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ABSTAINED – Motions — Middle East

Mehreen Faruqi

I seek leave to move a motion relating to funding for UNRWA, as circulated.

Leave not granted.

Pursuant to the contingent notice of motion standing in the name of Senator Waters, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter—namely, a motion to allow a motion relating to funding for UNRWA to be moved immediately.

As if Labor's aiding and abetting and full-throated support for Israel's genocidal campaign in Gaza was not enough, just when one thought the Labor government's disaster of a foreign policy couldn't get any worse, you suspend life-saving aid to UNRWA. That, too, was without a shred of evidence, as we found out through my questioning of Minister Wong. Your hypocrisy knows no bounds. You did not hesitate to collectively punish millions of Palestinians by freezing the life-saving aid to UNRWA without any basis for Israel's claims. But there's not even a slap on the wrist of Israel. In fact, there's unquestioning support for Israel to commit the crime of all crimes: genocide.

On one hand, Minister Wong admits that UNRWA does life-saving work, and then, on the other hand, she halts funding. No-one is being fooled by your doublespeak. The anger, frustration and sense of betrayal in the community is palpable, and rightly so.

Sue Lines

Senator Faruqi, I remind you that it's a motion to suspend standing orders, so your comments need to relate to why a suspension needs to be supported.

Mehreen Faruqi

For more than two weeks, people have been outside the PM's office in Sydney for an around-the-clock peaceful sit-in, calling on the Prime Minister to urgently restore UNRWA's aid. That's 24 hours every day for 16 days now. But the Prime Minister has been a no-show. At a bare minimum, Prime Minister Albanese should have the decency to front up to his own constituents, hear people's concerns about the cutting of UNRWA's funding—

Sue Lines

Senator Faruqi, I have reminded you: it's a motion to suspend standing orders, and you need to be referring your comments to why there needs to be a suspension.

Mehreen Faruqi

We need to debate this motion to restore UNRWA's funding by this government, because there are people in Palestine who are suffering. They are fighting for their survival.

Make no mistake, people will not forgive and forget this suspension of funding. People will not forgive and forget the murder of 30,000 Palestinians. There is catastrophic famine, hunger, starvation and disease looming large in Gaza, yet it has been 31 days since you suspended funding to UNRWA, which is the largest relief agency in Gaza. We will not forget and we will not forgive the suffering of children because of this suspension of aid.

Is the minister aware of the acronym WCNSF: wounded child, no surviving family? Some of these children are babies, toddlers who don't yet speak. No-one knows their names and no-one ever will. Some of these children cannot speak anymore due to what they have witnessed, and they are being denied even the aid that was going to them so that they can live. How will these people go on without aid? Do they not need help? Do they not need aid? Do you not see them as humans?

Labor thinks that falsely accusing us Greens of causing division over and over will somehow make this lie true. But we are holding you to account for your role in supporting Israel's genocide and cutting aid, your role in the occupation and oppression of Palestinians. Don't you dare try and divert attention from these dire needs by your inexcusable moral bankruptcy and utter hypocrisy. And while I'm at it, if you're not going to show up for the community now, don't you dare show up for photoshoots at our iftars next month. It is beyond inhumane to suspend aid at any time, but you have done so at the worst possible time for Palestinians—when they are being butchered, indiscriminately massacred, starved and forcibly displaced under the guise of self-defence by the belligerent, bloodthirsty State of Israel.

Last week, UNRWA chief Mr Philippe Lazzarini wrote to the UN General Assembly, saying:

It is with profound regret that I must now inform you that the Agency has reached breaking point, with Israel's repeated calls to dismantle UNRWA and the freezing of funding by donors at a time of unprecedented humanitarian needs in Gaza.

How much more often do you need to hear about the absolutely drastic need to restore this funding? Labor is facilitating Israel's long-term mission to disband UNRWA. It seems now the State of Israel not only dictates our foreign policy in the Middle East, but also our aid policy. Shame on you! Restore UNRWA funding and rapidly increase it. After all your wrongs and all your screw ups, it is the least you can do.

Claire Chandler

Once again the coalition absolutely does not support the Greens' attempt to suspend standing orders to attempt to debate an entirely one-sided, misleading and inflammatory motion. We have repeatedly seen the Greens behave disgracefully over the crisis in the Middle East by refusing to acknowledge that it is the terrorist organisation Hamas that is responsible for the death and conflict in Gaza. It is Hamas which broke a ceasefire and murdered 1,200 women, children and men in cold blood. It is Hamas which took hundreds of hostages who have been held in atrocious conditions for more than four months and still refuses to release them today.

We all want this conflict to end as soon as possible. We all want to see civilian casualties minimised. Hamas could have surrendered at any point. They could have released the hostages—those innocent civilian hostages—at any point. But once again we see the Greens coming into this parliament with a motion that completely ignores the fact that the Hamas terrorists can end the conflict in Gaza today and ensure aid can flow to the people who need it without restriction. If the Greens want to suspend standing orders to debate the situation in Gaza or debate UNRWA, then they should do so on a motion which accepts the facts rather than misrepresents them and deliberately omits any mention of Hamas. It is very, very troubling to see a political party in this country adopt a deliberate strategy of ignoring the horrific crimes of Hamas terrorists.

