Senator David Shoebridge – criticising Australia’s sales of military equipment to Israel

Photo of Senator David Shoebridge
February 6, 2024

Numerous human rights organisations have called for a two-way arms embargo with the State of Israel, but, instead, Australia is also selling military equipment to Israel. DFAT data shows we’ve sent over $13 million in arms and ammunition exports to Israel over the past five years. ‘Arms and ammunition’ is defined by DFAT to be bombs, guns, bullets et cetera. As Declassified Australia has shown, Australia also provides key parts of every F-35 fighter jet used by Israel in its bombing of Gaza.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE (New South Wales) (20:28): Australia has become deeply involved in the harm industry, fuelled by the two war parties. We’ve handcuffed ourselves to the US and, in doing so, we’ve ensured that every time their hands get bloodier so do ours. The community wants Australia to be a force for peace in the world and to promote cooperation. How far away we are from that.

Since the Albanese government came into office in May 2022, they’ve signed fresh or extended contracts worth over $300 million with the Israeli defence industry for military equipment for the Australian Defence Force. This includes at least $18 million of contracts that were signed after Israel’s invasion of Gaza in October last year. We are literally sending taxpayers’ money to support the very corporations that are benefiting from the genocide in Gaza. We’re buying equipment like spike missiles from Rafael defence systems. These are missiles that have been tested on the population of Gaza for decades, missiles recently used to kill journalists in Lebanon and missiles designed to penetrate the concrete walls of Palestinian apartment buildings and send shrapnel through the rooms to kill every occupant.

The Albanese government is also paying Israeli defence contractor Elbit Systems to construct turrets for the multibillion-dollar infantry fighting vehicles. That’s the same Elbit Systems that’s meant to be on a blacklist due to the production of cluster munitions. It’s the same Elbit Systems that, only a few years ago, had to be stripped from Australian military equipment for fears it was stealing data covertly. It’s the same Elbit Systems that proudly states on its website right now:

…since the beginning of the Swords of Iron War, Elbit Systems has experienced a considerable increased demand for its solutions from the IMOD—

the Israel Ministry of Defence. ‘Solutions’, of course, is code for weapons and systems to kill Palestinians.

Numerous human rights organisations have called for a two-way arms embargo with the State of Israel, but, instead, Australia is also selling military equipment to Israel. DFAT data shows we’ve sent over $13 million in arms and ammunition exports to Israel over the past five years. ‘Arms and ammunition’ is defined by DFAT to be bombs, guns, bullets et cetera. As Declassified Australia has shown, Australia also provides key parts of every F-35 fighter jet used by Israel in its bombing of Gaza.

We’ve uncovered many Australian companies, which includes Bisalloy Steels, which provides armoured steel to Israeli arms company Rafael, which is used as add-on armour for armoured fighting vehicles used by the IDF in the ongoing violent destruction of Gaza. Bisalloy also provides steel for Plasan Reem, an Israeli company that makes armoured cars used in occupied Palestine by the police, military and settler militias. Let me say that again: extremist Israeli militias illegally occupying Palestinian land are doing so literally protected by Australian armour.

Meanwhile, the Albanese government, led in this case by the foreign minister, is gaslighting Australians, saying we’ve sent no weapons to Israel for five years, that her own department figures are in error and that there’s nothing to see. This is the kind of response we would expect from George Orwell’s ministry of truth, where war is peace, slavery is freedom, ignorance is truth and weapons are tennis rackets. The Albanese government must start taking action: stop military exports to Israel, stop buying Israeli weapons and do everything in its power to cause a permanent ceasefire.

In recent months, Iran and Turkiye have stepped up their attacks on Kurdish communities across the Middle East. In December last year, Turkiye carried out devastating air strikes in north-east Syria targeting civilian service facilities and infrastructure, causing extensive damage and worsening the fragile humanitarian situation in the region. These attacks followed a five-day air strike in October, where Turkiye literally obliterated electricity, gas and oil facilities in the same region. Many Kurds were killed and injured.

It’s not just Turkiye that is targeting Kurds; Iran is also stepping up attacks on Kurds. In January 2024, four Kurdish Iranians were executed after a secret trial conducted by the Iranian regime. They were denied their right to appeal the death sentence and forced to accept a government lawyer to represent them. These deaths are the most recent killings of Kurdish people by the Iranian regime for the crime of calling for Kurdish self-determination, calling for human rights and calling for cultural rights. In Iran, the Kurds’ fellow oppressed peoples, most prominently the women of Iran, have proven through the jin, jiyan, azadi—women, life, freedom—resistance movement that acts of violence such as executions, arrests, torture or disappearances will not defeat them, as brutal as those things are.

This is all occurring under the tragic cover of the invasion of Gaza and the ongoing appalling war in Ukraine. While the world is focused on the genocide in Gaza and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Turkiye and Iran face minimal to no scrutiny for their crimes against the Kurdish peoples. When will Australia say enough is enough? Enough of the violence; enough of the harm. When will the foreign minister call on the Turkish government to stop bombing Kurdish communities? Until we make a stand against this kind of violence, until we stand up for international human rights regardless of where those breaches happen, it will continue to grow.

Having recently returned from a trip to Indonesia, I’ve seen what good can be done if even a fraction of the effort and the wealth that we put into war, weapons and harm is instead used to help people. During my recent trip to Indonesia, organised by Save the Children as part of a cross-party parliamentary delegation, I saw just how essential it was that aid provided was long term and directed and controlled by local communities to address local needs and issues. While there, I went to visit RS Islam hospital in Jakarta with my parliamentary colleagues to see the work they do on fighting stigma and improving health outcomes for thousands of people with TB, HIV and malaria. This work treats patients as whole people, often supporting them to travel to and from hospital and to survive economically while undergoing complicated and long-term treatment, particularly for drug-resistant TB. The doctors, nurses and support staff, who are incredibly dedicated and professional, and with international assistance from the global fund, are able to deliver so much good.

I was also lucky enough to visit a program that was being delivered in Lombok, supported by Australia, for women’s economic and political empowerment. There, women were using locally created dyes and traditional weaving to create a fresh income stream through the village co-op. They’re now selling on Facebook in local markets, and they’re excitingly about to get a fresh online distributor. Their women-owned co-op keeps the profits.

The Fred Hollows Foundation eye centre in Lombok is also doing fantastic work. Indonesia continues to grapple with the significant public health issue of avoidable blindness. Given the size of the country and the challenges they face, there are an estimated 3.6 million blind citizens and 120,000 new cases annually in Indonesia. Hearing about the life-changing impacts of cataract surgery, where people’s vision is returned almost in an instant, was profound. The pure joy, the release from poverty and dependence, and the reinvigoration of life that result from cataract surgery are genuinely incredible. It is the skill and knowledge of Indonesian partners that are enabling this work to reach out and change lives right through the island of Lombok. Hundreds of thousands of small donors right across our country, Australia, have helped make this happen, and the impacts are immeasurable. I want to thank all involved. It was and is a privilege to see.

On Lombok, we also heard from local communities about the very real impacts of climate change on water security, especially on small-scale village brick-making economies, where the costs of pretty much every input, from water to fuel, rise with a longer and hotter dry season as a result of climate change. That for me was another clear lesson on the need to keep our coal and gas in the ground and invest in climate resilience, both in our neighbours and at home. Experiences like this, I hope, will allow this parliament to vote to increase our level of international aid and to direct it where it can make the greatest possible benefit. As we saw on this trip, that happens through long-term partnerships with friends and colleagues in countries like Indonesia on the priorities they identify through programs they design.

I want to thank everyone involved in the delegation—my fellow MPs and senators, the incredible team at Save the Children, the embassy staff, the Gates foundation and so many generous, knowledgeable and thoughtful Indonesian community members, government officials and local leaders—for making it happen.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard