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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 8494

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (20:08): I speak tonight in response to comments made in this place earlier today in relation to AusAID and work with the Union of Agricultural Work Committees in Palestine. The Union of Agricultural Work Committees, UAWC, is part of the AusAID's Australia Middle East NGO Cooperation Agreement, AMENCA, which benefits more than 8,000 people living in north and south Gaza. UAWC's focus is on helping these people re-establish farming and fishing by building irrigation systems and greenhouses, and providing fishing boats. Their aim is to assist poor and poverty stricken communities by rebuilding sustainable livelihoods.

UAWC is funded by AusAID through World Vision, which does extensive work in Palestine. It is important to remember that this is one of the most disadvantaged areas in the world—1.6 million people survive in one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Nearly 40 per cent of these people are living in severe poverty. Nearly 10 per cent of children suffer from chronic malnutrition, with half of the population under the age of 18. Forty seven per cent of young people are unemployed. Without food, without education and without jobs or hope, their lives are too often shaped by violence and desperation.

There is no doubt that some Palestinian groups commit acts of terrorism. Those acts of terrorism must be condemned in unequivocal and unambiguous terms. Those responsible for those acts of terrorism must be punished and they must be condemned. We also should do all we can to prevent these acts from happening again.

What concerns me is that the Israel Law Center, or Shurat HaDin, has accused World Vision and AusAID of supporting terrorism through their donations to UAWC and the work that is done with UAWC. They have alleged that UAWC is using Australian dollars to provide funding to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an organisation prescribed by the UN, Australia and others as a terrorist organisation. When these allegations were first brought to the attention of AusAID and World Vision, funding to the program was suspended while an investigation took place. I believe that was entirely appropriate. This investigation included the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This investigation found that no breach existed and that there was no proof for the allegations. Based on this information and on advice from the Australian Government Solicitor, the AFP advised it would not accept the matter for further investigation.

The government of Israel does not consider UAWC as a prescribed organisation or any of its board members as prescribed individuals. In fact, the government of Israel has listed the UAWC as a not-for-profit organisation since 1996. World Vision has vetted UAWC four times since 2005 and there are strict due diligence procedures in place for both this organisation and AusAID in general. Other multilateral, bilateral and non-government donors work with the UAWC and attest to its established reputation for delivering effective agricultural development. That agricultural development helps rebuild communities and helps to eradicate poverty. The organisations include Oxfam Britain, Belgium and Italy, the Dutch government, the aid arms of the Spanish and Italian governments and several UN bodies.

There are obviously many suspicions as to why Shurat HaDin is targeting UWAC. A few weeks ago, the Gaza correspondent for the Age wrote:

The Palestinian Non-Government Organisations Network described the actions of Shurat HaDin as 'an ongoing smear campaign targeting Palestinian civil society organisations seeking the implementation of international law and respect for human rights.

All organisations which have attempted to denounce Israel's human rights violations have been targeted,' the network noted.

There is a desperate need for aid in this area. While the immediate effect of such aid is to limit the suffering of individuals, we cannot ignore the long-term aims. In a speech to the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre at UniSA in 2006, former Prime Minister Hawke said:

Palestinians, particularly young Palestinians, exist in a dysfunctional economic environment with virtually no hope of employment or maintenance, let alone improvement, of their living standards. This is a breeding ground for despair and worse—while there is no hope among the young for jobs and the constructive development of their talents there will be no shortage of recruits for the martyrdom of the suicide bomber.

I agree with everything that former Prime Minister Hawke said. Without hope of a better life, there can be no hope for the future. Foreign aid is not a question of a quick fix; it is about helping individuals to build or rebuild their lives, and so to rebuild their countries and rebuild their communities. That in itself acts a bulwark against terrorism. It starves the terrorists of the oxygen of recruiting others into their evil web.

UWAC is filling a vital need in Palestine, as are countless other organisations. I strongly support the actions of AusAID, DFAT and World Vision in their approach to this matter. It is heartening to see a considered, transparent and thorough approach to Australia's foreign aid strategy in this area. Because of these processes, organisations are able to work in these incredibly difficult places, rebuilding and strengthening people and communities one brick, one water pump, one farm or boat or building at a time. Their work is invaluable and I thank them.