Senator Lee Rhiannon – Spoke in support of International Year of Solidarity for Palestinian People

December 1, 2015

“Today, 138 nations recognise Palestine as a state with the rights and responsibility accorded to all other states. It is time that Australia added its name to this important list. It is time for this Senate, I believe, to call on the Turnbull government to recognise Palestine as a state.”

Full speech

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (23:33): I have been in the Senate for more than four years. I am grateful to Greens party members for all their support, and to the people of New South Wales who voted 1 for the Greens. Their vote has given me the privilege to represent them. I never thought I would be in parliament. It is an honour to be here, in one of the places where we can struggle to make the world a better place. There have been many highlights. One standout was the success of tertiary education workers and students whose hard work put a stop to the Liberal National government’s university deregulation plans. We won. We beat back a policy that would have made access to education dependent on wealth and privilege. That is a win worth celebrating. Our victory against $100,000 degrees shows why we need Greens in this parliament. And it is not just because our votes can help defeat bad legislation; that matters, obviously. But that is only as significant as the campaigns which our votes here in this place represent.

The truth is, Australian politics—especially in this parliament—is too often a game between the major parties. It is about who looks after those who own most of this country. Meanwhile, the players pretend to look after the majority of ordinary people. But I am not in Canberra to play games. It is not a game to raise the GST while keeping the tax loopholes that give massive concessions to the rich. It is not a game to have a climate policy that will not cut emissions fast enough but will satisfy coal and gas corporations. It is not a game to turn back boats of desperate people seeking asylum and turn people, indefinitely, to show how tough you are on so-called border security. It is not a game when young people cannot get a job that is not permanently casual, while supporting calls to cut weekend penalty rates. And it is not a game to have a policy that inflates housing policies and rents so high that most people cannot live anywhere near their work, their friends or their family.

We, in the Greens, want a different society, a society where the government solves problems with ordinary people instead of making life harder, a society where progress means people feel more secure, relaxed and comfortable. Next year’s federal election will mark 20 years since John Howard deceived the Australian people with his claim that electing him would make us relaxed and comfortable. What a disastrous 20 years it has been for the majority of people in this country. Anxiety has gone through the roof and people feel less supported, less valued and less connected to one another. The situation is the direct result of Liberal, National and Labor governments starting from the question of: is there room in the budget? What they really mean is: how will the CEOs respond? Will we be criticised? What will the financial journalists report? For the Greens this puts things the wrong way round. The question for our party of over 10,000 members supported by over one million voters is: what do people and our precious environment need?

I travel all over New South Wales and people, very readily, tell me what we do need. They tell me we need to fix the tax system so corporations and rich individuals pay their fair share. They tell me we need 100 per cent renewable energy in public and community hands. They tell me we need guaranteed, permanent, secure and rewarding jobs for everyone who wants one. They tell me we need to increase support for the unemployed and single parents—even the Business Council supports this one. They tell me we need free, well-funded public education from preschool to TAFE and university. And they tell me we need affordable housing, with a massive injection of money by the federal government to build new homes.

The Greens believe that if something is needed for a fair and sustainable society it is the job of government to deliver it. If this means governments need to borrow, then governments should run deficits and manage a larger public debt. The idea that government budgets are like household budgets, where debt is always bad, is either deeply economically illiterate or deliberately deceitful. What I have outlined, here, will probably be criticised as not realistic or not possible in today’s economy. Yet, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it is Labor, Liberal and National parties that are out of touch with community expectations.

There are two reasons that Greens, like me, are in parliament: the rise of planetary environmental consciousness and the unfortunate but steady drift of the Labor Party away from a belief that things can and should get better for ordinary people. These reasons are not going away, and neither are we. More and more people are joining the Greens. We have the courage to undo the damage caused by the economic policies of the old parties—policies that have been making life harder and the planet dirtier for 30 years. We are the party that has the energy to create a more democratic, sustainable, just and peaceful future.

On 29 November it was the UN’s International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. I was fortunate to join the Australian Palestinian Professionals Association, the Palestine Support Network Australia and the ambassador of the State of Palestine, His Excellency Ambassador Izzat Abdulhadi, at a celebration in Sydney.

A range of New South Wales Palestinian advocates joined us on this important occasion, including former New South Wales Premier, Bob Carr.The ambassador’s speech noted the recent progress that has been made in the fight for justice for Palestine. He highlighted two recent UN resolutions concerning the full applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupation, and the condemnation of Israeli settlements as illegal under international law. The ambassador said:

These last two resolutions are critical to recognition that Palestine is occupied. It has been occupied by Israel for 48 years… our strategy is non-violence and to work multilaterally within international frameworks, to achieve justice, our freedom and full sovereignty. And this strategy is working.

Rawan Arrat, from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, also spoke at the Sydney event. She celebrated the State of Palestine acceding to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in January of this year. Despite the opposition of the US, Britain, several EU states, Canada and Australia, the Palestinian authority now has another avenue through which justice can be pursued. Ms Arrat told the gathering:

Four Palestinian human rights organisations have delivered a confidential communication to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on behalf of themselves and Palestinian victims of Israelis’ Operation Protective Edge, the third Israeli war on the besieged Gaza Strip in the space of six years.

Rawan summed up the feeling of those at the event with her comment:

No doubt, there are exciting times ahead for the Palestinian solidarity movement.

While the gathering was optimistic at the prospect of justice and peace in Palestine, recent events in Australia and Palestine remind us that there are still those who work to destroy these hopes. Late last night in this Senate Liberal senator Eric Abetz criticised ABC correspondent Sophie McNeill’s description of an alleged young female Palestinian attacker in a story on the ABC’s 7.30 that went to air in October. Ms McNeill said:

Five days ago here at this checkpoint, Israeli soldiers say that this friendly, gifted student tried to st ab them, so they shot her dead.

Senator Abetz questioned why McNeill was appointed to the Middle East post when she had stated that she admired journalists John Pilger and Robert Fisk. Pilger and Fisk are two accomplished and respected journalists who are also advocates for justice in Palestine. ABC’s director Mark Scott rightly defended McNeill. He said:

Before this reporter set foot in the Middle East there was a campaign against her personally taking up that role. I am saying that she is a highly recognised and acclaimed reporter … she deserved that appointment and she needs to be judged on her work.

He went on to say:

Fundamentally I think she was doing a good job under difficult circumstances under extraordinary scrutiny.

Scott said McNeill had twice been awarded Young Journalist of the Year, won a Walkley for reporting in 2010 and had filed from all over the world. Reporters like McNeill are needed in the Middle East. There are many outstanding reporters in Palestine who give balanced reports. These are some of the reports I have read from Maan News.Khalid Mahmoud al-Jawabreh, a 19-year-old Palestinian man, was shot twice in the stomach by Israeli soldiers in al-Arrub refugee camp in northern Hebron. He died from his injuries in hospital. Twenty-one-year-old Yahya Yusri Taha was shot dead by Israeli soldiers when clashes broke out during a search and arrest raid in the town of Qatanna, near Jerusalem. Samer Hassan Shresa, a 51-year-old Palestinian, was killed at a military checkpoint south of Nablus after he reportedly attempted to stab an Israeli soldier.

So far since the beginning of October, more than 95 Palestinians have been killed in shootings and clashes with Israeli forces and settlers. Sixteen Israelis have been killed by Palestinians. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in October there were 7,392 Palestinians injured, many of them seriously. The figure for Israelis injured was 112. The number of casualties among West Bank Palestinians in October is the highest recorded in a single month since the OCHA began monitoring conflict related casualties in 2005. Last month M&Y News Agency reported that Israeli military forces issued a message to residents of Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem in Arabic via a loudspeaker. Their message said:

Inhabitants of Aida, we are the Israeli occupation forces, if you throw stones we will hit you with gas until you die. The children, the youth, and the old people, all of you – we won’t spare any of you.

