What I would say on this issue is that the future for both Israelis and Palestinians depends on a just and enduring peace and a two-state solution. Clearly, the status quo is failing all. As I have said before in this place, we mourn every innocent life which has been lost in the conflict and we express our condolences to all families and communities affected by the violence.
Senator GROGAN (South Australia) (14:07): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Wong. This week, the good friend of Israel United States defence secretary Lloyd Austin said:
… protecting Palestinian civilians in Gaza is both a moral responsibility and a strategic imperative.
Can the minister please respond to Secretary Austin’s comments?
Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:08): I thank Senator Grogan for her question. What I would say on this issue is that the future for both Israelis and Palestinians depends on a just and enduring peace and a two-state solution. Clearly, the status quo is failing all. As I have said before in this place, we mourn every innocent life which has been lost in the conflict and we express our condolences to all families and communities affected by the violence.
We unequivocally condemn Hamas’s terror attacks on Israel on 7 October, the heinous acts of sexual violence perpetrated in those attacks and the reneging on the recent truce arrangements. We call for Hamas to immediately and unconditionally release all remaining hostages.
We have clearly affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself as guaranteed by the UN charter and we have said that, in doing so, Israel must respect international humanitarian law. Civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, must be protected. More than 60 per cent of residential buildings in Gaza are reported by the United Nations to have been destroyed or damaged and nearly eight in 10 civilians have been displaced. Civilians who fled northern Gaza are now being pushed further south and, as the conflict spreads south, there are increasingly few safe places to go. The world has witnessed a harrowing number of civilian deaths, including of children. This must not continue.
US Secretary of State Lloyd Austin is an expert on urban warfare against terrorists from experience fighting ISIS and, like us, is a steadfast friend of Israel. This week he shared his wisdom. He said:
If you drive [the civilian population] into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Grogan, a first supplementary?
Senator GROGAN (South Australia) (14:09): I understand that more than 2,200 previously registered Australians have left Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, including more than 900 Australians and their families who’ve left Israel on Australian government assisted departure flights and 143 Australians, permanent residents, and their families who have left Gaza. Given that there was an attempt to misinform Australians about the situation for people trying to leave Gaza, can the minister explain the facts, please?
Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:10): Thanks to Senator Grogan for a very important question because, at a time that the government has been working to bring Australians together, we again see Mr Dutton seeking to inflame tensions and to divide people, and making claims that were not correct in relation to those permanent residents and Australians. Let me be very clear. The Gaza border is controlled by Israeli and Egyptian authorities, who have put tight limits on who can cross. Meeting requirements for a visa does not mean an entitlement to consular assistance; nor does it mean that other authorities will automatically allow people to leave where they are. Gaza border authorities are approving lists submitted by foreign governments, approving foreign nationals and immediate family members, and we are prioritising Australian citizens, permanent residents and immediate family members. And, as Mr Dutton knows, all people who obtain Australian visas are subject to appropriate identity, security and character checks.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Grogan, a second supplementary?
Senator GROGAN (South Australia) (14:11): Can the minister update the Senate on efforts to find a pathway out of this conflict? And what is the government doing to support a lasting peace?
Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:11): The decision by Hamas to break the recent pause in hostilities was a grave setback. The pause had allowed for the release of more than 100 hostages and supported an increase in humanitarian access to affected civilians. Australia wants to see this resumed, and we support international efforts towards a sustainable ceasefire—a statement I made with the French foreign minister, Catherine Colonna, earlier this week. We know this cannot be one-sided. Hamas must release all hostages, stop using Palestinian civilians, stop attacks on Israel and release all hostages. Australia supports President Biden’s five principles for post-conflict Gaza, including no forcible displacement of Palestinians or reduction in territory and no use of Gaza as a platform for terrorism. I also advise the Senate that Assistant Foreign Minister Watts has been asked to travel on behalf of the government to the region to lay the groundwork for deeper ministerial engagement. (Time expired)