(a) of the Montevideo convention?
Mr Larsen : I think it would be sensible to take that on notice.
Senator KITCHING: That will be fine. In the same vein, the qualification of a defined territory as set out in Article 1(b), the qualification of government as set out in Article 1(c) and the capacity to enter into relations with other states as set out in Article 1(d). And has the department considered the process around which Palestine could meet the requirements for recognition as a state? Also, has the department provided advice to the Minister for Foreign Affairs or her office, or to the Prime Minister and his office, in relation to these processes?
Mr Larsen : As you would expect, the issue of Palestinian claims to statehood has arisen in a wide variety of different contexts.
Senator MOORE: Over many years.
Mr Larsen : Over many years. The Australian government’s position is clear, and we’ve made that clear in a number of different fora. When you look at the relevant criteria under the Montevideo Convention, our view is that it, first of all, depends on the particular organisation that is in question and the constitution of that organisation. But also, as a general proposition, Australia’s view is that the question of statehood in the case of the Palestinians pre-empts a final status solution. So, consistently, over an extended period, the Australian government has tended to form the view that the Palestinian territories do not meet the terms of that convention.
Senator MOORE: Given that, I want to know whether any other consideration had been done based on that convention. Is it possible to put my questions on notice to see whether that process has occurred? I’m aware of the public statements that have been made in a number of fora over the years, but I want to check it out against this process?
Mr Larsen : Senator, I think I can say that the criteria identified in the Montevideo Convention have been a factor in the department’s advice to governments and various considerations of the statehood question.