Questioned Australian aid for Palestinian refugees in Syria, housing demolitions in the West bank and the destruction of Australian aid projects in Gaza by Israel.
Three days ago there were reports that 23 homes of Palestinians were demolished in the West Bank. It has been reported a number of aid agencies provided tents to the approximate 100 homeless people. The European Union have called on Israel to stop the demolitions. Did Australia take any action similar to the European aid agencies? Did Australian aid fund tents or other assistance to the Palestinian people who have been rendered homeless?
Whole interaction with Mr Ewen McDonald (Deputy Secretary, DFAT) and Mr Marc Innes-Brown (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: Has any aid money been allocated to Syrian refugees and to Palestinian refugees in Syria?
Mr McDonald : Senator, earlier on—I am not sure if you were here—Mr Innes-Brown and Mr Isbister went through our provision of humanitarian aid to Syria. Yes, we are providing humanitarian aid in Syria and the surrounding regions.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I will look that up. Was it also specified about the Palestinian refugees in Syria? Was that detailed in that answer? If not, can I ask it, please.
Mr McDonald : I will ask Marc Innes-Brown to clarify that, but the provision of the funding is to international organisations and Australian NGOs. Mr Innes-Brown can cover that.
Mr Innes-Brown : I will have to check specifically on the allocation of that funding in relation to Palestinian refugees, but we also give money to UNRWA, as you know.
Senator RHIANNON: Yes.
Mr Innes-Brown : That covers Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon and Jordan, and in Syria where it is possible to reach them.
Senator RHIANNON: Maybe the question is: are you covering it through UNRWA or are you covering it in any other way, considering—
Mr Innes-Brown : We will have to check with our partners and come back to you on that if that is okay.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much. Three days ago there were reports that 23 homes of Palestinians were demolished in the West Bank. It has been reported a number of aid agencies provided tents to the approximate 100 homeless people. The European Union have called on Israel to stop the demolitions. Did Australia take any action similar to the European aid agencies? Did Australian aid fund tents or other assistance to the Palestinian people who have been rendered homeless?
Mr Innes-Brown : I am not aware of those reports. I will have to check with our post and get advice on the various aspects of your question.
Senator RHIANNON: Leaving the specifics of what has happened in the last week, has Australian aid been used to assist people rendered homeless because of the demolitions of Palestinian homes?
Mr Innes-Brown : I will have to take that on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Can you document Australian aid funded projects that have been damaged or destroyed by Israeli military operations in Gaza and the West Bank, and in land where the Bedouin tribes live?
Mr Innes-Brown : Yes. With regard to Gaza, I can provide information on that—during the conflict in 2014. It is an issue, I think, we have traversed before in estimates, but I will just take you through it again. During that time, two Australian NGOs who we funded via the AMENCA2 program experienced damage to their projects. World Vision estimated that the value of the assets that they lost was at over $1.8 million and Union Aid Abroad, APHEDA, estimated the value of assets lost in the communities it was working with at the time at nearly $1.4 million. There was also $30,000 worth of damage at Australian aid funded school infrastructure that had been built by UNICEF at the time in that conflict.
Senator RHIANNON: When that damage occurs, does that mean that additional funding is given to assist those projects to be rebuilt?
Mr Innes-Brown : As part of our humanitarian response to that conflict, we did provide additional funding to the NGOs in Gaza to help the relief effort—yes, that is correct.
Senator RHIANNON: You just mentioned humanitarian aid. If I understood you correctly, additional money has been given to humanitarian aid but to various ongoing projects like the glasshouses to schools. Has that been made up when those sorts of projects are destroyed?
Mr Innes-Brown : We gave an additional $4 million to the two Australian NGOs at the time. That was designed to help rebuild the farms, the wells and the fishing boats in the communities. We also reprioritised over $3 million of other funding to help World Vision and those two NGOs to support earlier recovery in the areas they were working in.
Senator RHIANNON: Considering the level of damage that has occurred in Gaza, separate from Australian funded aid programs but generally the level of destruction, has that resulted in any increase in the proportion of our aid budget within the Middle East going to Gaza or is it still approximately the same?
Mr Innes-Brown : In that particular year, there was an increase but, generally speaking, when we were running the AMENCA2 program, and we obviously had funding that was going to UNRWA and we were giving money to the Palestinian authorities, we estimated that around 40 per cent of our funding per year was in Gaza at the time.
Senator RHIANNON: So is that an increase?
Mr Innes-Brown : No. I said that was a sort of general average. Obviously, there was a spike in assistance in that particular year because of the $25 million response to the damage that was done.
Senator RHIANNON: Right, so it was a spike and it has gone back to what it was?
Mr Innes-Brown : Yes, that is right. At the time we had the AMENCA 2 program running, where we had two NGOs operating in Gaza and two operating in the West Bank. That came to a close at the end of the last financial year. We now are in the process of developing the third phase, and obviously that will encompass Gaza as well as the West Bank.