Senator Lee Rhiannon – speech commending John Salisbury‘s 10-day, 300km walk from Sydney to Canberra

photo of Senator Lee Rhiannon
October 14, 2015

The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network in conjunction with Roy Morgan research found 57 per cent of Australian respondents thought that Australia should vote ‘yes’ in the UN to recognising Palestine. Just eight per cent thought that Australia should vote against. …There is no military solution to the security needs of Israelis and Palestinians. An end to this conflict requires a diplomatic solution.

Full speech

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (19:48): Yesterday I met John Salisbury. John is a retired restaurateur. He arrived in Canberra after leaving the Sydney Opera House on 4 October and walking to Canberra. He walked all that way for Palestine. He is a very interesting man. John has taken a very commendable stand. I found him fascinating to talk to. He has never been to Palestine and never been to Israel. He is not Palestinian and he is not Israeli. He had a very clear message—that is, he is calling on the movement to end Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, the ’cause of our time’.

He was supported by the Greens, and a number of Labor MPs supported his work as well. This was something John spoke very passionately about when we group we met with a group of his supporters on the lawns outside Parliament House. Many commented how now over 130 countries recognise Palestine. These were some of John’s words:

In the past 12 months, France, Sweden and the Vatican have joined international community recognising Palestine.

Australia’s position is embarrassing, deeply embarrassing, and we should not be complicit on the periphery to expropriating land based on religious entitlement.

I do commend and congratulate John Salisbury. His walk actually traced the footsteps of Marcelo Svirsky, an Israeli-Australian academic, who, last year, conducted a similar walk from Sydney through Wollongong and Moss Vale. Yesterday he walked alone from Bungendore to Canberra. It was a fantastic effort. Along the way he would often stop to collect signatures for the petition, give out materials, talk to people and get a fantastic reception to the work that he is doing. It is not surprising he gained such a good reception and such a strong response. The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network in conjunction with Ray Morgan research found 57 per cent of Australian respondents thought that Australia should vote ‘yes’ in the UN to recognising Palestine. Just eight per cent thought that Australia should vote against.

Mr Marcelo Svirsky was there when John Salisbury arrived in Canberra yesterday. He also, on his walk, spoke out about his support for Palestinian self-determination.

Our foreign affairs spokesman, Scott Ludlum, has also taken this issue up very strongly. With the current outbreak of violence in the Middle East, in the Palestine-Israel area, it is certainly an issue that we need to add our voice to in order to end the suffering and to end the occupation. Senator Ludlum has called on the Australian government to break its silence and help de-escalate the spiral of violence in Israel, in occupied East Jerusalem and in the Gaza Strip.

I was in the Gaza Strip in early 2013. Since then there has been extreme bombing activities, and now we are seeing more attacks. It is hard to believe the situation would get worse but that is what appears to be happening. In reading what is happening in Ramallah, what struck me was how young the men and women are who are collecting stones and throwing them at the Israelis. These young people are making it quite clear that they will not tolerate occupation, that it must end. The world must hear that and we can start by recognising Palestine.

As my colleague Senator Ludlam has also said, until the siege of Gaza is lifted and the Israeli authorities cease the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied territories, pressure will continue to boil over into violence. There is no military solution to the security needs of Israelis and Palestinians. An end to this conflict requires a diplomatic solution. That was certainly the message that John Salisbury reiterated when he arrived yesterday. Many of his supporters had a similar message, and it is one we need to hear loud and clear.

On another matter, this week I met with representatives from some of the aid organisations, and they provided some very alarming information about the very serious and extreme drought conditions in PNG. I have read that there is a similar situation in the Solomon Islands. The local gardens in the PNG highlands have been destroyed by frost. People have described the current weather conditions there as like Tasmania; it is so cold. It has been said that it was the worst frost to hit the province in 40 years, and it is directly affecting 300,000 people.

Disaster funds are going to the area. In the Solomon Islands they are calling for water rationing as drought conditions prevail there. This is an issue that we clearly have a responsibility to consider. We are a former coloniser of PNG; we remain a large aid donor to that country; they are a close neighbour. We have a big responsibility. But we also have a big responsibility because Australia is one of the drivers of human induced climate change, and these are some of the islands that are going to be first impacted. They are already being impacted by the effects of climate change. Much of this is linked with the latest El Nino effect. This is incredibly serious, because 85 per cent of Papua New Guinea’s population resides in rural areas, and it is those areas where people are struggling to get enough food right at the moment.

So I did appreciate the briefing I received this week from the Adventist Development and Relief Agency and also the Micah Challenge. They described to me some of the people they met. One of those people was a young woman called Jenny. Jenny is a young mother. She has two young children. She is from East New Britain Province. She is experiencing—this is from the ADRA briefing—firsthand the impacts of climate change in her community, with the El Nino drought causing severe water and food shortages. This is some of her story.

The crops in the highlands have been destroyed by frost and by water shortages, and it is affecting so many communities. Jenny said to the ADRA representatives that the drought has severely affected her family and she feels an incredible burden to try and keep her children healthy. She and her children now have to walk up to two kilometres each day to collect water for the family, predominantly from unsafe water sources because the normal sources have dried up. These are some of her words:

Because of the drought, we use the same water for washing, drinking and laundry. We experience diarrhoea and other sickness. The drought I feel has really affected my children because they have to walk a longer distance to collect water for our use.

Jenny went on:

My children experience headache, shoulder and backache because of the daily work of collecting water.

Food supplies are dwindling as crops continue to fail. Jenny said:

The drought has affected our food gardens. When we go to harvest the food from our garden the yield is usually small or there is no yield at all.

That is what I have heard from many quarters and after reading many reports; in so many of these gardens that people depend on, the plants have died. These plants are not equipped; they have not evolved to survive frost. So this has truly been devastating. Jenny worries that the drought will affect her children’s future. She said:

If the drought continues, my fear is that the children’s education will be affected, including those of us who are studying at the college here.

I find that deeply disturbing and I imagine that all colleagues would be very concerned that any young mother is experiencing such hardship.

We clearly have a responsibility when we consider that the impact of climate change is occurring in these countries already. Extreme and variable weather events are becoming how climate change is playing out. Climate change has undoubtedly worsened the impacts of the drought which is predicted to be worse than the one in 1997 to 1998, which also devastated most of the country.

I do congratulate ADRA and Micah Challenge for the work they are doing in this area. I think it is at this time, when we are considering the specific developments because of the drought in PNG, that it is worth reminding ourselves that it is not just drought and water shortages in terms of how climate change is playing out. We have heard from the President of Kiribas at different times—and other leaders of Pacific nations also speak about this—about rising sea levels and higher storm surges. They talk about how it is contaminating the aquifers on their little islands. It is damaging crops and it has already displaced communities.

They predict that these impacts will worsen. So we have the current situation with the hardship that is being inflicted on people in the Solomon Islands and PNG, but this in various ways is the story repeated across the Pacific. It is a reminder that Australia has an enormous responsibility—immediately—to assist in disaster relief but also to very rapidly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Thank you.

Link to parliamentary Hansard