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ABSTAINED – Business — Rearrangement

Jordon Steele-John

I seek leave to move a motion calling for a ceasefire in Gaza in the terms circulated in the chamber.

Leave not granted.

At the request of Senator Waters, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me from moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter—namely, a motion relating to a call for a ceasefire in Gaza to be moved immediately.

The moment for the Senate to support a ceasefire between all parties in Gaza is now. Every second that passes is ending more and more innocent lives. The hunger of the people of Gaza deepens. The thirst becomes more profound. More refugee camps are turned to rubble and more medical facilities are destroyed.

The Australian government cannot take a moment longer to support a ceasefire. This motion gives them the opportunity to do so. If anyone in this place doubts the urgency of this motion, consider what we've seen occur in the past few days in Gaza. The death toll stands at over 10,000. There are countless more people missing under growing piles of rubble. Many families are surviving on only one meal a day. Water consumption in Gaza is currently reduced by 92 per cent of the rate of consumption before 7 October. The Red Crescent has said that forces of the State of Israel have targeted International Red Cross humanitarian aid convoys trying to reach Gaza City. We've had a report of Doctors Without Borders staff being killed.

Let us consider what the next days and weeks could bring.

Five thousand five hundred women in Gaza are due to give birth soon or within the coming month. Over half of Gaza's educational facilities have been hit, including 29 UN schools. Eight of these were being used as emergency shelters for displaced people. A school in the south of Gaza with a maximum capacity of 2,000 people is currently host to over 22,500 displaced people. In this facility there are only 16 bathrooms. None of them flush. Communicable diseases are beginning to spread like wildfire. There is fear of a cholera outbreak.

More than 41 per cent of people killed in Gaza since 7 October have been children. That's two-fifths of nearly every civilian death every single day. As of 48 hours ago, 1,350 children were reported missing. Last week, one child died in Gaza every 15 minutes. This week, one child dies every 10. One child is injured in Gaza every five minutes. Twice as many Palestinian children have been killed in Gaza over the past month as the total number of Palestinian children killed in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967. Palestinians are no longer talking about 'if' they die; they are talking about 'when' they will die.

This is a humanitarian catastrophe. These are war crimes being committed by the state of Israel. Mothers are having to mark their children's skin permanently in order to ensure that their names are located with the body parts which they expect to soon be extracted from the rubble. Fathers are digging their sons out of the rubble only to have nowhere to bury them. Journalists sharing these stories around and throughout the conflict zone are putting themselves and their families at risk. Thirty-six of these fearless storytellers have been killed so far. Every civilian life is deserving of dignity and is protected by international law. If this government cannot call for a ceasefire, cannot condemn these war crimes, what is the point in its existence? We must join together with the community and declare, 'Ceasefire now!' Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now!

Honourable senators interjecting—

Andrew McLachlan

I call you to order. Put those props away.

Penny Wong

It is right to say there is a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. It is right to say, as I have said, that the loss of life—loss of innocent live, of women and children, civilians—is devastating. I would make the point that we are seeking to engage with others, including Israel but also the other countries of the region and the Palestinian authority, to put our voice to efforts to try and ensure that there is a humanitarian pause in the fighting and that the conflict does not spread more broadly, which will result in the loss of more life.

I understand those who want to make a political point in this chamber, and I understand you did so earlier in the week. What I would say is this: the people of Gaza cannot wait for the parties to this conflict to agree to a ceasefire, so we are joining the international community, including the G7, in calling for pauses in the hostilities, because we understand that food, water, fuel, medicine and other essential assistance must be delivered into Gaza.

I would also make this point: there were some assertions made by the Greens' spokesperson then in very emotional terms. What this government has said is that, in affirming Israel's right to defend itself, we have consistently emphasised that the way Israel defends itself matters. We understand it is difficult to defeat a craven terrorist group—

Honourable Senator

An honourable senator interjecting—

Penny Wong

I listened to you—that has burrowed itself in civilian infrastructure. I make this point to Israel. Israel is a democratic nation state, like Australia, pledged to the rule of law, and the standards we democracies seek and accept are high. So, when Israel's friends, including Australia, urge Israel to exercise restraint and protect civilian lives, it is critical that Israel listens. This is because innocent civilians in Gaza do deserve protection. Women and children—innocent civilians—should not pay for the crimes and provocations of Hamas. And it is also to prevent escalation of conflict throughout Israel's own neighbourhood.

