We in the Australian government support the protection of innocent life in this conflict and in all conflicts. That is what we have consistently advocated for in all circumstances. In this conflict further lives are at stake. Civilians on all sides are suffering, and the humanitarian situation in Gaza is deteriorating. Medical care, water, and sanitation and nutrition needs are growing. President Biden of the United States has called on Israel to operate by the rules of war in response to Hamas’s attacks, and we support those calls. Adherence to international law mitigates against this conflict widening. This matters for civilians on all sides and for Israel’s own national security.
Mr WATTS (Gellibrand—Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) (16:58): Australia stands against terrorism and we stand in solidarity with Israel. The Australian government unequivocally condemns the horrific violence that we have seen: indiscriminate rocket fire, the brutal targeting of civilians and the taking of hostages. Over 1,300 civilians in Israel have been murdered by Hamas and as many as 150 taken hostage in Gaza, with much of the barbarism broadcast by the butchers to a horrified world—the elderly, babies, mums and dads murdered in their homes. Young people, dancers, were gunned down at a music festival, as were citizens from more than 30 nations, including a beloved Australian grandmother, Galit Carbone. May her memory be a blessing.
We grieve deeply with all of those who have lost loved ones. We know that so many people in our Australian community are mourning what has happened. So many are fearful for friends and family who are still at risk. There is the unimaginable pain of witnessing the worst loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust, but in Israel itself—the very territory intended to provide a safe haven.
These events reopen profound historical wounds, and we understand how that brings back trauma—old traumas, generational traumas—for so many. There is absolutely no context that can justify the violence and depravity that we have seen perpetrated by Hamas against civilians. These are the heinous acts of terrorists and unconscionable breaches of international law. The slaughter and kidnapping of children and other innocents cannot be celebrated by any moral human being. I call urgently for the release of all hostages, some of whom, as we have seen, are small children. I reiterate Israel’s right to defend itself, to ensure the security of its people and to prevent such an attack from ever taking place again.
Hamas is a listed terrorist group. It has long advocated the destruction of the state of Israel and the eradicate of Jews. Not only do its actions hurt Israelis, but it has long exploited the community in Gaza for protection, hiding behind civilians and civilian infrastructure in facilities like schools, apartment buildings and hospitals. As a result, so many Palestinian families are suffering through no fault of their own. Nearly half of the population of Gaza is under 18; they’re children. We know that Hamas does not speak for ordinary Palestinians, but instead it hides behind them. Hamas is also seeking to prevent the departure of foreign nationals from Gaza in callous tactics that show us the cruel nature of the group that we are dealing with.
These are serious times that call for serious leadership. When faced with such horrendous events, in this place we are called upon to rise to the occasion, to speak clearly about what’s occurred and to bring our community together in solidarity. That is why it is essential that we clearly condemn Hamas and its terrorist attacks. Hamas does not seek peace. Among the many other tragedies caused by these attacks, we recognise that Hamas’s actions have set back the cause of peace. It has pushed a two-state solution further out of reach. We continue to support an enduring and just peace for Israelis and Palestinians.
We in the Australian government support the protection of innocent life in this conflict and in all conflicts. That is what we have consistently advocated for in all circumstances. In this conflict further lives are at stake. Civilians on all sides are suffering, and the humanitarian situation in Gaza is deteriorating. Medical care, water, and sanitation and nutrition needs are growing. President Biden of the United States has called on Israel to operate by the rules of war in response to Hamas’s attacks, and we support those calls. Adherence to international law mitigates against this conflict widening. This matters for civilians on all sides and for Israel’s own national security. If conflict were to spill over across the region, risks to Israel’s security would be compounded, as they would be for all Israeli and Palestinian civilians and civilian populations throughout the region.
The Australian government is working hard to support the work of the United States, Egypt and others to establish humanitarian access to Gaza. To ensure relief can reach civilians affected by the conflict, we call for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to Gaza. We’re providing an initial $10 million in humanitarian assistance for civilians affected by the conflict. Through the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNICEF and UNOPS, this funding will help to restore services, provide medical support, restore hygiene services and support nutrition and child protection. We will continue to assess the humanitarian situation as it develops and stand ready to provide further support.
In the midst of this horrific situation, officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have been working around the clock to assist Australians looking to leave the region. This has been our highest priority. I’m pleased to report more than 1,200 Australians who wished to leave have now done so. Last week we secured commercial options for assisted departures and readied the ADF to assist, should the need arise. On Friday the first flight, operated free of charge by Qantas, took more than 200 Australians out of Tel Aviv to safety. Overnight, a further three flights have departed Tel Aviv, including two RAAF flights. We’ve had available seats on all of these flights. A further flight will depart today, after which we will consider whether further assisted departure flights are needed.
DFAT continue to assist a further 1,540 registered Australians across Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. I’d like to highlight the hard work of officials both overseas and here in our crisis centre in Australia. Australian staff and those employed locally at our posts in the Middle East have been working through the night, every night, to put together the best possible options for Australians wanting to leave. Australians in the affected areas who want to leave and need assistance with departure should register via DFAT’s crisis portal or by calling the 24-hour consular emergency centre.
Back home in Australia, we know that extremists are seeking to exploit this situation for their own ends. There will always be those who try to divide our community for their own ends. We all need to resist this. We need to look at the common bonds between us to see our common humanity. People come to Australia because they want to live in a country that’s peaceful, tolerant and respectful. I don’t need to tell you how important it is that we protect that. There’s no place in Australian communities for antisemitism or Islamophobia. There’s no place in our community for hate speech. The antisemitic slogans that we’ve heard at some protests in recent times have been rightly condemned by the Prime Minister, the foreign minister and many others, and I add my condemnation. Those that engage in these acts must understand that their hatred runs contrary to the values that we all share as Australians.
Just as there’s no space in our society for antisemitism, nor is there any space for Islamophobia or other types of intolerance or racism. My community in Melbourne’s west is one of the most diverse faith communities in Australia. We know firsthand it takes real work to promote community. We know firsthand the effort it takes to build mutual understanding and respect across cultural and religious lines, and we know firsthand how carefully we must protect that sense of community. In recent days my community has seen Neo-Nazi groups seeking to intimidate members of the community in Melbourne’s west, and I call for these actions to be thoroughly investigated by law enforcement authorities and for those responsible to be held to account. We know it is all too easy for community safety to be undermined by violent or extreme rhetoric. We should also understand that, as we speak, there is disinformation circulating, deliberately spread by bad-faith actors, landing on our screens and our smart phones and on those of our neighbours and friends. I ask Australians to be aware of the threats of this disinformation, to report and watch out for disininformation and to take care with what you share and what you post. It can stoke division and hatred. At worst, it can put lives at risk.
The gravity of these times calls for all Australians to stand against hate, so I ask that we all consider how we can discuss these difficult issues with respect and understanding for difference. Maintaining respect and understanding for each other here at home is so essential. As I said before, it’s why so many people come to our country. It’s part of who we are as Australians, part of the nation and society that we’ve all built here together—a place where people can come from around the world in search of new beginnings, a better society and a better way of doing things. It’s part of our Australian identity. It’s important, to sustain this community, that we fight those who preach hatred. As a great Australian, Eddie Jaku OAM, himself a Holocaust survivor, once said, ‘Hate is the beginning of a disease, like cancer. It may kill your enemy, but will destroy you in the process too.’ In these difficult times, we must all stand against hate, seek the common humanity that we share and invest in what makes our Australian community so great.