Senator Penny Wong – motion relating to Hamas’ attacks on Israel

photo of Senator Penny Wong
October 16, 2023

This will be one of Israel’s many considerations as it determines how it pursues its legitimate military objectives, and we recognise this will be challenging. Hamas has burrowed itself into Gaza’s civilian population. It uses the Palestinian people and the hostages it has taken as human shields and seeks to prevent the departure of foreign nationals—inhumane tactics that clarify the true nature of the group, but, in turn, heighten the imperative for all possible measures to be taken to protect civilians in Gaza.

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (11:31): I move the motion circulated in my name in relation to Hamas attacks on Israel:

That the Senate—

(a) unequivocally condemns the attacks on Israel by Hamas, which are the heinous acts of terrorists, and have encompassed the targeting and murder of civilians, including women and children, the taking of hostages, and indiscriminate rocket fire;

(b) stands with Israel and recognises its inherent right to defend itself;

(c) condemns antisemitism and recognises that generations of Jewish people have been subjected to this hateful prejudice;

(d) calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages;

(e) recognises that Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people, nor their legitimate needs and aspirations;

(f) acknowledges the devastating loss of Israeli and Palestinian life and that innocent civilians on all sides are suffering as a result of the attacks by Hamas and the subsequent conflict;

(g) supports justice and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians alike;

(h) supports international efforts to establish and maintain humanitarian access into Gaza, including safe passage for civilians;

(i) reiterates Australia’s consistent position in all contexts is to call for the protection of civilian lives and the observance of international law;

(j) supports Australia’s engagement with countries in the Middle East and beyond, at all levels, in support of the protection of civilians, and the containment of the conflict;

(k) supports the Government’s ongoing efforts to provide consular assistance to affected Australians and to facilitate the departure of those who want to leave the region;

(l) acknowledges what has unfolded is deeply distressing for many in the Australian community, close to the heart of many, and it is important that we maintain respect for each other here at home as people express their views;

(m) condemns all forms of hate speech and violent extremist activity, including Antisemitism and Islamophobia;

(n) recognizes an attack on any religion is an attack on all religions and that we all share a responsibility to unite, condemn and defeat such an attack on our common values and way of life;

(o) notes that undermining social cohesion and unity by stoking fear and division risks Australia’s domestic security; and

(p) affirms in the strongest possible terms that hateful prejudice has no place in Australia.

Unless senators wish me to, I don’t propose to read out the motion. I acknowledge and thank Senator Birmingham and the opposition for their engagement on the content of this.

The Senate must condemn these acts of evil perpetrated by a hateful group bent on the destruction of the state of Israel and the eradication of Jews. This was an attack on Israel and on the Jewish people, but it is also an attack on our collective humanity. We unequivocally condemn these attacks. We call for the immediate release of hostages. Australia stands with Israel and always will, just as we always remember the thousands of years of persecution and atrocities perpetrated against the Jewish people—six million European Jews killed in the Holocaust—that finally resolved the international community to establish the state of Israel. And, as more Jews were killed in this attack than on any single day since the Holocaust, we understand how this brings back that trauma.

The attack by Hamas was shocking in its brutality and its scale: 1,400 civilians murdered, 3½ thousand injured and as many as 150 taken from Israel and held hostage in Gaza; men, women and children, from babies to the infirm and elderly, Holocaust survivors; many killed in their homes, protecting their loved ones; hundreds gunned down at a music festival; citizens from more than 30 nations, an Australian grandmother, Galit Carbone, among their number. Place names that days ago were probably known only to a few are now seared in our memory: Kibbutz Be’eri, Kibbutz Kfar Aza—small, self-sustaining communities that have now experienced unimaginable horror. And I want to again express my deepest sympathies to those impacted by these heinous acts. We are shocked, we are horrified, we grieve with you and we affirm our solidarity with you.

We do need to be clear about what has taken place here. Hamas has carried out a terrorist attack against Israel and its people. There is no justification for this attack, and, in the face of this attack, as ever, Israel has a right to defend itself, to re-establish its security, to prevent such attacks from taking place again. We must also be clear: Hamas does not seek peace, nor does Hamas represent or speak for the Palestinian people and their legitimate needs and aspirations. We need to be clear in differentiating Hamas from the Palestinian people, just as we would distinguish between the Taliban and Afghans. Hamas is a terrorist group that rules Gaza with no regard for the safety and security of the Palestinian people who live there.

The Albanese government’s guiding principle has always been the pursuit of progress towards a just and enduring two-state solution, where Israelis and Palestinians can live within secure borders. One of the many tragic consequences of Hamas’s abhorrent attack is that it has pushed that two-state solution further out of reach. This also makes this an unconscionable crime perpetrated by Hamas against the Palestinian people. Hamas’s actions have precipitated a devastating situation in Israel and in Gaza, and civilians on all sides are suffering. Regardless of religion or ethnicity, we mourn each innocent life lost.

