Press Conference - Adelaide, South Australia - 15/03/2024

15 March 2024



Subjects: Australian government support for Gaza; Australian funding of UNRWA; visas for Palestinians.

PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you for joining me today. I am making three announcements today on Australian government support for Gaza.

Successive Australian governments have funded the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, since 1951. This is because it does life-saving work for communities in the occupied Palestinian territories.

After taking office, the Albanese government doubled Australia’s annual funding to UNRWA to $20 million each year.

We took a decision to pause $6 million of additional funding, which was taken after serious allegations were made resulting in UNRWA’s dismissal of staff alleged to have been involved in the Hamas terrorist attacks of the 7th of October. The nature of these allegations warranted an immediate and appropriate response.

The best available current advice from agencies and Australian government lawyers is that UNRWA is not a terrorist organisation, and that existing and additional safeguards sufficiently protect Australian taxpayer funding.

Australia has been working with a group of other countries and with UNRWA on the shared objective of ensuring the integrity of UNRWA’s operations, rebuilding confidence and so importantly ensuring aid flows to Gazans in desperate need.

We welcome the decisive actions from UNRWA and the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to strengthen the integrity of operations. UNRWA has worked swiftly to develop an action plan for donors, including Australia. The plan includes strengthened internal controls to ensure its neutrality, including rigorous requirements of staff and updated reports to donors. We see this as an ongoing process of diligence and vigilance.

The Australian government is now finalising an updated funding agreement that will include stringent conditions such as guarantees of staff neutrality and confidence in supply chains. On that basis and after consideration by the National Security Committee this week, Australia is unpausing our contribution to UNRWA.

The Australian government has been briefed by the World Food Program that there are large stocks of food outside of Gaza’s borders, but there is no way to deliver it across the border into Gaza and deliver it at scale without Israel’s cooperation, and we implore Israel to allow more aid into Gaza now.

The Government is making two additional announcements today. To address urgent need, Australia will also support efforts by Jordan and the UAE to assist with the delivery of vital humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza. A C-17A Globemaster, an RAAF asset, will deliver a supply of 140 Australian Defence Force aerial delivery parachutes for use in humanitarian assistance drops by Jordan and the UAE.

Australia will also provide an additional $4 million to UNICEF to provide urgent services, including for women and children, and $2 million to the new mechanism of the UN Senior Humanitarian and Construction Coordinator for Gaza to facilitate expanded humanitarian access into Gaza. These additional measures bring Australia’s total support to Gaza to $52.5 million since this crisis began.

There are two facts a responsible government can’t ignore in relation to UNRWA. They do life saving work, and the recent allegations were grave. So the decision I am announcing today is the result of the Australian government working together with our partners to rebuild confidence, to establish ongoing diligence about the use of the aid money generously given by the Australian people.

Once again, Australia reiterates our call for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages. We reiterate our expectation of humane treatment and humanitarian access for them, and we reiterate our call for an immediate and enduring humanitarian ceasefire.

I’m happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: What information did the government receive and from whom that satisfies you that the agency does not support acts of terrorism by Hamas?

FOREIGN MINISTER: As I said, we have worked with partners, and obviously you’ve seen the European Union and Canada also unpause their funding. We have worked with the United Nations. We have worked with UNRWA, and we have taken advice from agencies and from Australian government lawyers. And all of those have informed the consideration of the NSC that I referenced today.

JOURNALIST: And what were some specific findings from this investigation into UNRWA’s activities, and were these a prime consideration in restoring funding?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Of course it’s a prime consideration in restoring funding to ensure that Australian funding is used appropriately. And we are doing that. I would also say it is also a prime consideration to recognise that we have children and families who are starving, and we have a capacity, along with the international community, to assist them. And we know that UNRWA is central and vital to delivering that assistance to the people who need it.

JOURNALIST: So was there – what was the specific information that you got from these various agencies that led to this decision?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, I’m not going to go into every detail of all of this. There’s been a lot of work done on this, but can I say to you – and you would assume that from the time it’s taken us to go through this – that there has been a very careful, detailed consideration of information provided to us in the context of our discussions with donors, with the United Nations, with partners, and it has been the subject of detailed discussion and advice from Australian agencies.

JOURNALIST: You sought information from Israel. Was this ever provided?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, I think you would have seen some of the public information provided, and I would note that that public information has been given to the media. We remain open to any information that any party, including the Israeli government wishes to provide to us for our consideration.

JOURNALIST: But was the information that you specifically sought from Israel as part of this investigation provided to you?

FOREIGN MINISTER: We received some information, and all information we received obviously has been the subject of consideration in the context of this decision.

JOURNALIST: So Israel has not failed to provide that information that you’ve requested?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, look, Israel has provided some information. What I again would say to you is everything we have been provided with has been considered in the context of this decision.

JOURNALIST: If Israel is withholding information –

FOREIGN MINISTER: If? We don’t answer if questions.

JOURNALIST: You said some information has been provided. All information has not then been provided?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, I don’t know what information – well, you’d have to ask them that, wouldn’t you. I mean, I don’t know what I don’t know. I know what I do know, and what I do know is this, I know that there are people starving in Gaza. I know that the European Union and Canada have determined to unpause. I know that UNRWA is critical to providing this assistance to people who are on the brink of or are starving. I know that serious allegations were made and that I have responsibilities as Australia’s Foreign Minister to do what I have done – which is to ensure we get the most considered detailed advice, which we have, and we put in place the safeguards which I’ve outlined. And we will put in place those safeguards.

JOURNALIST: You went into some of the this, you mentioned the safeguards. But what has really been achieved by freezing funding during the depths of war? Do you think, do you have regrets for pausing this funding?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I think an Australian government in the face of such allegations has to ensure that it goes through the process we have in order to be able to assure Australians that we are doing or that we are able to to ensure funding goes to the appropriate people. And that’s what we’ve done and that’s why we’re unpausing today, okay?

JOURNALIST: And in making this announcement today, is Australia moving in concert with other partner nations apart from Sweden and Canada that have already resumed funding?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Actually, it’s the European Union and Canada have already – and Sweden, I’m sorry, but it’s broader than just Sweden. Sorry, no, I was just correcting you.


FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, obviously we’re working closely with other partners, but this decision today has been made by the Australian government after full consideration in the way that I’ve suggested.

JOURNALIST: Palestinian families and community leaders are outraged and the Palestinian delegation to Canberra has written to you on the fact that people who have had their Australian visas cancelled, in some cases enroute to this country. Just a couple of things on this: in one case a visa was cancelled on grounds the person never intended a genuine stay temporarily in Australia. How is that determined? And is Australia planning to provide support for others stranded in the same situation and what is your advice to those who might be planning to leave Gaza with these visas? Will they also have their visas cancelled?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, first, I would say that we – I know this is an incredibly distressing time for Australians with extended family members in Gaza. I want to emphasise that we have successfully assisted the vast majority of Australian citizens, permanent residents and immediate family members wanting to leave Gaza. And Australian officials have worked very hard to ensure that occurs.

As I’ve previously said, all visa applicants undergo security checks and are subject to ongoing security assessments. In terms of some of the details that you raise, they’re matters for the portfolio of Home Affairs, so you’d have to address your questions there. Thank you very much.


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Foreign Minister's Office: +61 2 6277 7500

Authorised by Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.