Bombardment of Gaza
Australia, New Zealand and Canada want an end to fighting between Hamas and Israel in Gaza. Image by AP PHOTO
  • politics

Australia turns up diplomatic heat with ceasefire call

January 8, 2024

A joint statement by Australia, New Zealand and Canada calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip is likely to be as far as Canberra will go in publicly calling out Israel over its war with Hamas, a leading Middle East expert says.

Ian Parmeter, a research scholar at the Australian National University, said the Albanese government had made what it would regard as “appropriate statements” relating to the conflict following the October 7 attack by Hamas, including calling for restraint on both sides.

He said he thought most Australians had “great concern” over what he described as the “horrific and shocking” number of Palestinian civilians killed by Israel’s response.

But the former Australian ambassador to Lebanon doubted the government would go any further in publicly criticising Israel as it preferred to make its views known through diplomatic channels. 

A container ship crosses the Suez Canal towards the Red Sea in Egypt.
 Australia turned down a US request to send a navy vessel to the Red Sea to protect shipping lanes. Image by EPA PHOTO 

“That’s probably about as far as we’ll go,” Mr Parmeter said.

Gaza’s health ministry says more than 22,000 Palestinians have been killed since October 7.

About 1200 Israelis were killed following the Hamas attack in 2023.

The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network said more than 300 of the nation’s political leaders had signed a statement calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and recognition of a Palestinian state.

They included almost 40 state and federal Labor parliamentarians nationwide.

Australia Palestine Advocacy Network president Nasser Mashni said he was heartened by the support which would translate into “real political consequences”.

The government defended its decision not to send a warship to the Red Sea after a request from the US to secure international shipping lanes that have come under attack by Houthi rebels.

The Iran-backed militants have launched attacks in the area in support of Palestine and are targeting ships linked to or destined for Israel, in a bid to end Tel Aviv’s attacks on Gaza.

Matt Thistlethwaite.
 Matt Thistlethwaite says Australia has spoken out strongly against Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

Acting Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite said while Australia would increase its military presence in the region, not deploying a boat was the right decision.

Australia had been one of several countries to sign an international statement which called for an “immediate end” to the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.

Mr Thistlethwaite said the priority for the nation’s navy was the Pacific.

Liberal Senator Dave Sharma told Sky News the Houthi rebels would not be stopped from attacking commercial ships by press conferences or media releases, but by a “substantial naval presence” that could intercept their facilities and personnel.

He described the request from the US to Australia to join an international task force as “modest”.