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Thursday, 27 May 2010
Page: 4517

Ms VAMVAKINOU (12:55 PM) —Yesterday, the Parliamentary Friends of Palestine hosted a briefing from the Australian People for Health, Education and Development Abroad, known as APHEDA, here in our parliament. The briefing related to APHEDA’s recent study tour to the Middle East and Palestine. APHEDA, or Union Aid Abroad, as it is commonly known, is the overseas aid agency of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. The briefing was timely not only because of our ongoing concern for the plight of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, who continue to face daily harassment from illegal settlers and who must endure the humiliation of the checkpoint regime that dictates their daily movements, but also because of our concern for those in Gaza, whose living conditions were described by the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr John Ging, in a public lecture at the London School of Economics as ‘inhumane, illegal and insane; a medieval siege of Gaza in 2010’.

It is also timely because of the government’s decision this week to rightfully deal with Israel’s forging of Australian passports by expelling the Mossad representative here in Australia. All Australians know that Israel’s actions have compromised the integrity of the Australian passport system and risk compromising the safety of Australians travelling abroad.

The story of APHEDA began in 1982 amidst the massacres in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Working in the camps alongside the Norwegian People’s Aid, an Australian nurse trainer, Helen McCue, developed a commitment to international solidarity. This commitment found a voice in the then newly-elected Hawke Labor government and just two years later, in 1984, the Australian labour movement established APHEDA. Whether with the Palestinians in the camps in decades past or in occupied Palestine today, in Cambodia, in East Timor, in Vietnam, in Laos or in contribution to the defeat of apartheid South Africa, APHEDA remains steadfast in its commitment to democracy and development across the globe.

I have long held the view that the story of the Palestinian people and the conditions in which they live is a story that must continue to be told because it is an unresolved story about dispossession, the denial of freedom of movement, the denial of the right to self-determination and the collective punishment and suffering of a people who are occupied and denied the most basic standards of life and dignity. It is for this very reason that I want to bring the content and recommendations of this report to the attention of the House.

I seek leave to table APHEDA’s Middle East study trip report.

Leave granted.

Ms VAMVAKINOU —The report focuses on aspects of international law, which are consistent with the Australian government’s own position towards issues which have long been considered intractable. What is important is that the report documents the reality of the deprivation of the basic standards of living that the developed world often takes for granted. An example from the report is as follows:

The most extreme situation that we witnessed was the Palestinian town of Qalqilya, which is almost entirely enclosed by the barrier with the only entry and exit point controlled by the Israeli military. Very often, as reported to us, this access point is closed. To witness the sheer poverty imposed on the people of this town through economic starvation was of major concern. NGOs and local Palestinians reported to us how families trapped between the barrier and the internationally recognised border are subjected to the most extreme conditions, including restrictions on food, access to land and external medical facilities in emergency situations. We fail to understand how this is in the name of security.

APHEDA’s commitment now, as then, to international solidarity and justice, remains a proud unfinished chapter in the Australian people’s ongoing dedication to those who, often by virtue of birth and circumstance, find themselves living in appalling and inhumane conditions.

I would like to conclude with a statement from Nelson Mandela, made in tribute to APHEDA’s work. I feel that such an important reflection by such a historic figure needs to be quoted. Nelson Mandela said:

APHEDA has a long history of support for the anti-apartheid struggle. On behalf of the African National Congress, we would like to express our deep appreciation for your efforts. APHEDA’s development assistance programs have made a very significant contribution. Assistance is not only material, or helping realise the ultimate goal of freedom in South Africa—assistance is about people, about people in Australia caring enough about our people to contribute financially, to contribute their time, their skills and emotions. This is what sustains us. This is what is irreplaceable in human endeavour. This is the true meaning of solidarity. We thank you and the people of Australia, and will be eternally grateful for your magnificent contribution.

I am certain that now it is the Palestinian people who look to us for that same support and I commend APHEDA’s work and commend the report.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—I remind the member for Herbert that mobile phones are not allowed in here. He is lucky not to be disciplined for his use of it. As an occupier of this chair, he might reflect on those comments for the remainder of this term.

Question agreed to.