gaza, and unprecedented events in Victorian parliament

By Ellen Sandell, Leader of the Victorian Greens & State MP for Melbourne 


Something unprecedented happened in the Victorian Parliament earlier this month, and it says something important about how disconnected Labor is from the community, and about the slow demise of the two-party system. Let me tell you about it.

For the past 7 months, every Sunday thousands of people have been marching through the streets on Melbourne calling for an end to the genocide in Gaza.

Yet in the Victorian Parliament on Spring Street, Labor and Liberal MPs are completely disconnected from the mood of people on the streets.

While people marched to demand an end to the killing of innocent children, the Labor Premier proposed and passed a motion in Parliament to ‘stand with Israel’ (the Greens were the only ones to oppose it).

While people called for an end to war and occupation - Labor instead signed a secretive MoU with the Israeli Ministry of Defence, and gave support to Elbit systems, an Israeli weapons manufacturer.

And then - two important things happened: Labor and the Liberals joined forces to vote down a community petition calling for this MoU to be made public - and the Parliament of Victoria banned the wearing of the keffiyeh scarf in the chamber.

This is how it played out.

The Victorian Greens MPs have been asking questions of the State Labor Government and the Premier about their ties to the Israeli invasion of Gaza for many months. Then, a community petition reached enough signatures to trigger a special debate in Victorian Parliament. The Greens brought on this debate.

Ellen Sandell speaking at Victorian Parliament steps

Held on Nakba Day, the debate was an opportunity for Labor to show up and justify why they stand by their MoU with the Israeli Ministry of Defence and why they stand by their support for Elbit Systems.

But guess what happened next? Victorian Labor refused to put up a single speaker during the debate. 

The Greens, and members of the crossbench, stood up and argued for Labor to end its partnership with the Israeli Defence Ministry and to rip up its contract with Elbit. 

But Labor was silent. For months now Labor has refused to stop arming Israel, and during the debate they couldn’t even front up and explain themselves.

Their cowardice didn’t go unnoticed. 

Earlier, Parliament had closed its doors to the public, refusing to let the general public in to watch the debate. So instead, outside, gathered around the parliament steps in their hundreds, members of the community watched the debate unfold, on a projector screen, in the cold. 

The atmosphere was peaceful, yet incredibly powerful When it became clear that Labor was not going to speak in the debate, calls of “Shame!” and “Free Palestine!” erupted from the crowd.

Rally outside parliament during Parliament debate, attendees are watching the livestream of debate from the steps

Then, something unprecedented happened.

Labor and the Liberals joined forces to vote to reject the community petition – which has never happened before. 

First, Labor tried to hide from the people by not speaking during the debate, then they showed contempt for the community by calling for a vote and rejecting the petition altogether.

The State Labor Government thought they could make this issue go away. They thought they could lock people out, pull the wool over people’s eyes, and reject the community’s calls for peace. But they couldn’t. 

Labor thought no-one would notice. They were wrong. While the keffiyeh was banned inside Parliament and the public was banned from entering the chamber, people showed up in their hundreds, wearing keffiyehs in solidarity with the people of Palestine, to show that they were watching.

Tim Read, Sam Hibbins and Gabrielle Di Vietri at Rally outside Parliament

It was an incredibly powerful moment to witness. It showed that all the structures that Labor and the Liberals have put in place to hold on to power, to lock people out, to lock the Greens and community out - these structures cannot hold. They are not holding.

Seeing hundreds of people on the steps of Parliament, watching a debate they were locked out of, was the most vivid, physical representation of how much politics is changing, and how the old parties can no longer keep the community out of decisions that affect them.

The people are making their voices heard: on Gaza, on housing, on cost of living, on climate change and on all the issues that affect people but have been ignored for too long by the old parties.

The Greens, together with the community, will keep pushing Labor to stop arming Israel and do everything in its power to demand a permanent ceasefire and an end to the genocide. 

Image credit: Julian Meehan