‘You can’t unsee it’: Why this Nationals MP stands alone on Gaza
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Nationals whip Mark Coulton’s job generally entails toeing the party line, but on the Israel-Hamas conflict he sits alone on the opposition bench.
The former Morrison government minister and grazier representing the expansive western NSW seat of Parkes says his 16-year parliamentary record shows he’s “not some sort of radical of any description”.
Nationals whip Mark Coulton, a former Morrison government minister, says support for Palestinians should not be seen as a left-wing issue.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
“And so, one of the reasons I am speaking up … is I didn’t want the support for Palestinians just to be dismissed as something from the left,” Coulton says.
While Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has said Israel should show no restraint for the slaughter and abduction of its civilians at the hands of Hamas fighters, and Nationals leader David Littleproud has said the bombardment of Gaza was a direct result of those attacks, Coulton wants more attention on the plight of civilians caught up in the conflict.
“Some of the language [used] early on about whatever it takes to take out Hamas concerned me … and we started to see those images come through of children and families and old people who are being caught up in this. They’ve got nowhere to go. There’s no escape,” he says.
“And so all I’m asking for is: please respect civilian life. If that seems somehow a radical approach, I am a little bit concerned about where we’re all going with this quite frankly.”
A co-convenor of the Parliamentary Friends of Palestine, Coulton issued a joint statement alongside Labor’s Maria Vamvakinou and Greens senator Janet Rice, which condemned the actions taken by Hamas but also noted: “Israel’s attacks on innocent civilians in Gaza are in breach of international humanitarian law.”
“We condemn such attacks on Palestinian civilians,” a statement released by the group on Wednesday said.
Coulton says the reason he put his name to the statement was to recast it as a humanitarian issue.
His views were formed after a visit to the West Bank in 2017.
“I didn’t go in on the official Israeli trip, like a lot of my colleagues do. I came in unofficially from Jordan, and so we were there not getting any special treatment, and I got a bit of a view of what life’s like for the Palestinians,” Coulton says.
“It was just really how little control they have over their own lives. And if there was something that happened, towns would just get locked off. And people couldn’t go to work or go about their daily lives.”
While Albanese government ministers Ed Husic and Anne Aly have described Israel’s treatment of Gaza as “collective punishment”, Coulton doesn’t go that far.
“But I think it’s a long bow to justify killing old people, women, children, non-combative people … based on the actions of armed militants,” he says.
In her strongest intervention yet regarding the Israel-Hamas war, Foreign Minister Penny Wong joined Western allies on Wednesday in calling for a humanitarian pause to hostilities in Gaza so that food, water and supplies could be delivered.
Coulton goes one step further.
“I’d like to see a ceasefire because one of the reasons that they [Palestinians] won’t leave [Gaza] is because they don’t believe they’ll ever get back … If they leave to stop being killed by the war, then it’s a one-way ticket.”
The Nationals MP knows some of his colleagues are perplexed by what he’s doing.
“You’ve got to stand for something. You can’t just go with the flow because it’s too hard. And so that’s all I’m doing,” he said.
“The voice of a bloody lone rural MP in Australia, he’s not changing the course of things, right? But sometimes, I think, a counter view from someone with a little bit of experience in that part of the world might make people think a bit.”
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