Zali Steggall MP speaks on the Hamas attacks on Israel and ongoing conflict

17 October 2023


Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker. I rise on this motion to suspend standing orders to discuss and pause in relation to the current events occurring in Israel and the attack by Hamas. I'm deeply saddened at the shocking and tragic loss of civilian lives in the recent Hamas attacks on Israel. I unequivocally condemn the atrocities perpetrated by terrorist group Hamas on innocent civilians. Young people enjoying freedoms at a music festival, the accounts are horrific. My thoughts are with those killed and injured, those taken hostage and all those affected by the ongoing hostilities.

These are horrific events. It's a devastating setback for both the Israeli and Palestinian people and I urge the protection of all civilian lives and for the de-escalation of the conflict. I strongly support the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians for statehood and the two state solution. But Hamas is an acknowledged terrorist organisation and those attacks were terrorist attacks.

This is a distressing time for many Australians, especially those in the region and their friends and families here. I want to acknowledge and thank those constituents in Warringah who have contacted me  with their concerns for both the Israeli and the Palestinian people caught up in horrific conflict. It's heartening to see the outpouring of concern for the many affected by this conflict. I thank the Jewish community who invited me last week to attend a ceremony to acknowledge and give solidarity to their community in their time of need. They were distressed by the showing of the anti-Semitic messaging that had been written in public places and had been chanted by some during the protests in Sydney. It is important they feel supported and able to go about their lives in our free democratic country.

There is no place in Australia for that kind of conduct. To help protect the innocent lives at stake, in particular as the news unfolds, I encourage the government to advocate for a safe corridor to ensure civilians can get out of harms way. Acknowledging Israel's legitimate right to defend itself against Hamas, it is also critical that the international rules of law are observed. And I strongly denounce the senseless killing and hostage taking perpetrated by Hamas and call for the release of those hostages. I am also concerned about the innocent lives in Gaza of Palestinians. Innocent lives of men and women and children must never be used as shields in a war zone. It is a horror of terrorism and war that all too often it is innocent civilians that pay the price. I know that there are genuine concerns at this time from Australia and other countries that this conflict could escalate with other regional powers seeking to use the conflict to their own end. Calmer heads at the diplomatic and military level must prevail to ensure this does not happen. I supported the government motion in the chamber yesterday as I felt it struck the right balance in what is a very complicated conflict with deep historical roots.

Many are hurting at the ongoing news of these events and now more than ever it is important for Australia as a multicultural society to show love and respect for our diverse and peaceful nation. Anti-Semitic and Islamophobia has no place in our country and I strongly condemn any who display such conduct. No Australian should ever feel fear to be able to go about their lives to go to school and into public places in the event they might face such conduct. I know many in the Jewish community felt that way as a result of the chants and some of the anti-Semitic rhetoric that came from the protests in Sydney. That is wrong. At the same time we have to acknowledge the Palestinian community within Australia are also hurting and worried about their relatives. And so that is where innocent civilians too often are caught up in the war zones and in acts of terrorism. I have been dismayed by the tone of some in parliament this week and in the chamber. Yesterday in the context of this motion, using words and phrasing turning up the volume on fear and division for what I consider base political objectives. In a confected contest, we cannot let that be the record. We are a nation, as leaders in this place, we have a responsibility to ensure as representatives of the Australian people, the challenge for political leaders is to moderate language to not whip up further civil unrest that leads to more instability. And ultimately, innocents being caught in the crossfire.

We must not repeat the vilification lest it encourages others to do so openly. I call on members in this place not to put officially on the record phrases and vilification that then enables it by putting it officially on the record. Mike Burgess, the head of the Australian Security intelligence innovation is clear, moderating your language is the right thing to do right now. All parties must consider the implications for social cohesion when making public statements. Let us stand united spreading love, understanding and hope during these challenging times. I applaud the government's initial response to provide an initial $10 million in humanitarian assistance from trusted partners for civilians affected by the conflict in Gaza. I also echo the support of the Australian government for the work United States, Egypt and others are doing to open the Rafah crossing for humanitarian purposes. I understand that more than 1,400 people previously registered Australians have now left Israel under occupied Palestinian territories. I understand DFAT is in contact with a further number of registered Australians in Israel and occupied Palestinian territories. I note the Australian government flew a significant number of people from Tel Aviv to to Dubai overnight including some 75 Australians and 96 people from Pacific nations and citizens of partner countries. I thank the government and I urge the government to maintain those efforts and ensure pathways remain open. I know six assisted departure flights from Tel Aviv to London and to Dubai including the three RAAF flights have now operated to repatriate people out of Israel with further government assistance being provided to assist Australians with onward travel.

Obviously the situation in Gaza is extremely challenging. The government has advised that DFAT is in direct contact with families seeking to leave Gaza and Israel to provide updated advice on options to leave. We support the work of the US, Egypt and others to open the Rafah crossing. It's incredibly important Australians with families in Israel or Gaza and territories who need any assistance with departure should register with DFAT or call the 24-hour consular emergency centre. The government has noted that there has been a lot of spare seats on flights for two days in a row and I can understand the uncertainty of the situation. But I urge those seeking to leave to take this opportunity, the situation remains fluid and challenging and so you do not know when that window of opportunity may close. And take the opportunity while it is there in a safe and secure way. It is really important.

Finally, I would like to thank again everyone who has written to me from Warringah expressing deep concerns in relation to the Israeli people and Palestinians caught in the conflict in Gaza. And I echo their concerns. It's at these times we must come together as a peaceful nation to provide other solutions to resolve these conflicts that do not involve such innocent lives being caught in the middle. At all times terrorism activity must be called out and the actions of Hamas are simply inexcusable.