Shock as Australian PM learns he is not above international law

Mar 7, 2024
Legal and law concept statue of Lady Justice with scales of justice and judge gavel

Prime Ministers are too often monopolised by people telling them what they want to hear. Most political advisers can’t see beyond the latest opinion poll and the Australian bureaucracy has become equally reluctant to offer frank and fearless advice. It appears that the Attorney General, Defence and Foreign Affairs and Trade Departments have each failed to alert the Prime Minister and his government to the risks inherent in ignoring international law when responding to the Gaza crisis.

However, many members of Australian civil society have indeed urged the Federal Government to act strongly to uphold humanitarian standards and avoid crimes against humanity They have demanded the Federal Government restore funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and ban arms sales to Israel. More than 100 non-government organisations have communicated their alarm that Australia could in any way be contributing to the ongoing atrocities being inflicted on the Palestinians. Since January 27th, many Australians have anticipated a public official response to the International Court of Justice interim ruling that a case of genocide against Israel is plausible Yet this weight of urgent correspondence and advocacy has failed to alert the Prime Minister’s staff to Australia’s responsibilities as a signatory of the Genocide Convention.

Today more than 100 Australian lawyers endorsed the referral of Anthony Albanese, together with other members of his government and the Opposition leader, Peter Dutton to the International Criminal Court as Accessory to Genocide in Gaza alleging political and material support to the Israel government and military over the past five months.

The 92-page document sets down specific ways in which this allegation can be upheld.

– Freezing of funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency amid a humanitarian crisis

– Providing military aid and approving defence exports to Israel

– Ambiguously deploying an Australian military contingent to the region where its location and exact role have not been disclosed

– Permitting Australians to travel to Israel to join the Israeli Defence Force and take part in its attacks on Gaza.

In response, the Prime Minister has dismissed the referral to the International Criminal Court as “lacking credibility” and it is unsurprising he would go into a defensive denial mode. However, it would be a brave leader who did not now demand detailed briefings on these allegations from those departments that have failed to respond to the International Court of Justice genocide warning. Furthermore, the Prime Minister would be wise to seek independent advice from one of several influential Australians who have significant expertise in the field of international humanitarian law.

Regardless of the long-term future of this and comparable allegations against other western leaders, the Australian Government has been given the chance to review its commitment to international law. It can continue to ignore calls for transparency and Australian independence in foreign policy, or it can start to seriously examine why the allegations of complicity have been made.

There is no doubt that many nations are much more actively concerned about the charge of genocide brought against Israel by the South African government. In February more than fifty countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Fiji, Japan, Great Britain and Ireland sent official legal delegations to the Hague to present their nations opinions to the International Court of Justice., but Australia was not represented.

In contrast, the Australian Government has avoided any detailed public response to its responsibilities as a signatory to the Genocide Convention. Indeed, it has recently twice closed down parliamentary debate that could lead to a comprehensive House of Representatives discussion. There has been no debate about how Australia may assist in future medical rehabilitation of Palestinians nor how it will contribute to the rebuilding of Gaza. While the Foreign Minister may refer to a “two state solution “ there has been no official announcement that Australia finally recognises the State of Palestine.

Furthermore, the failure of the Australian public service to maintain or prioritise current independent information about the continuing assault in Gaza amounts to negligence. In a recent meeting, United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, Director Tom White was advised “the Australian Government wanted to be sure UNRWA Gaza aid funding will go to those who need it “! This bland indeed inhuman statement clearly reflects that there is something seriously wrong with how the government is currently managing its international responsibilities.

Of course, it is embarrassing for the current Australian Government to be named as an “accessory to genocide”, but all members of parliament should not be too quick to dismiss the allegation until they have reviewed why and how such a charge could be made. The parliament hears too many simplistic speeches giving loyalty to allies who blatantly ignore international law and it’s time our representatives faced this reality.

Australia has a proud record as a founding member of the United Nations, which is responsible for developing international law. So many well-known Australian names have contributed to a great variety of United Nations achievements, yet few parliamentarians speak up for the importance of the international body. International law is being undermined by governments choosing militarism ahead of the rule of law, so it is imperative that the Australian government and parliament commit to prioritising its international responsibilities. Many Australians will be watching closely, demanding that humanitarian leadership is restored.


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