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Thursday, 23 August 2012
Page: 6266

Union of Agricultural Work Committees

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:57): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr. I refer the minister to coalition questioning by Senators Ronaldson and Kroger at Senate estimates on 31 May about AusAID funding paid to the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, an organisation which has been accused of having links with a prescribed terrorist organisation, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In particular, I refer the minister to his insistence that this organisation is registered in Israel as a not-for-profit organisation, a registration he pointed to as having been renewed on 5 March 2012. What due diligence was undertaken and by whom to confirm the true identity of the organisation repeatedly referred to by the minister as being registered in Israel as a not-for-profit?

Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:58): Mr President, I am very happy to research that and provide the Senate with further information. But I am in a position to say to the Senate that in Israel a little over a week ago I had a meeting with the President. I met with the Prime Minister in the Knesset for over an hour. I met the defence minister for over an hour. I met the leader of the Labor Party in the Knesset. I met several other members of the Knesset and I met senior people in intelligence.

So concerned are they with the matter you raised that not one of them even made a passing reference to Australian aid going, allegedly, to an organisation tainted with terrorist support.

I met a prominent Australian Israeli citizen. I met at his home another minister in the government. I met columnists and commentators. And nowhere during this visit was this suggestion made that Australia has somehow done the wrong thing in providing a bit of aid to an organisation that, in the impoverished Gaza, provides Palestinian families with seedlings so they can grow their own vegetables. That is what this maligned organisation does. And who heads the Australian organisation through which this support is provided? Who heads it?

Senator Cameron: Tell us.

Senator BOB CARR: I will give you a clue: an eminent Christian, his brother was for a time the Treasurer of the Commonwealth— (Time expired)

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! When there is silence we will proceed. Senator Abetz is entitled to be heard in silence.

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:01): Mr President, I assume the minister has taken the question on notice because he did not answer any aspect of it. I have a supplementary question. I refer the minister to the registration renewal purportedly for the Union of Agricultural Work Committees which AusAID has now released under freedom of information. Is the minister fully satisfied that the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the organisation to which the minister referred, registered with the Israeli not-for-profit registry, are actually one and the same?

Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (15:02): So the proposition of the opposition is that we should withdraw aid from an organisation that is allowed to exist and function in Israel—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Bob Carr, you need to come to the question.

Senator BOB CARR: Mr President, I am addressing the question. Putting this information in context, it is highly relevant that the same charity, the UAWC, is supported by that hotbed of terrorism, the government of the United Kingdom, by Italy and Belgium, by the government of Japan and by the European Union. They all provide funding to the same charity which provides foodstuffs and seedlings to families in Gaza. So all those countries, the European Union—

Senator Brandis: Mr President, I raise a point of order. You did draw the minister's attention to the question. He did ignore you. With eight seconds to go he should be drawn once again to the question, which was whether the minister was satisfied that two similarly named organisations were one and the same. That is the only thing Senator Abetz asked.

Senator Chris Evans: Mr President, on the point of order: there is no point of order. Senator Bob Carr in his first statement on the primary question indicated that he would attempt to respond to any of the detail in the senator's question, but then set out some context about the particular organisation and Australia's relationship with that. In this supplementary answer he is providing further information as to what other countries are providing support to this organisation, which is directly relevant to the question that Senator Abetz asked.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. Minister, you have eight seconds remaining.

Senator BOB CARR: In that context, therefore, I have confidence in the advice supplied to me about the status of this organisation.

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:04): Mr President, I have a further supplementary question. This is a serious matter. No accusations are being made and genuine information is being sought. I again refer—

Senator Chris Evans interjecting

Senator ABETZ: That clearly should be withdrawn by the Leader of the Government.

The PRESIDENT: I must say, because of what has been going on, I did not hear that comment. You may well have heard it directly across the table. I did not.

Senator ABETZ: If he is not man enough to withdraw I will continue. I again refer the minister to the registration renewal purportedly for the Union of Agricultural Work Committees. Who provided this registration to the government? Was it accompanied by a translation? If so, by whom was it translated? If the minister does not have this information can he expeditiously provide it?

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: When there is silence we will proceed. The minister.

Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (15:06): I will not only do that; I will also go further—I will have the Arabic material and the translation tabled in the chamber. I will do that after reminding the Senate that the Australian Federal Police investigated this allegation; that AusAID itself found no evidence of any UN Charter Act violation; and that there has been extensive consultation about this allegation with DFAT, the AFP, ASIO, the Australian Government Solicitor, foreign governments and international aid organisations.

I underline this point: you will not have a secure peace in the Middle East, you will not have security for the state of Israel and you will not have an end to the accumulated decades of suffering while keeping the people of Palestine trapped in poverty and without schools and without medical aid. We all want a two-state solution, and this is part of that. (Time expired)

Senator Chris Evans: Mr President, I ask that further questions be place on the Notice Paper.