13 December 2023

Wagga Council puts the 'three Rs' aside to debate peace in the Middle East

| Chris Roe
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Wagga City Council debated a notice of motion calling for an end to violence in Gaza.

Wagga City Council debates a notice of motion calling for an end to violence in Gaza. Photo: WWCC Livestream/Chris Roe.

Wagga Wagga City Council (WWCC) dipped a toe into the turbulent waters of Middle Eastern politics on Monday as councillors Jenny McKinnon and Richard Foley put forth a notice of motion (NOM) supporting peace in Gaza.

The three-fold recommendation called for WWCC to condemn violence of all kinds, note the need for an immediate permanent ceasefire in Gaza and acknowledge “calls from around the world for peaceful resolution of the conflict between Israel and Palestine”.

Cr McKinnon said the decision to put forward the motion was prompted by “the incredible amount of community concern that I have encountered”.

She made the case that all levels of government should show leadership on the issue and that, as the first designated Rotary Peace City, Wagga had an obligation to add its voice to those around the world calling for a ceasefire.

“The community has been asking whether there’s anything council can do about the catastrophe in Gaza,” she said.

“The answer, of course, is that there’s nothing we can do directly to effect change in the Israel/Palestine situation, but what we can do is to use our voices.

“To stay silent is to accept violence, to accept injustice, to accept the impact on civilians of a war that is not of their making.”

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Cr Richad Foley agreed it was important to speak up on the blockade of Gaza and all matters of genocide and ethnic cleansing.

He added that he condemned “the barbarity of Hamas” and that they should be “dismantled”.

Former councillor Paul Funnell spoke against the motion, asserting that it was rooted in anti-Semitism and political ideology and singled out just one of many conflicts around the world.

He said it ignored the atrocities committed by Hamas militants on 7 October and their stated ambitions to do it again.

“This peace was shattered and destroyed by the actions of Hamas, no one else. That is what led to this bloody war,” he asserted.

“The Palestinian people themselves are being killed as a result of Hamas hiding behind their own people.”

He suggested that Wagga City Council should focus on “the real and tangible problems we face here and get back to the ‘three Rs’ (rates, roads and rubbish).

Local Greens advocate Ray Goodlass spoke in favour of the motion, outlining his long connection to the plight of the Palestinian people and time spent volunteering in refugee camps.

He condemned the Hamas attack of 7 October and presented a lesson in history going back to biblical times, through to the pogroms of Russia and Europe and the eventual foundation of the State of Israel.

He drew parallels to the colonial idea of terra nullius that was used to lay claim to ‘nobody’s land’ and concluded with a call for a political resolution.

“The way to bring about peace is for Israel to cease to be a colonial settler state and grant full status to Palestine or to accept a one-state solution with a fully democratic and secular status,” he said.

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As councillors gave their own responses to the motion, there was unanimous condemnation of the violence and councillors McKinnon and Foley rejected suggestions of anti-Semitism.

“To criticise the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] or to criticise the government of Israel is not to make you an anti-Semite, nor is that by criticising Hamas, make you an Islamophobe. It just doesn’t logically stand up,” said Cr Foley.

When his turn came, Cr Rod Kendall supported the principle of local governments speaking up on geopolitical matters and proposed an amendment that broadened the scope of the NOM to condemn violence of all kinds, attacks on civilians and any government “that uses the civilian population as a shield for their activities”.

Deputy Mayor Amelia Parkins said she found the issue to be “very difficult”, agreeing with Cr Kendall that the problem stretched beyond Palestine.

“The devastating deaths of innocent civilians is not limited to the conflict in Gaza,” she said.

“And I’m not sure that we should be singling out one conflict when there are many other examples of innocent civilian deaths across the world.”

In response, Cr McKinnon opposed the “catch-all” amendment, saying that the “immediate concern is around Gaza”.

Councillor Georgie Davis and Mayor Dallas Tout both supported the amendment that they felt was more reflective of the impact of violence on members of Wagga’s migrant community.

Councillor Mick Henderson took an opposing position and asserted that “this should be done at a higher level of government” and pointed to immediate local concerns and the three Rs.

Councillor Tim Koshell also questioned whether local council should be dabbling in global politics but was broadly supportive of the amendment that was backed six votes to two.

In conclusion, Cr McKinnon expressed disappointment that the NOM had been broadened and responded to the suggestion that council should stick to the three Rs saying that the local government act requires “so much more of council”.

Both she and Cr Henderson voted against the amended motion, Cr Koshell abstained, while councillors Davies, Parkins, Foley, Kendall and Tout gave their support, carrying the motion five to three.

The amended motion condemns violence of all kinds.

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