Senator Lee Rhiannon – Estimates question about Australian aid projects and withheld tax revenue for the Palestinian Authority

photo of Senator Lee Rhiannon
February 26, 2015

Questioned the damage caused to Australian aid projects by the Israeli military and whether Australia had made representations to Israel over the withholding of tax revenue owed to the Palestinian Authority.

I am interested in what is the process for Australia responding when Australian projects funded by public money from this country are destroyed.

Whole interaction with Mr Ewen McDonald (Deputy Secretary, DFAT) and Mr Marc Innes-Brown (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 RHIANNON: I will move onto Palestine. How many projects funded by Australian aid were destroyed by the Israeli army during the 2014 war in Gaza?


Mr McDonald : We will need Mr Innes-Brown for that?


CHAIR: Did you hear the question?


Mr Innes-Brown : I think I heard the question. It was about how many Australian projects were destroyed. I think we went through this in the last estimates hearing. There was some damage to Australian funded projects. I can give you the amounts of that.


Senator RHIANNON: While you are looking for that, I am also interested to understand what the process is for Australia responding to this, as well as understanding what the projects are and what the amount is. I am happy for you to table that because I do not have that much time. I am interested in what is the process for Australia responding when Australian projects funded by public money from this country are destroyed.


Mr Innes-Brown : I will take that on notice. As I said, there was damage. In Gaza, through our AMENCA program, we fund two NGOs, World Vision and Union Aid Abroad—APHEDA. World Vision estimated that the value of the assets that were lost in the communities that it works with was around $1.8 million and Union Aid Abroad—APHEDA’s estimate was about $1.4 million.


Senator RHIANNON: Recognising Australia’s contribution to the Gaza Reconstruction Fund, what is the projection for when the 96,000 homes that were demolished when Israel invaded Gaza will be rebuilt?


Mr Innes-Brown : I do not have that information before me.


Senator RHIANNON: Can you take that on notice?


Mr Innes-Brown : Yes.


Senator RHIANNON: You would be aware that the Paris Protocol of the Oslo Accords gives Israel the role of collecting taxes on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and then passing on that money. You would also know that since 3 January Israel has been illegally withholding those taxes and that the US State Department has condemned Israel’s action on that. What representations has DFAT or the foreign minister’s office made to Israel to fulfil its obligations under the Paris Protocol?


Mr Innes-Brown : As a general principle we are concerned about unilateral actions by either party which damages the prospects of returning to negotiations so there can be an enduring solution to this particular issue. That is one of the steps that has been taken in recent times that has not helped the situation and has not been conducive to a resumption of the negotiations.


Senator RHIANNON: When you said the word ‘steps’, you were referring to Israel’s action in withholding the money?


Mr Innes-Brown : That and there have been others as well. There has been a series of events and incidents over the past six to nine months by both sides that have led to an escalation and a cessation of the prospects, for the time being, of returning to negotiations.


Senator RHIANNON: I will ask the question again. What representations has DFAT or the Prime Minister’s office made to Israel to fulfil its obligations under the Paris Protocol? It is not just the US State Department and the United Nations. Many countries in the European Union have also taken up this issue so the question is: what have we done?


Mr Innes-Brown : We have not made any specific representations on that issue.

Link to full Hansard transcript.

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