Senator Eric Abetz – Estimates questions about Australian aid to the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian refugees

May 1, 2018

Questioned Australian aid to the Palestinian authority and the definition of Palestinian refugees.

The aid inflow to the Palestinian Authority was in total estimated to be $661 million, of which Australia provided about $10 million. Is that correct?

Whole interaction with Mr Matthew Neuhaus (Acting First Assistant Secretary, Middle East and Africa Division, DFAT)  during Senate Estimates (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Foreign Affairs and Trade Portfolio).

Senator ABETZ: Can I move to question on notice and answer 30 from supplementary budget estimates, where I inquired about the Middle East aid to the Palestinian Authority. The aid inflow to the Palestinian Authority was in total estimated to be $661 million, of which Australia provided about $10 million. Is that correct?


Ms Adamson : That was our answer, Senator.


Senator ABETZ: And then in answer 31 you very helpfully tell me how much was paid out by the authority in the welfare association for families of martyrs and you provide me with the monetary terms in shekels. Thank goodness my state school education taught me how to drive a calculator, but can I say it was singularly unhelpful of the official that thought to do that. If my calculations are right, there was a considerable sum paid out.


Ms Adamson : Senator, we’re not—


Senator ABETZ: Are we concerned that our aid money is in effect assisting the Palestinian Authority to be paying out under this welfare association for families of martyrs, which basically assists and encourages terrorism, suicide bombers et cetera?


Mr Neuhaus : It’s good to be discussing this again with you, Senator Abetz. With regard to the Palestinian Authority, as we’ve advised before, this goes through a World Bank multidonor trust fund to ensure the screening of this, and we are confident that none of this money would go anywhere near this activity.


Senator ABETZ: Of course not. But if we didn’t provide all this foreign aid—


Senator SINGH: All this foreign aid!


Senator ABETZ: Yes, it is hundreds of millions of dollars, and we’re talking about the world community here—the Palestinian Authority would not be able to have this discretionary funding. I would’ve thought, Senator, that the support of families that are encouraged to sacrifice their children on the basis that they will be paid monies is not something that we should be scoffing at. I find it reprehensible and I want to know what we are doing to monitor to ensure that we are not in effect liberating Palestinian Authority money by them using our money as aid for their normal requirements and that then freeing up their money. Sure, it’s not the money, and the money trail would show that it doesn’t flow through, but clearly they must have sufficient funds of their own to fund this.


Mr Neuhaus : Well, Senator Abetz, I cannot comment on where the money that you’re referring to would come from, but I do know that the money—


Senator ABETZ: If it doesn’t come from foreign aid money—


Senator WONG: Chair!


CHAIR: Senator Abetz, you did ask a question. Mr Neuhaus was about two words into his reply, so possibly give him the courtesy of letting him answer first.


Mr Neuhaus : I can assure you that the money that is given by both the Australian government and the international community, which helps millions of Palestinians and educates hundreds of thousands of children—and I think this has been observed by many senators here as well—is carefully monitored and is used for those proper purposes.


Senator ABETZ: And wouldn’t the Palestinian authority be able to pay for these very good and worthwhile projects if they weren’t shovelling the money out the door to encourage terrorism amongst their people and subsidising the families of suicide bombers?


Mr Neuhaus : No-one agrees with subsidising the families of suicide bombers, and we’ve made that point. But I think the proportions are significantly different.


Senator ABETZ: Well, not all that different. But I will allow you to re-examine them once you’ve done the conversion from Israeli shekels. I would invite you to undertake that.


Mr Neuhaus : We’ll be happy to do that.


Senator ABETZ: Are you aware that the US House of Representatives in December unanimously passed the Taylor Force Act, which links continued US aid to the Palestinian authority ceasing such payments, and has DFAT recommended that the government consider the same approach? I repeat that the US House of Representatives unanimously passed that; it was bipartisan. I think it’s something that we should give serious consideration to.


Mr Neuhaus : We are very aware of that.


Senator ABETZ: Right. You’re aware of it.


Mr Neuhaus : Yes.


Senator ABETZ: That’s one thing. What are you doing about it? Are you saying, ‘Interesting, but no action,’ or, ‘Very interesting, and we should follow suit’?


Mr Neuhaus : That will depend on the decision of the government. We are the servants of the government.


Senator ABETZ: Yes, and have you made any recommendations—without telling me what they are—to the government about this?


Mr Neuhaus : We have not made any recommendations on this issue at this time.


Senator ABETZ: All right. Are we satisfied that the classification of ‘Palestinian refugee’ is a robust classification? As I understand it, there are Palestinians living in Gaza, which has no Israeli presence and is part of what is termed ‘Palestine’, yet people living in Palestine who are Palestinian are classified and then funded as Palestinian refugees?


Mr Neuhaus : The question you ask goes, I suppose, to the scope of UNWRA itself and who it provides support to.


Senator ABETZ: And whom we support?


Mr Neuhaus : And whom we and the international community support.


Senator ABETZ: Yes. And what is the rationale for that? As I understand it, there is no other population who are living within their own country that is not occupied by other forces that would be considered to be refugees, so this is a unique carve-out.


Mr Neuhaus : Well, it is quite unique, and UNWRA itself is a very unique organisation because of the rather unique circumstances of the Palestinian territories. We all know the history of how we got to where we are now.


Senator ABETZ: Yes, but what’s the justification, what’s the rationale, for this special treatment? It’s not the normal definition of ‘refugee’, and it helps boost the numbers. Also, there are people in Jordan, for example, who are citizens of Jordan, but they are still classified for UNWRA as Palestinian refugees.


Mr Neuhaus : It does depend on the origins. It’s quite a complex situation that we enter into. Some people have, indeed, achieved Jordanian citizenship over the years, but many of these people—most of them—are from the Palestinian territories. But this is a very fluid part of the world, when you look back, since the 1940s.


Senator ABETZ: It’s not the only part fluid part of the world, and I want to get an understanding as to why there is this special treatment and categorisation in relation to ‘Palestinian refugee’ in comparison to a lot of other populations. Can you please take that on notice and provide me with a detailed answer. I will place more questions on notice.


Mr Neuhaus : Very happy to provide a detailed answer—and that will require a lawyer’s also involved.

Link to full Hansard transcript.