Senator Jordon Steele-John – Estimates questions regarding the Government’s discussions with Israel on the ICJ

Photo of Senator Jordon Steele-John
February 15, 2024

Minister, you have stated that you expect the State of Israel to fully comply with the ICJ. Have you communicated this to the Israeli government and, if so, how so?

CHAIR: That’s good timing, because Senator Steele-John has just come in. You have some questions, I understand.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I do. What wonderful timing that was; my God!

CHAIR: You read my mind.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I did. We’re telepathically linked, you and me. Minister, at an annual lecture at the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs in Hobart in 2021, you said:

It appears there are clear violations of international law in Xinjiang and other countries have described this as genocide.

We call on the Morrison Government to provide its assessment of what is happening in Xinjiang—based on all the information available to its agencies—and what it is doing to address the situation.

Uyghur communities in Australia are also frustrated and understandably worried about loved ones in China—and they really do need more support from the Morrison Government.

Will your government be conducting such an assessment in relation to Palestine? For the record, there was a laugh that just rippled around the room.

Senator Wong: No. Excuse me, Senator.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: And I’m not too sure what anyone, or yourself, would find funny about the situation unfolding in Palestine.

Senator Wong: Were you here this morning when I outlined our statement? Have you bothered—

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I am here now.

Senator Wong: May I finish?

Senator STEELE-JOHN: And you are laughing in relation to this situation.

Senator Wong: No, I am not—

CHAIR: Thank you! Please do not speak to the minister like that.

Senator Wong: I was amused at the extent to which you were seeking to create, through past statements from three or four years ago, a connection with the now in order to get to the same point that we were at before. First, in relation to the speech, I think this was the speech I gave as a shadow minister, from memory, and it obviously did not relate to the issue in Gaza. I do take objection to the suggestion that you’re trying to make about my response. If you had been here this morning you would’ve seen me very clearly outline Australia’s position in relation to the situation in Rafah, and I would hope you have also seen the statement from the prime ministers of Canada, New Zealand and Australia about that. You may not believe that we are doing as much as we should, but we are doing all we can to advocate for a pathway to peace and, critically, the protection of civilian lives, which is what I have done and what the government has done from day one—from day one.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: In your capacity as a shadow foreign affairs spokesperson, you made a very specific call upon the then Morrison government to assess what was occurring or is occurring in Xinjiang to test whether it met the definition of genocide. Have you and your department conducted such an assessment in relation to Palestine?

Senator Wong: I think that speech, from memory, and even the quote you read, talked about the government to consider—

Senator STEELE-JOHN: It did not.

Senator Wong: the second point. Can I finish? Thank you. As Mr McCarthy I think said before and as I have said publicly, that determination of that fact is a matter for the international tribunals. That has been our consistent position.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: As shadow foreign affairs spokesperson and shadow minister, you said, and I will quote you again, ‘We call on the Morrison government to provide its assessment of what is happening in Xinjiang.’ Has your department conducted an assessment into what is happening in Xinjiang?

Senator Wong: Sorry, I thought you asking—

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I am now asking you about Xinjiang.

Senator Wong: You were asking about Gaza.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I am now asking you about Xinjiang.

Senator Wong: I will get other officials to the table. Are you going to stay on Palestine or will you go to China and Xinjiang now?

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I am going to move around as the line of questioning requires.

Senator Wong: It is a matter of courtesy about which officials we will require.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Most of these questions will actually be for you.

Senator Wong: You don’t need to be rude. You actually don’t need to be. I think Ms Lawson previously or Mr Sloper has gone through the range of ways in which we have put Australia’s view on human rights in Xinjiang and elsewhere, so I would refer you to those answers—you may not have been present—and they can explain again what we have done, if you wish.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I simply need an answer to the question: Has your government performed an assessment of the situation in Xinjiang to determine whether it constitutes a genocide, as you called on the Morrison government to do in 2021?

