EXPLAINER: Why didn't Australia vote for a ceasefire in Gaza?

Late last week, the United Nations (UN) general assembly overwhelmingly called for an "immediate, durable and sustainable humanitarian truce" between the Israeli government and Hamas, who controls much of Palestine. 

The UN also demanded unhindered aid access to the Gaza Strip, which has seen significant casulties. Many are advocating for a ceasefire so that necessary aid - food, water, medical supplies, fuel - can enter Gaza. It comes after retalitary airstrikes from the Israeli government have bombarded Gaza, in the wake of Hamas' terrorist attack against Israeli citizens in early October.

The non-governmental organisation Save the Children says the death toll of children in Gaza in the past three weeks has surpassed the annual number of children killed in conflict zones since 2019.

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This UN motion is not legally binding, but it certainly carries political weight. For reference, the motion was drafted by Jordan, a country close to the conflict.


In total, 179 countries voted as part of the motion - 120 nations voted in favour of a ceasefire, 14 nations including the US and Israel voted against a ceasefire, and 45 countries including Australia, the UK and Canada abstained from voting at all.

Australia's vote, or lack thereof, has led to confusion and questions from the wider Australian public, many wondering why our representatives would not support the motion. 

Why did Australia abstain from the UN ceasefire vote?

James Larsen is Australia's representative to the United Nations (UN). Explaining Australia's decision, Larsen told the general assembly that Australia does agree with the aims of the resolution. 

"We agree with the central proposition, that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire and human suffering is widespread and unacceptable," he said, condemning attacks on both Palestinian and Israeli civilians. 

As for why Australia abstained though, Larsen said the drafted motion was "incomplete" because it did not name Hamas, nor the terror they inflicted. 

"The resolution did not recognise terror group Hamas as the perpetrator of the October 7 attack. And Australia again explicitly calls for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages."

Doctor Jessica Genauer is a senior lecturer in International Relations at Flinders University, and this week she spoke to Mamamia's news podcast The Quicky about the situation.

"Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is needing to navigate between domestic constitutencies and their concerns, and also his place on the international stage [with] important Australian allies such as the United States," she said.


"Of course the United States is a very important ally for Australia, and they've come out very strongly and directly in support of Israel. That's one consideration. On the other hand, the Australian Labor party has a kind of more complicated relationship with the way they view the broader conflict between Israelies and Palestinians."

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Ultimately, many governments - including Australia - believe Israel has the right to self-defence, given the terrorist attacks and subsequent hostages situation that occurred.

Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan said in regards to his country's no vote: "Israel will not stop the operation until Hamas terror capabilities are destroyed and our hostages are returned... And the only way to destroy Hamas is root them out of their tunnels and subterranean city of terror."

But others say this level of loss in Palestine is a war crime, and that innocent civilians shouldn't be thought of as regrettable-but-unavoidable collateral. They also reflect on the occupation of the region throughout history.


What's been the reaction to Australia's abstaining ceasfire UN vote?

There's been varying reactions.

The Greens leader Adam Bandt, has said the decision to not officially call for a ceasefire is "unacceptable".

"Labor needs to work towards peace, not war, in Gaza and the Middle East," he said. 

Former Australian of the year and human rights advocate Craig Foster also disagreed with the move, adding: "News overnight that Australia abstained from a United Nations vote on the protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations is deplorable and deeply, deeply sad."

Other figures feel differently, saying a truce with Hamas won't work.

Alex Ryvchin, co-chief executive officer of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said the UN should be calling for Hamas to surrender, as Hamas is considered and labelled by numerous countries - including Australia - as a terrorist organisation. 

"Hamas has used truces in the past to replenish its arsenal. Every effort must be made to avoid civilian casualties in the ensuing war but the delusion that peace for Palestinians and Israelis is possible while Hamas is in power have been dispelled," he said.

"Palestinians deserve peace and safety and I deeply hope that the complete destruction of Hamas can finally put Israelis and Palestinians on the path to mutual recognition and peace."

Australian leaders warn against division.

Following the further escalations in the region, six former Australian Prime Ministers have issued a strong statement declaring support for both the Jewish and Palestinian communities in Australia, warning against division. 


The signatories are four former Liberal leaders - John Howard, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison - and two former Labor leaders, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. The only other living former PM, Paul Keating, declined to sign. Keating did not comment on his position.

"Whatever is happening elsewhere in the world, there is no place in our country for racial or religious hatred. Our Australian Jewish community, directly affected by the terrible crimes of Hamas, not only has to endure the loss and suffering of their families in Israel, but now sees these events being used by some to spread ancient hatreds which have inflicted so much suffering on the Jewish people for thousands of years," they said.

"Likewise, we stand too with the Australian Palestinian community whose families are dying and suffering in this terrible conflict. We are horrified by the thousands of deaths and injuries inflicted on innocent Palestinian civilians, including many, many Palestinian children. They too deserve our love and support."

Overall, the UN's motion for a ceasefire received majority votes, the UN secretary general pleading for an end to "epic suffering" - for all impacted.

Feature Image: Getty.