Australia is a federation of six states which, together with two self-governing territories, have their own constitutions, parliaments, governments and laws. The state where I live, South Australia, has a long and proud history of firsts especially in the area of social justice. In 1856 South Australia was the first state to introduce universal male suffrage. In an Australian first, women were admitted to degree courses at universities in 1882. It was a world first in 1895 when women were able to vote and permitted to stand for Parliament in South Australia.
This proud history gained a new entry on June 22, 2017, when the South Australian Parliament passed a landmark motion calling on the Australian government to recognize the State of Palestine just as it recognizes the State of Israel.
This historically significant vote came about at the instigation of a member of Parliament, Tony Piccolo, and was successful largely due to the persistence and dedication of the Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA) and its active membership.
Over the last 13 years an extremely focused group of pro-Palestinian advocates in South Australia have spent countless hours each week educating and lobbying politicians on the issue. At the same time deeply committed and persistent members of AFOPA have used public lectures, cultural events, street activism and social media to educate the general population about the human rights abuses occurring in Palestine and how they can help improve the situation for the Palestinians. These actions have resulted in a major shift in public opinion as almost 75 percent of South Australians are favor of the Australian government recognizing the State of Palestine.
Throughout the world currently, Palestine is recognized by 138 states including, most recently, Sweden and the Vatican. The British and French parliaments have voted in support of recognition by their respective governments. Recognition of Palestine by the Australian government is supported by 73 percent of Australians and, given that we already recognize Israel, would signal a more evenhanded approach by Australia. It would also signal to the government of Israel our commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
While state governments in Australia have no direct influence in international affairs, the motion effectively acknowledges that Palestine has become one of the great moral issues of the 21st century and that failure to secure a just peace could result in a new apartheid state two decades after apartheid ended in South Africa.
As Mike Khizam, executive officer of the Australian Friends of Palestine, says, “We applaud the leadership shown by the South Australian House of Assembly in calling for the recognition of the State of Palestine. This is also recognition of the right of the Palestinians to freedom and self-determination. Recognition enhances the prospects of peace in the Middle East. We call on other Australian State Parliaments to follow suit.”
As a South Australian, I am proud to say that our state’s parliament and government are standing on the right side of history in their empathy for the plight of the Palestinians and attempts to create equality and justice for all parties in this conflict. The Australian public is also on the right side of history on this issue and it is now time for our federal politicians to reflect the views of the general populace and vote to formally recognize the state of Palestine.