You would have seen my comments on Insiders, which were that we recognise the challenges that Israel faces because Hamas, as a terrorist organisation, does operate within civilian institutions. The point I also made, though, was that that does not obviate the application of international humanitarian law.
Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:35): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Wong. Minister, yesterday in relation to the war in Gaza that was caused by the vicious and deadly terrorist attacks of 7 October by Hamas against Israel, you stated, ‘We all want to take the next steps towards a ceasefire.’ In contrast, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, ‘A ceasefire now would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on 7 October.’ And British Labor leader Keir Starmer said, ‘A ceasefire now will only freeze this conflict and would leave hostages in Gaza and Hamas with the infrastructure and capability to carry out the sort of attack we saw on 7 October.’ Minister, how is your statement consistent with the position of Australia’s closest allies and partners?
Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:36): I think the senator declined to read what I also said—and I know he pays close attention to what I say. I went on to say this cannot be one-sided, and I pointed out that Hamas is still attacking Israel and is still holding hostages.
What I would say to you is that we have affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself. We have consistently said that the way it does so matters. We have said that humanitarian pauses are a necessary first step, but we have stated that much more is needed, and that includes the release of hostages unconditionally. That includes making sure that international law is upheld. So what I would say to the senator is: please do look at the totality of that interview, because I did seek to, in what is a very difficult set of circumstances, set out a clear set of principles about how we are approaching this.
I have engaged closely with colleagues and counterparts. And you might recall, Senator, I did return from China via Tokyo, where the G7 was meeting, to ensure we continue to engage with our partners and like-minded nations.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Birmingham, first supplementary?
Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:38): Minister, with reference to your statement that no ceasefire can be one-sided, what are the types of considerations, conditions or concessions the Albanese government believe should be considered in a ceasefire? Would this include the release of all hostages and the unconditional surrender of Hamas leadership, terrorists and terrorist capabilities?
Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:38): I think I went to that in my primary answer. I made the point that Hamas continues to attack Israel and that Hamas continues to hold hostages, mainly from Israel but also from other countries. I’ve also previously stated, as has Senator Birmingham, that the dismantling of Hamas will be required as part of any enduring peace. We all know that this is a very difficult and distressing conflict, and we would all like to see a just and enduring peace in which both Israelis and Palestinians can live in security behind internationally recognised borders.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Birmingham, second supplementary?
Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:39): Respected Australian Jewish community leaders Jeremy Leibler and Jillian Segal described your reference to Israel’s ‘attacking of hospitals’ as a libel against Israel. Does the government accept their interpretation of article 19 of the Geneva convention that ‘explicitly states that hospitals lose their protection if they are used for military purposes’ and their further statement that ‘Hamas uses al-Shifa and other hospitals for military purposes’?
Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:39): First, I know both Mr Leibler and Ms Segal, and I have a great deal of respect for both of them. You would have seen my comments on Insiders, which were that we recognise the challenges that Israel faces because Hamas, as a terrorist organisation, does operate within civilian institutions. The point I also made, though, was that that does not obviate the application of international humanitarian law. I made a different point, which I think is important here. We know what Hamas is. Hamas is a terrorist organisation. Hamas is an organisation that has a stated aim which is the destruction of the State of Israel. Hamas has shown complete contempt for international law. We are a democracy, and so too is Israel. Because of who we are, we seek higher standards and we accept higher standards, and those standards include the application of international humanitarian— (Time expired)