Australia/Israel Review


Rough Estimates in the Senate

Jul 3, 2024 | Jamie Hyams

Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong and Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesperson Senator Simon Birmingham had an exchange regarding “Palestine” recognition (Screenshots)
Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong and Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesperson Senator Simon Birmingham had an exchange regarding “Palestine” recognition (Screenshots)

Each year, following the Federal Budget, the various Senate committees hold Estimates hearings, giving Senators an opportunity to question the government and officers from across the public service.

Most interesting concerning Israel and Jewish affairs was the June 3 hearing of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee with Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong. In her opening statement, she said, “We all understand that the situation in Gaza is catastrophic. What we have seen in Rafah underlines why Australia and the international community have been united in opposition. The death and destruction is horrific, and this human suffering is unacceptable. We reiterate to the Netanyahu government this cannot continue. We must see an immediate humanitarian ceasefire so that civilians can be protected. Hamas must release hostages, and Israel must allow aid to flow at scale, as directed by the ICJ.”

Shadow Foreign Minister Senator Simon Birmingham asked, “If Australia does not recognise a Palestinian state… why did Australia vote for… a [UN] resolution that ‘stresses its conviction that the state of Palestine is fully qualified for [UN] membership?’”

Senator Wong replied, “… we will be guided by whether recognition will advance the cause of peace and progress towards a two-state solution, and… we do not regard this vote as constituting bilateral recognition… we want to see… a [reformed] Palestinian Authority that is committed to peace, that disavows violence and is ready to engage in a meaningful political process.” 

She subsequently added, “If there can be a peace process of which recognition is a path… we are willing to look at that. But that’s not where we are at this stage.”

Asked by Senator Birmingham, “Will the Government guarantee no bilateral recognition where Hamas remains in any position of governance or influence?” she responded, “I’m not going to be drawn into questions of detail around negotiations around which we are not party to. But Australia’s position is that Hamas should have no role in a future Palestinian state.” 

When Senator Birmingham noted to Senator Wong that “contrary to your assertions about the way in which this resolution would be viewed, Hamas welcomed it, didn’t they?” she replied, “I don’t tend to read Hamas propaganda.”

Later, Senator Wong stated, “Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal and an obstacle to peace… we will deny anyone identified as an extremist settler a visa.” 

In this and other committees, the differences between the Liberals and Greens on Jewish security and Israel appeared stark, to say the least. While Shadow Education Minister Senator Sarah Henderson expressed concern about the safety of Jewish students who live on university campuses, and about students calling for intifada, Greens Deputy Leader Senator Mehreen Faruqi denied calling for intifada is hate speech because “it is about uprising against an oppressor.”

Other Liberal contributions included: Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator Claire Chandler asking about Iran’s role in spreading antisemitism and pro-Hamas sentiment in the community, including on campus; Senator Dave Sharma questioning whether public servants who signed a virulently anti-Israel open letter breached their code of conduct; and Senator Henderson asking why the Human Rights Commission had put out a statement in support of Ukraine but not Israel and asking the ABC whether it had a reporting team dedicated to the war in Ukraine as it has an Israel-Gaza reporting team. 

Senator Henderson also raised concerns about activist academic Randa Abdel-Fattah’s $837,174 research grant, given her promotion of doxxing Jewish Australians and encouraging children at a kids’ excursion to chant for intifada. 

Greens Foreign Affairs spokesperson Senator Jordon Steele-John wanted to know why Australia hasn’t imposed sanctions on Israel given the “number of well-documented atrocities that have been committed by the IDF against Palestinian civilians.” Senator Faruqi asked the Government if it wanted to apologise to the people of Gaza for having suspended payments to UNRWA, complained the ABC’s coverage unduly favours Israel, and asked why ANU hadn’t cut all ties with Israel after “eight months of genocide in Gaza,” when it had cut all ties with Russia.

Their colleague Senator David Shoebridge asked why the Human Rights Commissioner had attended a film about the October 7 use of sexual violence by Hamas, but no movie about Palestinians being killed in Gaza, and disparaged the widely used IHRA working definition of antisemitism, claiming it “conflates any criticism of Israel with antisemitism.” In fact, the definition specifically states, “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

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