Australia/Israel Review

Ceasefire signalling in the Senate

Apr 22, 2024 | AIJAC staff

Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong (Screenshot)
Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong (Screenshot)

Australia’s political response to the Israel-Hamas war has been dominated recently by the Government’s extraordinary decision to appoint a “special adviser” to oversee Israel’s independent investigation into the tragic accidental killing on April 1 of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers, including Australian Zomi Frankcom, in an Israeli drone attack – as well as by Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong’s April 9 speech at ANU that suggested Australia may consider unilaterally recognising a Palestinian state.

Before that, however, in a significant development, the Senate passed a motion on March 26, moved by Senator Wong, calling for a Gaza ceasefire, the only time until now that the Parliament has carried such a motion. It immediately followed and referenced a UN Security Council resolution the previous day.

The UN motion, which called for an immediate ceasefire lasting the duration of Ramadan, was problematic; while it called for a ceasefire and the release of the hostages, it did not explicitly link the two. Senator Wong’s motion features the same shortcoming.

She moved:

(a) that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is catastrophic and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are starving;

(b) that all parties to the conflict in Gaza comply with the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) demand in relation to ceasefire;

(c) that immediate action must be taken by Israel to comply with the UNSC’s demand that all barriers to the provision of humanitarian assistance at scale are removed;

(d) that Hamas comply with the UNSC’s demand for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, as well as ensuring humanitarian access to address their medical and other humanitarian needs… ”

The item actually started with Greens’ Foreign Affairs spokesperson Senator Jordon Steele-John moving a motion that “Israel’s non-compliance with the International Court of Justice is evident in the blocking of aid into Gaza and the Australian government must take action to compel… Israel to comply with orders of the ICJ and allow aid into all parts of Gaza at the scale needed.”

In speaking to his motion, Senator Steele-John said, “starvation, disease and dehydration continue… to be… the explicit policy of… Israel, wielded as a weapon of war… The Australian government must sanction the Prime Minister of… Israel and his war cabinet for the war crimes, crimes against humanity and, arguably, crimes of genocide which are the explicit policies of his cabinet and his government.”

Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John (Screenshot)

Senator Wong then moved an amendment substituting her motion for Senator Steele-John’s. In speaking to it, she said, “Whether senators consider themselves a friend of Israelis or Palestinians or both, as I do, we should be able to come together in agreeing” on her motion. 

Shadow Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham then moved his own amendment. As he explained in a statement released that night, his amendment sought to:

  • “incorporate the expectation that any immediate ceasefire incorporates the immediate and unconditional release of hostages;
  • acknowledges that improving access to humanitarian assistance requires the cooperation of all parties, not just Israel;
  • state that Hamas must lay down its arms and can have no role in the future governance of Gaza, …and
  • once again unconditionally condemn the heinous terror attacks of Hamas, while recognising Israel’s inherent right to defend itself.”

In speaking to the motion, he noted that, “Hamas has been filmed and recorded looting and stealing humanitarian assistance,” and said it was important the Senate “reinforces its unconditional condemnation of Hamas for its heinous terrorist attacks and recognises Israel’s inherent right to defend itself.” He added that the suffering and loss of life were truly a result of “Hamas’s terrorist attacks, of Hamas using… people across Gaza as human shields.”

Greens Deputy Leader Senator Mehreen Faruqi accused the Government of “suspending UNRWA funding without a shred of evidence… arming Israel with military equipment to massacre Palestinians indiscriminately and bomb Gaza to dust.” She also accused Israel of genocidal slaughter, deliberately starving Palestinians and apartheid. 

Fellow Greens Senator Janet Rice said the Greens demanded the Government “stop all military trade and cooperation with Israel… stop the transfer of information from Pine Gap that is supporting Israeli military operations… and… investigate for war crimes Australians who have served with the Israel Defense Forces in their genocidal war.”

Senator Birmingham’s amendment was defeated and Senator Wong’s motion was passed along party lines, with the Greens and Senators Lidia Thorpe and David Pocock voting with the Government and Senator Pauline Hanson voting with the Coalition. Other independents were absent.

Following the vote, former Greens and now independent senator Lidia Thorpe made a statement, sending “a message of solidarity to the community organisers, individuals and groups—like Unionists for Palestine, Block the Dock, Sit-Intifada and Action 4 Rafah—who are standing up against an increasingly violent and aggressive police force to call for justice and an end to the genocide.”

While all of this was overshadowed by subsequent events, it was certainly a portent of what was to come.


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