This motion for the suspension of standing orders, just like so many of the stunts that the Greens have attempted, is designed to create media stories which shift the focus away from what Hamas is doing, from the crimes that Hamas is committing. It is a fact—and, indeed, one that has been called out from many quarters, including from the government—that the Greens, as a fringe political movement, are seeking, with stunts like these, to ingratiate themselves with the hard left fringe, which also wants to let Hamas off the hook for its terrorism. The most hypocritical part of their actions is that it is Hamas which is the cause of the death and suffering of people in Gaza. Once again, the Greens are seeking to suspend standing orders to debate a motion about death and suffering in Gaza which doesn't even mention Hamas, which is the cause of that death and the cause of that suffering.

They seek to suspend standing orders to debate a motion calling for the immediate restoration of funding to UNRWA, even though UNRWA itself dismissed members of its own staff for alleged involvement in the 7 October terrorist attacks. How irresponsible can the Australian Greens be, to seek to suspend standing orders to try and get the Senate to call for the restoration of funding to an organisation which is currently under investigation for having staff participate in a terrorist attack? No Australian taxpayer money should ever go to an organisation involved in supporting terrorism, and it is staggering that the Greens come into this chamber and want to move for the suspension of standing orders to try and debate a motion calling for funding to be restored, before an investigation is even complete.

The coalition has been using the usual forms of parliament, including the Senate estimates process, including question time, to ask important questions of the government regarding UNRWA. We have taken the opportunity to ask questions about the various other aid agencies which are being funded by both the Australian government and other nations to provide critical aid and support in Gaza. Rather than seeking to suspend standing orders as a stunt, as the Greens are doing right now, we in the coalition have been asking substantive questions about the potential for organisations like the Red Cross to provide more assistance, noting that the government has announced additional funding.

Rather than trying to suspend standing orders to demand funding be restored to UNRWA, even though UNRWA sacked staff due to alleged participation in terror attacks and remains under investigation, Greens senators in this place could be asking questions of substance about whether Australia and like-minded countries can support the civilian population through other reputable aid organisations.

We oppose the suspension of standing orders because the Greens have demonstrated time and again that they aren't responsible. Each and every time they raise this issue in this chamber, it is with the aim of minimising blame on Hamas.

Anthony Chisholm

The government will also be opposing this motion by Senator Faruqi. Another day, another stunt by the Greens, who only seek to politicise this issue for political gain. That is what they are doing. We've seen it in this chamber previously and again this week.

Paul Scarr

Point of order, Deputy President. Neither Senator Chisholm nor Senator Chandler interjected at all in relation to the contribution from Senator Faruqi, and there have been constant interjections.

Andrew McLachlan

I take your point. Members need to show each other courtesy.

Anthony Chisholm

There are two facts we can't ignore in relation to UNRWA. It does life-saving work, but the recent allegations against its staff are grave and need to be fully investigated. This life-saving work is why Australian governments of both stripes have provided funding to UNRWA since 1951. That is why our closest partners, including the United States, the UK and Canada, all make major contributions. Right now more than 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering in UNRWA facilities, and thousands of its staff are involved in the humanitarian response in Gaza. But it's also a fact that serious allegations have been raised about some UNRWA staff. Australia welcomed UNRWA's swift response to those allegations, including terminating staff and launching an investigation, as well as its recent announcement that former French foreign minister Colonna will chair a full independent review of UNRWA. I refer you to the statement by UNRWA on 26 January which made it clear that the allegations were so serious that UNRWA had immediately terminated the contracts of some staff members. This was underlined again last week by an UNRWA spokesperson who said that they fired people on the basis of how serious the allegations are.

Australia is now working with a number of countries that are in the same position as us. We want to provide urgent humanitarian aid to people in Gaza. Collectively, we are making clear to UNRWA that it needs to demonstrate strong, transparent and accountable leadership for the international community to move forward together. We need to re-establish confidence that money is being used properly and that problems will be addressed. While this work is being done, we are temporarily pausing recently announced funding. Australia and 14 other countries temporarily paused funding as it was reasonable in these circumstances. They include Germany, Sweden, Japan and the Netherlands. Are the Greens suggesting that Australia, Germany, Sweden, Japan, the Netherlands and other donor countries should have ignored UNRWA's own actions?

Because the Greens only see this conflict as a political campaigning device, they have ignored that this government has doubled core funding to UNRWA, and their tactics are the same as those opposite. To be clear, Australia's $20 million in core annual funding has already been delivered in full this financial year; delivery of an additional $6.5 million in UNRWA's flash appeal has been paused temporarily. Since the beginning of this crisis, Australia has provided $46.5 million in humanitarian assistance, and the full amount will be delivered.

As I have said, there are two facts that we can't ignore in relation to UNRWA. They do life-saving work, but the recent allegations against their staff are grave and need to be investigated. The UN and other donors have acted on the seriousness of these allegations and are doing so in good faith. If only the Greens also acted in good faith! Instead, we know they are only looking to how they can use this crisis to whip up anger for votes. It is a really despicable way to treat such an important issue.

I move:

That the question be now put.

Andrew McLachlan

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

Summary

Date and time: 12:20 PM on 2024-02-27
Senator Pocock's vote: Abstained
Total number of "aye" votes: 26
Total number of "no" votes: 10
Total number of abstentions: 40

Adapted from information made available by theyvoteforyou.org.au