I have said publicly, some days ago, that the international community will not accept ongoing civilian deaths. I would also make this point: international humanitarian law requires the application of principles of distinction, of proportionality and of precaution in military operations. That is the position the Australian government continues to take in this extremely difficult conflict—a conflict which began with terrorist acts by an organisation which is dedicated to the destruction of the State of Israel. We are seeking to engage with the international community to do what we can to protect civilian lives, and we know that, ultimately, peace in this region must come from a political process, a durable peace which does lead to a two-state solution, where both Palestinians and Israelis can live in peace and security behind internationally recognised borders.

Australia has been, and will continue to be, part of the community of nations that is urging humanitarian pauses in hostilities so that there can be aid to civilians, support to civilians and some modicum of safety for civilians. We will continue to urge Israel to comply with international law, including international humanitarian law, as I have outlined, and we will continue to do all we can with other countries in the world to move to a political process which ensures that we do not see the continuation of the sort of devastation and the loss of civilian life that we have been seeing.

I understand this is a deeply difficult, emotional and distressing issue for so many Australians on both sides of this debate, and how we approach our differences of views about their appropriate policy matters. It matters to the people in the Australian community, and it matters to the cohesion of our wonderful, vibrant multicultural community, so many of whom, sadly, are suffering this day.

Simon Birmingham

The tragic events across Israel and in Gaza are serious and complex issues. These serious and complex issues in Israel and in Gaza require a far more sombre and considered response than the childish stunts or university tactics that we see from the Australian Greens. The walkouts from this chamber, the waving around of props and the pathetic games that are played at the other end of the chamber on this issue do not reflect in any way the gravity and the seriousness of the circumstances and the issues that are being dealt with by countries and governments right around the world to try to ensure a situation where terrorism is not allowed to prevail but where innocent lives can, ultimately, be protected. They must be the two goals through this crisis: terrorism must not be allowed to prevail, but innocent lives must seek to be protected now and into the future.

The Australian Greens are coming in here again, calling for a ceasefire. A ceasefire under what terms? Because I can tell you the types of terms that a ceasefire should be enabled under. A ceasefire should be one in which Hamas surrenders. A ceasefire should be one in which Hamas surrenders its military infrastructure and its terrorist infrastructure—the types of rocket launchers and other things that they are hiding and have hidden in kindergartens, schools and medical facilities, and behind innocent Palestinian lives, who they use as a shelter and a shield so shamelessly and with such cowardice. Hamas should surrender its leaders, its military operatives and the terrorists who launched the barbaric assault against innocent children, babies, the elderly, young people enjoying a music festival and others on 7 October. Hamas should surrender and unconditionally release the 240 hostages still being held. That would be a ceasefire that helps to ensure terrorism does not win and that, ultimately, innocent lives are protected.

But this motion does not come with those types of expectations, because it comes from a party who could not even bring themselves to vote for a motion condemning Hamas in the first place. We should ask: what would the consequences be of the type of action the Australian Greens seek? The consequences would be an ability for Hamas to re-arm, an ability for Hamas to regroup and, ultimately, an ability from that for Hamas to undertake further terrorist actions, the likes of which occurred on 7 October. The Greens fool themselves if they think that a simple ceasefire today would stop more innocent lives being lost in the future, because it would not. We would see tragic repetition of the types of terrorist attacks that have been undertaken.

The Greens bring this motion to this place today on a day when Australian Holocaust survivors have made a brave, courageous and, indeed, unprecedented joint statement about the impact these events continue to have, with a rise in antisemitism which they see is analogous to the type of division and hatred that was occurring prior to the Second World War. Rather than the types of stunts we see from the Greens, we should be standing united in condemnation of terrorism and in acknowledging that every innocent life lost—a Palestinian life, an Israeli life, any other innocent life lost—is a tragedy and that we all wish to see the actions outlined, for example, in the G7 leader's statement achieved in terms of greater humanitarian access. We all wish, ultimately, to see a world in which Israelis and Palestinians are able to live side by side, free of the threat of terror and free of conflict. But this motion would not achieve that. It would just perpetuate the horrors that are currently being experienced.

Don Farrell

I move:

That the question be put.

Andrew McLachlan

The question before the Senate is that the question be put.


Date and time: 3:22 PM on 2023-11-09
Senator Pocock's vote: Abstained
Total number of "aye" votes: 37
Total number of "no" votes: 11
Total number of abstentions: 28

Adapted from information made available by