Ms Lawson : I think what the minister has said is that questions around genocide are a matter for relevant appropriate courts and tribunal.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Minister, you have stated that you expect the State of Israel to fully comply with the ICJ. Have you communicated this to the Israeli government and, if so, how so?

Senator Wong: That issue has been communicated at official level and also through the public statements that I have made.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: To what level do you believe the State of Israel to be complying with the ICJ orders?

Mr McCarthy : Well, under the provisional orders, the State of Israel is requested to report back to the ICJ, I think, a month from the date that the provisional orders were handed down.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: And to the Australian government’s knowledge, are they doing that?

Mr McCarthy : They will report on that, and the ICJ will obviously consider that report. The provisional orders are of the ICJ and it would be for the ICJ to determine whether the State of Israel is complying with those provisional orders.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: If the State of Israel fails to comply, will Australia propose or join a UN resolution insisting or requiring Israel to comply?

Mr McCarthy : The minister has been absolutely clear that we expect the State of Israel to comply with the provisional measures of the ICJ and, beyond that, that question is a hypothetical.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: If the State of Israel fails to comply, will Australia move to suspend military or diplomatic partnerships in response?

Mr McCarthy : Again, it is a hypothetical. The State of Israel is required, under the provisional measures, to report back on its compliance with provisional measures, from memory, one month after the date that the provisional measures were handed down. I can check the record on that. Then the ICJ will have regard to that report into whether Israel is complying with the provisional measures. Beyond that, again, this is a hypothetical. You are asking us to respond to a situation that is a hypothetical.

Mr Maclachlan : To save time, I will confirm for Mr McCarthy that it was to submit a report to the court within one month.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Yes, I’m well aware. The question before the entire global community is about the consequences of non-compliance. Is it the position of the Australian government that there is no value to make clear to Israel what the consequence is of its non-compliance with the world’s highest court would be?

Senator Wong: The position of the Australian government is as outlined. Our expectation is that Israel would comply—I think was the word—with the orders of the ruling of the ICJ. That remains our view and, other than that, what you are asking us to do is to go ahead of the court’s consideration of that report. If one is genuinely committed to the principle of international law and norms and the entities, including the ICJ, then we obviously will await what they do and say.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: But, Minister, you don’t bomb civilians for 29 days and then stop on the 30th, do you?

Senator Wong: I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you are asking me.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: The evidence of your departmental officials is that Australia can’t engage in a hypothetical because the month hasn’t passed. But from the moment those orders were given to now, the State of Israel has continued to bomb civilians, horrifically so.

Senator Wong: We are seeking to use our voice to advocate for two things principally. One is a pathway to peace and the second is the observance of international humanitarian law. From my very first comment on this, for which was criticised, I called for restraint and a protection of civilian lives. And the through line in everything we have done as a government from that day to the statement which was released today by the three prime ministers, that has been Australia’s position, that we say we condemn Hamas—something as yet I think the Greens have not yet done, have not yet voted for a motion. Second, you have not yet voted for a motion in this parliament to condemn Hamas—

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I’m sorry. Chair, point of order. The minister has just made a factually incorrect statement. There are a number of motions put to the parliament by the Greens that condemn Hamas wholeheartedly.

CHAIR: I appreciate you rehashing a point but I can’t see any point of order. Can we just get back to questions and answers?

Senator Wong: You have consistently voted against the condemnation of Hamas in this parliament. Let’s be clear. I am happy to clarify it.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: That is incorrect and you know it. You know that is incorrect!

Senator Wong: Can I finish? Secondly, we have said that the principles of international humanitarian law need to be observed, and we have been consistent in that. The three prime ministers issued a statement previously, and Australia voted for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in December. Sorry, I was just trying to recall the date. And this morning, I made clear our deep concerns about what is unfolding in Rafah. I refer you to the statement I made this morning. I would refer you to that statement.

CHAIR: Thanks, Minister. Senator Fawcett, you have the call.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard