Topics: Funding pause on UNWRA; ICJ ruling; Albanese’s broken tax promise; 

08:35AM AWST
29 January 2024


Kieran Gilbert: Let’s go live now to the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham. Thanks for your time. Do you welcome the fact that Australia, along with the UK and others, have paused funding now to this agency known as UNWRA?


Simon Birmingham: Hello, Kieran. It’s good to be with you. Yes, I do welcome the fact that Australia has followed other nations in suspending funding to UNWRA. Not $1 of Australian taxpayers’ money should be going to activities that could fund or support terrorism, could promote or exacerbate extremism. We must be very careful and cautious to ensure that Australian taxpayers’ dollars are supporting genuine humanitarian needs. Now the Albanese Government has questions to answer as to why they ignored warnings from the Australian Jewish community and others that were provided last year about the potential involvement of UNWRA staff in the October 7th terrorist attacks. Why not only did they ignore those warnings, but in fact they increased funding to UNWRA following the receipt of those warnings. Rather than looking for absolutely fail-safe mechanisms to provide the humanitarian assistance that, of course, people in Gaza need and deserve for innocent civilians, and that should be provided through institutions and organisations where there is complete confidence that none of that funding will support Hamas terrorist operations or the promotion of extremist ideology.


Kieran Gilbert: The problem is, though, there aren’t that many other alternatives. There’s the Red Cross, of course, but I know the government is already providing funding there. And Penny Wong did raise issues of transparency and that agency dealing with these individuals, when she met with him early this month when she was in the Middle East. So, and you heard the UN secretary general also saying that they’ve sacked nine of them, that one is dead. The other two, they’re seeking to work out who they are. Isn’t the UN taking appropriate measures given the concerns around some of these individuals?


Simon Birmingham: Concerns about UNWRA have been established and reached beyond just these individuals who are alleged to have been involved in the October 7th attacks. They do go to the way in which UNWRA has operated, particularly in teaching and other activities that have potentially promoted extremist ideology and in doing so, exacerbated problems and tensions that lead to the rise of Hamas and led to the October 7th attack. So, there are broader issues at play there, and the Government needs to be clear as to why they ignored those warnings last year, why they didn’t respond to Australia’s Jewish community, what assurances and guarantees they sought and have received in relation to increased funding commitments. Issues may have been raised, but what guarantees and assurances did the Australian government get before providing the additional funding? Rather than looking at the Red Cross or indeed many other non-government organisations that are doing the difficult task of seeking to provide relief, assistance and humanitarian support to people in Gaza and innocent civilians who do clearly need that and for whom we want to see support get to them, rather than go into the hands of Hamas or any other militants.


Kieran Gilbert: The International Court of Justice has handed down an interim ruling, basically urging Israel to avoid civilian casualties. But falling short of a demand for an immediate ceasefire. Has the International Court of Justice got its- that balance right with this interim ruling, in your view?


Simon Birmingham: We respect the workings of the ICJ and acknowledge their importance. We think the Albanese Government was very slow in terms of response to the South African claim that was made to the ICJ and that, of course, many other partner nations were faster and clearer in their response about the inappropriateness of parts of South Africa’s claims and case that they made, and the Albanese government should have been faster and clearer in terms of Australia’s response. As for the ICJ’s interim findings, they are ones, as I say, we respect the processes. We still strongly believe in Israel’s inherent right to self-defence, which, as I understand, was also recognised inherently in the ICJ ruling. But of course, Israel needs to act with regard to innocent civilian lives. It needs to remove Hamas from a position of power, influence and terrorist threat to Israel, but also from a position where Hamas uses Palestinians in Gaza as human shields and places them in greater danger and jeopardy as a result of the way in which they operate and act.


Kieran Gilbert: We’ve only got 30 seconds left, but Peter Malinauskas, your South Australian Premier, says most South Australians will be better off under the government’s new tax plan, this despite it being a broken promise. He says most South Australians will benefit. Politically, does it end up being a winner for Labor despite the breach of the promise?


Simon Birmingham: I think Australians can see the treachery, trickery and timidity in the Albanese’s actions. Treachery in breaking the promise. Trickery in the fact that this is just a reshuffle of tacks. But in the medium term, it’s a grab for $28 billion of more tax. And timidity, in that it abandons any sense of reform that eliminated bracket creep and actually embeds bracket creep in the system for the future. Australians are feeling a cost-of-living crisis far greater than Anthony Albanese’s trickery and reshuffling of these tax cuts. Ultimately, he needs to look seriously at how he helps to stop the cost-of-living crisis, to ease inflation, and to ensure that Australians aren’t paying more for their electricity and every other household bill.


Kieran Gilbert: Simon Birmingham, thanks. We’ll talk to you soon.