The Australian Parliament fails to uphold international law preventing genocide in Gaza

Feb 13, 2024
Parliament House

The Australian Parliament failed to recognise its responsibilities last week when Greens Leader Adam Bandt, responding to the International Court of Justice interim ruling to prevent genocide, initiated a vote for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Australians are indebted to human rights champions Adam Bandt, Elizabeth Watson Brown, Stephen Bates, Max Chandler-Mather, Helen Haines and Andrew Wilkie, who voted in favour of this motion that should have been supported by a majority of parliamentarians, who would have reflected the opinions of many likeminded Australians expecting their parliamentarians to negotiate an end to conflict. The vote was overwhelmingly defeated as members lined up to show loyalty to their parties.

What does this say about the priorities and understanding of our national elected representatives? Neither Government nor the Coalition will ever support a Greens initiative even though it may reflect government policy or party platform. Such is the tribalism of party politics. Yet given the background and purpose of this vital motion to end the suffering in Gaza, it is reasonable to expect that a Labor Government could have put aside party politics to make a strong statement about Australia’s demand for a ceasefire, compliance with international law and respect for the International Court of Justice.

Instead, as always, the Labor machine men worry more about being wedged by the Opposition and Murdoch media than adhering to principle. The Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese could have used this occasion to clarify Australia’s response to the International Court of Justice and demand an end to all action that risks genocide.

Instead, it was left to Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts to defend the indefensible. Where were the Prime Minister and the Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, neither of whom have yet made official statements in response to the International Court of Justice interim ruling on January 26th? Why is there absolute silence from Australia’s leader and first law maker? Eventually the Attorney General must demonstrate how this country has met its obligations as a signatory to the Genocide Convention.

The rushed and ill-informed decision of the Foreign Minister Penny Wong to pause funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has considerably damaged Australia’s reputation as a humanitarian donor country. This decision was based on propaganda deliberately created to divert attention from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling calling on Israel to prevent genocide.

Had the Department of Foreign Affairs been better informed, advisers would have known that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency has long been a target of the Israeli Government because its role is to support Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Unlike the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), UNRWA does not resettle to other countries, but provides essential services within Palestine itself. This has been rejected by some Israeli parliamentarians whose goal has been to move Palestinians from their homeland, so they have been highly critical of UNRWA for some time. Unsurprisingly some members of the US Congress have joined this chorus. making unsubstantiated claims that UNRWA has

“Longstanding connections to terrorism and promotion of anti semitism”

Within hours of the ICJ announcement the Israeli Intelligence propaganda machine was in overdrive circulating a ‘dossier’ with allegations of 12 UNRWA staff being accomplices in the Hamas attack. United States and western media immediately accepted this fake news, so funding for UNRWA was withdrawn by several countries including Australia which announced a “pause” in its funding.

However independent investigations have since revealed the plot to discredit UNRWA and further harm desperate Palestinians. An analysis of the “dossier” by Britain’s Sky News found the documents were about six not twelve individuals and concluded.

Sky News has not seen any proof of the claims, even if true, do not directly implicate UNRWA”.

Britain’s Channel 4 reached a similar conclusion, reporting “the document provides no evidence to support explosive claims that UN staff were involved in terror attacks on Israel.”

We know that truth is the first casualty of war, but the Australian media does not even bother to report these independently verified facts. Hence too many parliamentarians continue to view this ongoing tragedy from the polarised perspective that “Israel has a right to defend Itself” a dangerous mantra which simply accepts that war is the only answer to conflict,

How can Australians convince their representatives to take real action to prevent genocide in Gaza? Many parliamentarians are anxious about the way this humanitarian crisis is dividing their parties and electorates. Labor ministers like Tony Burke, Ed Husic and Anne Aly have tried to find ways to strengthen the Australian Government’s response and a number of backbenchers are privately deeply concerned about the failure of their government to show leadership in upholding international law. Fremantle MP Josh Wilson has spoken out about the “unconscionable bombardment of Gaza” condemning Israel’s rejection of a ceasefire, which will continue the suffering of the people of Gaza.

The Prime Minister is receiving a large range of correspondence about the government’s failure to clearly reject ongoing breaches of international law. Over sixty human rights and peace organisations, including the Australian Human Rights Commission, have called for urgent action to restore UNRWA funding. The Foreign Minister has admitted she did not have all the evidence before she decided to pause funding to UNRWA. Surely then an immediate resumption of UNRWA funding must be a minimum response to start rebuilding faith in the Labor Government’s capacity to make humane decisions irrespective of pressure from allies.

Furthermore, the Foreign Minister Penny Wong must implement Labor Party policy and announce long overdue recognition of Palestine. It is totally unacceptable to constantly hear of Australia’s commitment to the two-state solution, when one state, Palestine is not yet formally recognised. No doubt there will be those at the cabinet table who will find reasons to oppose such a decision, but the Prime Minister needs to remind them they are simply implementing Labor policy and finally catching up with 132 governments that already recognise the State of Palestine.


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