The killing of the 18-year-old Palestinian Hadil Hashlamoun on 22 September by an Israeli soldier has been classified by Amnesty International as an extrajudicial execution. In the face of this tremendous hostility and injustice, the struggle continues. At the Sydney dinner to mark the UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People I met Aletia Dundas, who recently returned from a two-week trip to Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams. She shared her experiences with the gathering. These are a few paragraphs from her speech:

We heard more stories of demolition, dispossession and more demolition when we visited the Negev desert. Although they live in Israel and are Israeli citizens, many of the Bedouin communities who are Palestinian Muslims are being displaced in order to make way for a new Jewish settler village that is being built. While for decades they have been denied basic services and infrastructure, such as roads, medical care, schools and garbage collection, because they are too remote, the new settlement will have all these services and a shopping mall, what’s more. Many have solar panels on their roof, which is a great way to reduce reliance on the government for electricity.

Ms Dundas added:

One guy told us that his camels had been stolen and taken to an Israeli camel farm. If he wanted them back he would have to pay for the food and accommodation they were given while held at the camel farm. He could not afford the price and so had to go home without his camels. He now buys milk from the camel farm instead of selling the milk to the farm, as he used to do.

Ms Dundas said that probably the most encouraging aspect of her trip was the visit to the Tent of Nations, a 100-acre farm on the land which has been continually owned by the Nassar family for almost 100 years. Unlike many Palestinians this family had paperwork relating to the official legal title for the land that they own, so the Israeli government was not able to remove them from their land, as has happened to so many other families. This family has continued to face many difficulties. New Israeli laws deny them permission to build new dwellings and they have been denied access to water and electricity. A large pile of rocks now blocks the main entry road to their farm. This barrier has come to represent the obstacles people face in retaining ownership of the land. Many Palestinians have found creative ways to resist the settlers and the Israeli government, who are trying to steal their land. They have installed solar panels themselves, begun to capture their own rainwater, built composting toilets and all the dwellings are caves, rather than formal structures, because under the Israeli laws caves are not prohibited.

Last week in Canberra I met Leila Sansour, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Open Bethlehem, a non-government foundation established in London to promote and protect the life and heritage of the city of Bethlehem. Leila was in Canberra for the Palestinian Film Festival. Her film is titled Open Bethlehem and was covered by The Guardian film critic, Peter Bradshaw. This is what he wrote:

Leila Sansour’s documentary Open Bethlehem follows her campaign to stop occupying Israeli forces encircling her hometown with a concrete wall. Sansour’s film, which follows her attempts to unite Christians, Muslims and Jews in their desire for free access to the Holy City, is the kind of art that peace processes are built on.

I look forward to watching this film soon and I congratulate Leila and her team for all their hard work. I hope we can screen her film in this parliament in 2016.

In September this year the UN General Assembly approved the raising of the Palestinian flag at the UN headquarters, and 119 countries voted in favour, with eight against and 45 abstaining. Australia, Israel, the United States and Canada opposed the move. The Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour, welcomed the move. He said on the day:

Today’s vote is a reaffirmation of the legitimacy of the national aspirations of the Palestinian people—of their existence among the nations of the world and their right to self determination, to be a free people in control of their lives and destiny in their own independent state.

The General Assembly’s adoption of this resolution will help to restore some hope to our people and leadership as they continue on the peaceful, non-violent, political, legal path …

He added that the resolution will:

… fulfill the rights of the Palestinian people, achieve a just and sustainable peace, and secure Palestine’s rightful place among the community of nations.

Today, 138 nations recognise Palestine as a state with the rights and responsibility accorded to all other states. It is time that Australia added its name to this important list. It is time for this Senate, I believe, to call on the Turnbull government to recognise Palestine as a state.

Tonight I would like to express my appreciation to everyone who works in this building. I am still very pleased and surprised that I am a senator in this parliament. I wish everybody a Merry Christmas, a restful break and a wonderful 2016. I particularly send my best wishes to the cleaners and urge that their industrial demands are quickly granted. I also extend my best wishes to the attendants, particularly those who work in this chamber. How you second-guess our needs is impressive and always appreciated. To everyone, thank you and all the best. To the Comcar drivers, to the Clerk’s staff, to Hansard, to the Library, to 2020, to all the committee staff, to my own staff, to all MPs and senators and to all who are still here at this late hour, thank you very much, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

The PRESIDENT: Under standing order 54 I cannot recognise any senator who has spoken before. The Senate stands adjourned and will meet again tomorrow at 9.30 am.

link to full hansard