Penny Wong
Penny Wong is coming under pressure from all sides as she leaves for a tour of the Middle East. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

Humanitarian aid boost for Middle East unveiled


January 16, 2024

Australia has bolstered funding for humanitarian aid to the Middle East, as Foreign Minister Penny Wong arrived in the region for critical talks.

Senator Wong said Australia would provide $21.5 million, which would focus on the growing refugee crisis stemming from the war between Hamas and Israel, as well as on “conflict-affected populations” in occupied Palestinian territories.

The announcement came following a meeting with Jordan’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister Ayman Safadi.

The aid package will include $4 million to the Red Cross and $6 million to the UN Relief and Works Agency, along with support for refugee programs in neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon.

Senator Wong said the humanitarian crisis in Gaza was dire.

“We have a role to play as Australia. We’re obviously not a party to the region, but I hope we are a respected voice, and we can also continue to provide assistance from afar,” she told reporters on Tuesday.

“I hope that the international community can work towards a just and enduring peace, which Israelis live in peace and security and Palestinians are able to achieve their legitimate aspirations for statehood.”

The foreign minister said the talks with her Jordanian counterpart were an open and very deep discussion.

“We discussed the importance of efforts to restart a political process which leads to a future Palestinian state,” she said.

Senator Wong will hold further talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah II later on Tuesday.

She will also visit Israel, Occupied Palestinian Territories and the United Arab Emirates during the Middle Eastern trip.

As Israel stares down international outrage over its bombardment of Gaza and Houthi rebels threaten to expand attacks in the Red Sea, Australian ministers are under mounting pressure over their response to Middle East conflict.

Australian Defence personnel played a part in missile attacks launched by the US and UK in response to the Iran-backed group blockading international shipping lanes in the Red Sea in support of Palestine.

HMS Diamond's bridge as Sea Viper missiles are fired in the Red Sea
 The opposition said the government had taken credit for involvement in the strikes on Houthis. Image by AP PHOTO 

The coalition has blasted the government for its decision to reject a US request for deployment of a warship, with Labor opting to send a contingent of defence force personnel instead.

In a joint statement, opposition foreign spokesman Simon Birmingham and opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie said the government had taken credit for involvement in the strikes, when promised Aussie troops hadn’t yet made it over.

Acting Defence Minister Pat Conroy said the government was in the process of sending that contingent to the region and some had already left for the Middle East.

The commitment will be met by the end of this month as previously pledged, he added.

Asked if Australia should be doing more as an AUKUS partner in the Red Sea, British High Commissioner to Australia Vicki Treadell said Australia had done its part by providing personnel for the operations centre in Bahrain, used for the strikes.

A Hamas fighter aims a rocket at an Israeli tank in Gaza
 Amnesty International said Senator Wong’s visit should focus on ways to undetake a ceasefire. Image by AP PHOTO 

“Those are decisions for the Australian government to make, balance against the other priorities and demands for security in this region,” she told ABC radio.

Ms Treadell said London always welcomed support from Australia on international issues.

“Australia is supporting our activity, not everything is about having big assets in the region,” she said.