Australia’s principle position, in all contexts, is to call for the protection of civilian lives and for the observance of international humanitarian law. These are principles we cherish. They protect us all, which is why we have seen widespread calls across the international community for the protection of civilians, and these are the principles I have consistently advocated in my discussions with regional and international partners, including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the UAE, the Palestinian Authority and the United States.

We join with the calls of President Biden and other partners for Israel to operate by the rules of law. These calls are about protecting innocent life, but they are also about our shared interests. They are about containing this conflict, and containing this conflict matters. If conflict were to spill over across the region, risks to Israel’s security would be compounded, as they would for Israeli and Palestinian civilians and civilian populations throughout the region. Averting regional escalation matters to Israel, it matters to the people of the region and it matters to the world.

This will be one of Israel’s many considerations as it determines how it pursues its legitimate military objectives, and we recognise this will be challenging. Hamas has burrowed itself into Gaza’s civilian population. It uses the Palestinian people and the hostages it has taken as human shields and seeks to prevent the departure of foreign nationals—inhumane tactics that clarify the true nature of the group, but, in turn, heighten the imperative for all possible measures to be taken to protect civilians in Gaza.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza is deteriorating rapidly. In response, Australia is providing an initial $10 million in humanitarian assistance through trusted partners for civilians affected by the conflict in Gaza. This includes $3 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross to fund urgent needs, like restoring essential services and providing medical support to victims of the conflict, and $7 million through UNICEF and UNOPS to deliver critical support, including emergency water, nutrition, sanitation and hygiene services as well as child protection.

To ensure essential humanitarian relief can reach civilians affected by the conflict in Gaza, Australia calls for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to Gaza and the rapid establishment of a humanitarian corridor. We support the work of the United States, Egypt and others towards this goal. We will continue to monitor and assess the humanitarian situation, and we stand ready to provide further support.

From the outset of this crisis, the Australian government has been supporting Australians in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Last Monday I asked my Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to assess all options for Australians wanting to leave. We secured commercial options for assisted departures and readied the ADF to assist should commercial options no longer be viable.

The first of those flights, operated by Qantas, took 238 passengers from Tel Aviv to London free of charge. Overnight, we have provided a further three flights, two operated by the Australian Defence Force and one government charter. In many cases we have also been able to coordinate with countries who are facing similar circumstances. For example, Fiji, which happened to have a plane in Israel, provided 14 seats for Australians wanting to leave.

I want to thank the officers of my department, members of the Australian Defence Force and all government officials who helped in this effort, including those at overseas posts and the staff at Services Australia. I acknowledge the work of all departments and agencies through what has been a whole-of-government response.

I should note we have secured flights for onward travel to Australia from both London and Dubai, and information about those onward flights will be provided directly to passengers. Further details will be released soon.

Subject to factors, including the security environment, the Australian government is planning an additional charter flight to depart from Tel Aviv to Dubai today for Australians wanting to leave. Yesterday, we saw spare seats, despite them being fully allocated. We can’t know how the security situation will unfold. I’ve been saying for several days people who wish to leave should take the first available option. People should consider that the flight I have referenced may be our last opportunity to conduct an assisted departure flight for the foreseeable future.

As of this morning, more than 1,200 Australians previously registered have left Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including more than 400 Australians and their families on four Australian government assisted departure flights. DFAT continues to assist more than a thousand registered Australians, including 39 consular cases. I do emphasise that not all of those registered wish to leave. In many cases, it is a matter of maintaining contact and the flow of information at what is obviously an anxious time. This situation is highly challenging and rapidly changing, and the government is considering whether further assisted departure flights are required. Australians in the affected areas who wish to leave and need assistance with departure should register via DFAT’s crisis portal or by calling the 24-hour consular emergency centre on +61262613305 from overseas or 1300555135 from within Australia. We will continue to provide updates to registered Australians.

In closing, I want to reflect on the impact of this conflict here in Australia. Australians are rightly distressed by this situation, and that distress is felt most acutely in our Jewish and Palestinian communities. This is a long, complex and disputed history, deeply felt, closely to the heart of many. The lived experiences and understandings of our different Australian communities are distinct. When individuals engage in the sort of rhetoric that we have seen, regrettably, in recent days—vile antisemitism and the Islamophobia which is its bedfellow—it undermines some of our greatest strengths: our diversity, our tolerance, our values.

This week, President Biden reminded us that history teaches us that hate towards one group, left unanswered, leaves open the door for more hate for more groups, so I ask all of us: when we speak, let us speak with respect; when we speak, let us speak with understanding for difference. We should reject all in this country who seek to create division. We should all be striving for unity. We reject hate and condemn prejudice and discrimination in all its forms. We reject the terror perpetrated by Hamas and separate their heinous acts from the legitimate needs and aspirations of the Palestinian people. We stand firmly against antisemitism. We stand against Islamophobia. We stand against prejudice. We stand against hate speech in all its forms and we call it out when and where we see it. We must maintain mutual respect for each other here at home, and this chamber has a role in that. We must preserve our uniquely harmonious multicultural character. It is why people come to this country and it is who we are as a country.

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