Peter Dutton calls for Penny Wong’s job amid UNRWA funding fallout

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Peter Dutton has called on the Prime Minister to “sack” Penny Wong should Australia resume funding to the United Nations agency responsible for Palestinian aid, saying such an act would be a misappropriation of taxpayers’ money.

Australia, alongside the US, the UK and other like-minded countries, paused their funding to the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) on the weekend amid allegations that at least 12 agency staff were linked to Hamas’ deadly October 7 attacks in southern Israel.

Further intelligence provided to US officials by Israel, but not yet given to the UN, purports to show one in 10 staff had militant links.

The Foreign Minister, who had announced an extra $6m in funding for the agency during her visit to the Middle East last month, has said while the allegations about staff were gravely serious and needed to be thoroughly investigated, there were no alternatives for aid if the world was “serious” about tackling the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“It is … the only organisation which delivers the assistance and substantive support within the international system. That is the reality,” she said on Thursday.

“We have made clear they need to be thoroughly investigated and those responsible need to be held accountable.

“I think it is important that we remember why it is that previous governments have funded this organisation, but also the scale of the humanitarian crisis and the absence of any alternatives, if we are serious about trying to ensure that fewer children are faced with – that is what we are faced with.”

The Israeli government has argued the agency’s problems run deeper than the allegations surrounding the October 7 involvement and it should have no future in Gaza.

Aid groups have called on the countries that paused their funding to reinstate the cash flow as soon as possible, warning the humanitarian situation will only worsen without UNRWA, which supports millions of Palestinians.

The Opposition Leader and his Coalition counterparts have spent the week criticising the government for announcing extra funding for the agency after Jewish community leaders warned of the alleged links to Hamas.

Mr Dutton criticised the possibility of Australia reinstating funding to UNRWA on Friday, saying Senator Wong’s job was “completely untenable” if it happened.

“If the Foreign Minister is directing Australian taxpayers’ money to an organisation known to be a front or affiliated or associated with a terrorist organisation, her job is completely untenable,” Mr Dutton said.

“And again, if the Prime Minister had the strength of leadership, he would stand up and say that Australian taxpayer money is not going to a terrorist organisation.

“If Penny Wong is now advocating, knowing that this money is going to an organisation not fit-for-purpose, if that is her argument, then the Prime Minister should sack her.

“And I don’t believe that any Australian who works hard for their money is prepared to give their money over to an organisation that is acting against the interests of the stated purpose of that organisation, or individuals who will suffer as a result of it.”

Senator Wong has maintained the allegations must be thoroughly investigated but cited the grave concerns Australia holds over the unfolding humanitarian crisis and the lack of alternatives that can deliver aid to the scale UNRWA has been doing for six decades.

Senator Wong has also directed Australia’s humanitarian co-ordinator to lead “urgent work” to ensure Australia’s committed humanitarian assistance for Gaza was going to those who needed it.

Meanwhile, the Australian Council for International Development has issued an open letter to Labor, urging it to reconsider the funding pause.

The letter, signed by Oxfam, Plan, ActionAid Australia and Caritas Australia, stated the “dire situation in Gaza will rapidly escalate without UNRWA’s support”.

“UNRWA, one of the biggest employers in the Gaza Strip with 13,000 staff, has terminated the contracts of several employees who were allegedly engaged in misconduct. One

of the accused employees was confirmed dead and the other two are still under investigation,” ACFID president Susan Pascoe said.

“We urge you to be judicious and discriminate between allegations against a small number of individuals and the foreseeable impact of defunding UNRWA on millions of Palestinians reliant on their services, including children

“As acknowledged by Minister Wong, UNRWA provides vital, lifesaving services in Gaza and if suspension of funding is not reversed immediately, we risk a complete cessation of already limited humanitarian assistance in Gaza.”

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