Tim Watts MP – in response to a Greens’ motion calling on the Australian Government to end its support of Israel’s invasion of Gaza

Photo of Tim Watts MP
February 26, 2024

The Leader of the Opposition and the Greens want to whip up anger and fear in the Australian community because they think that there are votes in it for them. If they were sincere in their concern about the crisis in the Middle East, they would be engaged on a pathway to peace and keeping our community united.

Mr WATTS (GellibrandAssistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) (12:15): Since Hamas’s appalling terrorist attacks of 7 October, the Australian government has taken a principled and consistent approach to this conflict. Australia is not a central player in this conflict, but we do have a respected voice and we’ve used it with countries who have influence in the region to pursue our objectives. We’ve used our voice to advocate for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, humanitarian access, the release of hostages and the protection of civilians.

This conflict has touched so many Australians. Australians in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories during this conflict have obviously been directly affected. But many more Australians have been directly connected to this conflict through the constant stream of horrifying messages and images shared directly from this conflict. There has been so much suffering in this conflict and so much trauma in our own community. We mourn for the horrifying loss of innocent civilian life that we have witnessed. We also know that so many lives remain in the balance, and that’s why we’ve committed $46.5 million in humanitarian assistance to the region since October 7—an amount that that will be delivered in full.

The United Nations has reported that 400,000 Palestinians in Gaza are starving and one million are at risk of starvation. An estimated 1.7 million people in Gaza are internally displaced, and there are increasingly few safe places for Palestinians to go. There remain potentially 130 hostages who are being held by the terrorist group Hamas. In this context, this motion calls for a ceasefire in the conflict, and the international community has been crystal clear. At the United Nations in December of last year 153 countries, including Australia, voted in support of a humanitarian ceasefire. A deal must be struck. It’s how parties can move towards a sustainable ceasefire and a diplomatic pathway out of this conflict.

The Australian government strongly supports efforts to broker an extended cessation in hostilities. We welcome US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent comment that he believes that there remains ‘space for an agreement to be reached’, and we expect parties to engage in good faith towards this goal.

We know that Hamas violated the terms of the last agreement, and we know also that inflammatory rhetoric from some members of the Israeli government has been unhelpful. Ultimately, the only way out of this conflict is through a two-state solution. The question the international community is trying to answer is: how can responsible countries encourage a pathway out of this conflict towards a lasting peace? We see that in the comments of both US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and UK foreign secretary David Cameron. A lasting peace requires a two-state solution: an Israeli state alongside a Palestinian state. It requires all parties to respect the right of others to exist.

We’ve always said that we will be guided by the principle of advancing the cause of peace and progress towards a just and enduring two-state solution. We can’t assure Israel’s legitimate aspirations without also enabling legitimate Palestinian aspirations for their own state. Achieving this feels further away than it has at any other time in my lifetime, but it’s the only way out of this conflict. It will require extraordinary efforts of peace-building from Israelis and Palestinians, which are supported by the good-faith efforts of the international community.

Unfortunately we’re not seeing that good faith support for peace-building being modelled by political actors in Australia. We saw, under the previous government, how using international relations to play domestic partisan politics hurt the Australian national interest. Regrettably, we’re seeing this again, through the behaviour of the Leader of the Opposition and the Greens. The Leader of the Opposition and the Greens want to whip up anger and fear in the Australian community because they think that there are votes in it for them. If they were sincere in their concern about the crisis in the Middle East, they would be engaged on a pathway to peace and keeping our community united. Instead they would rather see our community divided, to pick off votes. We have to safeguard a peaceful dialogue in our community and work to make Australia more united, rather than seek to divide Australians. We need to be looking for common ground and building from that, rather than seeking to divide.

Greens activists don’t like their actions being equating to those of the Leader of the Opposition, but look at this motion. The only words of the 16-part resolution of this House passed on 16 October last year and quoted in today’s Greens motion is that the House ‘stands with Israel’. Is it unusual for a resolution of this House, following an appalling terrorist attack, to express solidarity and sympathy with the victims of an attack? Of course not. It’s a basic act of common humanity that this House has expressed repeatedly in the past in the face of other terrorist atrocities. After Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001, the resolution of this House provided that the House:

… conveys to the Government and people of the United States of America the deepest sympathy and sense of shared loss felt by the Government and people of Australia …

After an Australian white nationalist terrorist attack in Christchurch, the resolution of this House expressed:

… our solidarity with the Muslim community of Christchurch, New Zealand and our own nation at this time of affliction …

There’s nothing unusual with expressing solidarity with a nation that’s been a victim of a terrorist attack.

Despite this, those are the only three words in the 351-word 16-part resolution of the House that the Greens seem to recognise. Why doesn’t this suspension motion recognise that parliament’s resolution of 16 October also affirmed that the House:

(6) 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;

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

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

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

(10) 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 …

The reason that all non-Greens MPs supported this motion on 16 October is that the motion encompassed all dimensions of this conflict in a principled way. But the Greens voted against it because, for them, differentiation is the point. They don’t see the benefit of a joint statement of solidarity for Israelis, Palestinians and Australians alike caught up in this conflict. They still cannot bring themselves, even today, to refer to the innocent hostages still held by Hamas in this conflict. They don’t want to look for common ground in challenging times; they want to look for differentiation for their own political campaign.

The Greens have ignored this part of the resolution of the House on 16 October ever since because it complicates their political narrative. They ignore it because it undermines the Greens political strategy of looking for division for political gain, rather than unity for the benefit of the Australian community and those seeking to resolve the conflict in the Middle East. They want to confect a vision and stoke conflict, instead of trying to find common ground to build out from. They want to sow misinformation instead of facilitating a fact based debate.

As I indicated earlier, there are so many people of goodwill in our community who feel intensely moved by this conflict. I’ve had so many conversations with members of my own community about this. Their views are often diverse and complex. There are many Australians who feel intensely invested in this conflict and have firmly held views. There are many more Australians I’ve spoken to who are horrified at the terrorist attacks, appalled by the loss of innocent civilian life, but don’t feel like they fully understand the conflict and are reluctant to engage for fear of saying the wrong thing and being shouted down by those who disagree. The Greens exploit all of these people of goodwill, with bad faith political ploys like this motion.

The way we talk about and debate these incredibly serious and consequential issues matters for the Australian community. As the House affirmed in its resolution of 16 October:

… 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 …

Further, it affirmed:

… undermining social cohesion and unity by stoking fear and division risks Australia’s domestic security …

I call on the Greens and the Leader of the Opposition to recognise the importance of social cohesion and national unity and engage in this debate with respect for our fellow Australians.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard