Tax dollars for terror

Australia restores UNRWA funding

Foreign Minister Penny Wong announced on Friday "UNRWA is not a terrorist organisation"

Photo: AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi
Photo: AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi

UPDATED: Foreign Minister Penny Wong announced on Friday that government will restore the $6 million in UNRWA funding that was suspended in late January following reports staffers from the agency participated in the October 7 Hamas terror onslaught.

“The best available current advice from agencies and the Australian government lawyers is that UNRWA is not a terrorist organisation and that existing and additional safeguards sufficiently protect Australian taxpayer funding,” Senator Wong told reporters.

“Australia has been working with a group of donor 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.

“UNRWA has worked swiftly to develop an action plan for donors including Australia.”

Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) president Daniel Aghion said the decision to restore funding was the wrong one.

“The government needs to find another way to feed the Gazans. Our community favours the provision of aid to civilians in Gaza who are in desperate need, but we are totally opposed to the use of UNRWA as an agency for delivering that aid,” he said.

“To say that UNRWA as a whole is not a terrorist organisation sets a very low bar indeed for the kind of agencies with which Australia will partner. It has been demonstrated that UNRWA employees, including schoolteachers, participated in the Hamas massacre of October 7 and many others have collaborated with Hamas in other ways.

“In fact UNRWA is so intimately connected to Hamas that no level of external control, even with UNRWA’s stated agreement, has been able to prevent large quantities of aid from being commandeered by Hamas at the expense of Gazan civilians,” he continued.  “The vast resources that have been squandered in constructing Hamas’s extensive labyrinth of tunnels, much of which has now been destroyed, are testament to that.

“It remains our view that delivering aid through UNRWA poses an insurmountable risk of Australian taxpayers’ money being wasted or, worse still, being used in part to support Hamas’s terrorist activities.”

There was speculation earlier in the week that a backflip was imminent on the government’s suspension of the funding.

It comes after Wong, addressing the humanitarian situation in Gaza, told a business lunch in Sydney on Tuesday that “unless Israel changes its course it will continue to lose support”.

Labor Member for Macnamara Josh Burns said the Foreign Minister had set a number of new strict conditions to restore UNRWA funding to protect Australian taxpayer dollars from being accessed by a terrorist organisation.

“Humanitarian aid should never be used to fund and support terrorism and I will be monitoring this very closely,” he said.

Australia joined several countries in suspending funding in late January in the wake of reports that 12 UNRWA staffers participated in the October 7 atrocities.

But amid a worsening humanitarian situation on the ground, there were calls within Labor for it to be reinstated. Former foreign minister Gareth Evans urged the Albanese government to follow the example of Sweden and Canada and “get off the fence”.

The unfreezing of the funds comes after Sweden and Canada lifted their previous aid suspensions.

Labor Friends of Israel co-convener and former cabinet minister Mike Kelly urged caution, saying there needs to be an assurance that any aid money goes directly to those in need rather than Hamas.

“In the longer term, work should commence immediately on establishing a new international agency for coordinating and delivering a major post-conflict reconstruction and relief effort for Gaza,” he said.

The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) expressed “grave disappointment” about the resumption of the funding.

“Australia should never have gone back to our long-standing tradition of handing over tens of millions of our taxpayer dollars to UNRWA annually with no strings attached,” AIJAC executive director Colin Rubenstein said. “Funding for needy Palestinians must of course be supplied urgently, but this can and should have been done through alternative agencies to UNRWA.

“The reckless decision to resume UNRWA funding now risks both inadvertently assisting Hamas, a banned terrorist group, and undermining Australia’s own foreign policy goals for the Middle East.”

Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler said if the funding “ultimately strengthens Hamas, as it has in the past, it will only extend this war and the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza”.

“We note that the United States, UNRWA’s largest donor, is committed to finding a permanent alternative mechanism to deploy aid outside of UNRWA in a way that doesn’t risk strengthening Hamas,” he said.

“We are also disappointed by the Australian Government’s suggestion that Israel is not allowing aid into Gaza. This is demonstrably false.”

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