We have called for Israel to respect international humanitarian law, we have called for civilians to be protected—and civilian infrastructure—and we have called for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to be increased. We have also said that the number of civilian deaths, including of children, has been harrowing and it cannot continue. We have said we want to see the pause resumed and that Australia supports international efforts towards a sustainable ceasefire, and that we recognise this cannot be one-sided.
Senator RICE (Victoria) (14:20): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Wong. Minister, you’ve said that the State of Israel must exercise restraint and protect civilian lives in Gaza and must comply with international humanitarian law. It’s estimated that over 70 per cent of the more than 16,000 people killed in Gaza have been women, children and the elderly. Overnight, the UN Secretary-General urged members of the Security Council to press for a humanitarian ceasefire to avert a humanitarian catastrophe, saying:
Amid constant bombardment by the Israel Defense Forces … I expect public order to completely break down soon … rendering even limited humanitarian assistance impossible.
The UN human rights chief has warned of a heightened risk of atrocity crimes. Minister, will Australia join the call of the UN and aid organisations for an immediate and permanent humanitarian ceasefire?
Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:22): Thank you to Senator Rice for her question. What I would say to Senator Rice is that I hear, from how she asked the question, how important this is to her. It’s a serious question, and I sought in my first answer to set out the many issues which have to be considered in the context of this humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of the heinous 7 October attacks.
The senator would know from what I’ve said in this place that we have made a number of points, and I released a statement with the foreign minister of France, when she visited this week, which went through some of those principles that I outlined in the answer earlier. We have called for Israel to respect international humanitarian law, we have called for civilians to be protected—and civilian infrastructure—and we have called for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to be increased. We have also said that the number of civilian deaths, including of children, has been harrowing and it cannot continue. We have said we want to see the pause resumed and that Australia supports international efforts towards a sustainable ceasefire, and that we recognise this cannot be one-sided.
I appreciate that this may not be as far as some might want. It is further than others might want. This is a situation which has been very difficult for the Australian community, and I again urge all senators—and I appreciate Senator Rice did—to ensure their— (Time expired)
The PRESIDENT: Senator Rice, first supplementary?
Senator RICE (Victoria) (14:24): Given the calls of the UN Secretary-General overnight, given that Israel are clearly not complying with international humanitarian law, and given the appalling deaths of civilians, why can’t Australia join the calls of the UN for an immediate permanent humanitarian ceasefire, rather than supporting efforts towards a ceasefire?
Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:24): The language we use reflects the need for a ceasefire not to be one-sided, and we know that hostages are still being held. We know that Hamas has no place in the future of Gaza nor in any progress towards a two-state solution. Can I say though, in using the words carefully as I do, it does not diminish our concern for the numbers of civilian casualties that we are seeing and, as I said in my answer to the first question from Senator Grogan, we are seeing that there are increasingly fewer safe places for anyone in Gaza to go. We have continued to reiterate the importance of international law, those principles of international law which I’ve referred to earlier.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Rice, second supplementary?
Senator RICE (Victoria) (14:25): Minister, aid agencies actually say nowhere in Gaza is safe anymore. More than 80 per cent of Gaza’s population have left their homes, and humanitarian aid is not being delivered much further than the Egyptian border. Australia has given $25 million in aid to Gaza, where there’s an estimated need of over a billion dollars. Will Australia deliver an end-of-year gift to the people of Gaza of increased aid and work diplomatically with Israel to ensure it can be delivered to all in Gaza?
Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:26): We didn’t wait for Christmas to do those things. We made a $25 million pledge very early on in this conflict, and I’ve said publicly on a number of occasions we stand ready to do more. If there is the capacity to deliver more aid and the international community calls for more aid, Australia stands ready to do more. We know what is happening in Gaza. The constraint in Gaza, as you would be aware, is access.
I come to the second part of your question: we didn’t wait for Christmas to advocate, including directly with counterparts in the region, for humanitarian access. We have been doing that, and we will continue to do that. It’s not a Christmas gift; this is the right thing to do because the humanitarian need is so dire.