This speech is to indicate that the Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK does not support the motion related to the Palestinian Stateand encourages other members not to support it either.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (17:46): This is a very sensitive and complicated issue and I think it is very hard for us, as Aussies, to understand what happens in the Middle East, when we live in such a vast continent and in such relative peace. The second and third paragraphs of this motion state:
2.affirms the special connection of Australia to the land of Palestine and the Palestinians;
3.regrets the failure of both sides, over the last 60 years, to reach an agreement which guarantees justice and lasting peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.
That is something that we would agree with. As I mentioned in a contribution on a previous motion, I went to Israel last year. I think that two of the aspects of our water trade mission, which did not actually have anything to do with water, affirmed those two aspects of this motion in quite a profound way. One of them was that we happened to attend the 90th anniversary of the ANZAC battle at Beersheba, which is where the battle of the Light Horse Brigade took place. As I said, it was quite profound and very moving, when you consider that all those years ago our Aussie battlers were on the other side of the world. We may complain about a 20 or 30-hour plane trip, but lord knows how many months it took for our troops to go over there.
It was outlined to us in great detail about the amazing feat that they undertook, in that the horses and the men, I think, waited in the desert and went without food and water for three days. I think part of the reason that they were successful is that they changed the military rules, in that rather than charging and then getting off their horses to fight, they rode over the trenches. A number of those horses were gutted in quite a violent way, but they continued to press on to capture the wells—obviously water is incredibly important in that part of the world—and change the direction of World War I in that region. That was a very important military victory for the allies in World War I.
Another part of our program was a meeting with Shimon Peres. I cannot quite remember what the question was that I asked Mr Peres, but being a politician of many years' experience he did not answer it. However, he did say, 'Well, of course, Australia is a country with not a lot of history and a great deal of land, and Israel is a country with a lot of history and not a lot of land.' Everybody said, 'Wow, that's so profound', and completely forgot that he had not answered the question. But he was quite correct.
When we were over there we had a bodyguard with a gun stationed at the front of the bus, and he was with us for the entire trip. Thankfully, I do not think we were under any threat whatsoever, but it is a bit strange to hear the distant gunfire that occurred in southern Israel when we visited the Ashkelon desalination plant—it was quite disturbing.
I also remember (I think it was last year) when there were a bunch of ministers of different denominations, who were largely based in New South Wales, who went over to Israel and were highly critical of some of the things that Israel was undertaking. I thought to myself: I do not think there is any place in this country where you could understand what it is like to live under those conditions, where your near neighbours would, quite frankly, like to blast you off the face of the planet.
I agree with the third paragraph, in that both sides have issues. They are very different cultures and I do not know how you resolve those issues. I think, as Australians, it is probably not our place to be giving advice to other countries. We certainly have our own problems to solve. As a place that offers a safe place for refugees, I think that is very appropriate.
Shimon Peres has started what I think is a very worthwhile program, which is to be commended in speaking to this motion. He has been the instigator of the Peres Centre for Peace, which is described as an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation which he founded in 1996—he is a Nobel laureate and former prime minister of Israel—with the aim of furthering his vision in which the people of the Middle East region work together to build peace through socioeconomic operation and development and people-to-people interaction, which I think is largely the words which he used when we met with him, that he, in fact, tries to get the young Palestinian and Israeli people together so that they can try to understand each other's cultures. I think that is probably one of the more effective ways of initiating long-term peace, so that people do not have those sorts of divisions where they do not understand and therefore they hate.
Overall, I do not support this motion. I think it is quite simplistic. I agree with the previous speaker in that I think it does put the case of one side over another and, therefore, I encourage other members not to support this motion.