Palestinian visas in the lurch as recognition bid fails

Andrew Brown, Dominic Giannini and Kat Wong |

A motion for federal parliament to recognise a Palestinian state was voted down 80 votes to five.
A motion for federal parliament to recognise a Palestinian state was voted down 80 votes to five.

A disparity between humanitarian visas offered to Ukrainians and Gazans fleeing war has been criticised, as an attempt to recognise a Palestinian state in parliament failed.

Though the government offered visitor visas to Palestinians fleeing Israel’s response to the October 7 Hamas attacks, almost two in every three people had their request refused.

During Senate Budget Estimates on Wednesday, Home Affairs officials revealed it had approved 2686 requests while rejecting 4614.

By comparison, those fleeing Ukraine after the 2022 Russia invasion were offered unlimited visas between April 8 and July 31 that year and more than 5000 visas were issued to those escaping Afghanistan after the 2021 fall of Kabul.

Cabinet minister Murray Watt says Ukrainians had also been initially offered visitor visas.

But Senator David Pocock noted the Ukrainians were offered humanitarian visas within two months.

“We have heard there’s not been a single humanitarian visa issued to people fleeing Gaza,” he said.

“What you’re essentially saying to Palestinian Australians is that your lives are worth less than Ukrainians, worth less than Afghans’?”

ndependent senator David Pocock
Senator Pocock says Palestinians have not had the same visa approval rate as those fleeing Ukraine. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

Senator Watt disagreed and argued the independent was putting words into his mouth, claiming his government wanted an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

As of April 30, 2191 Palestinians were holding tourist visas and six had been granted a subsequent bridging visa.

Meanwhile, a Greens-backed motion was introduced to the House of Representatives, but parliament rejected efforts to bring on debate on statehood recognition, voting it down 80 votes to five.

Greens leader Adam Bandt said a vote for Palestinian statehood would have been a “concrete step towards peace”, after other countries have also recently recognised Palestine.

“This is not just a symbolic move, it is a critical step towards peace and towards ending the slaughter that we are seeing with the invasion of Gaza right now,” he told parliament.

“It is time for countries, including Australia, to step in and do something, and just as other countries have made it a priority to recognise the state of Palestine, so should this government today.”

“Those values of peace and security and self-determination should be enjoyed equally by Palestinians and Israelis alike,” he said.

However Assistant Foreign Minister Tim Watts said the Greens were deliberately setting up the vote to fail, due to procedural motions in the lower house always being opposed.

Mr Watts said the Greens were using the motion as a wedge on the issue.

“Wedge politics only divides the community. We gain nothing from the Greens seeking to reproduce this conflict in our own community,” he told parliament.

Mr Watts indicated Palestinian statehood could form part of peace negotiations.

“A Palestinian state cannot be in a position to threaten Israel’s security, we want to see a reformed Palestinian governing authority that is committed to peace, that disavows violence,” he said.

“We have made clear that we will be guided by whether recognition will advance the cause for peace.”

Liberal MP Julian Leeser said the motion was the wrong one at the wrong time.

“This will do nothing to change the situation on the ground in the Middle East,” he said.

“It will not do anything to benefit social cohesion in this country.”

The outbreak of violence in the region followed Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7, which killed 1200 people with 200 taken hostage.,

In response, Israel launched air strikes and a ground invasion of Gaza that, according to the local health ministry, has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians, injured more than 80,000 and displaced more than 1.7 million people.