Tuesday, 25 October 2022
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable member for Bradfield proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The Government's decision to reverse the recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
I call upon those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
In December 2018, the then Prime Minister announced that the Australian government would recognise West Jerusalem, the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government, as the capital of Israel. The decision respected both a commitment to a two-state solution and longstanding respect for relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. The government committed to moving the Australian embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, and in support of, and after the final status determination of, a two-state solution. In making this decision, Australia acknowledged the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a future state with its capital in East Jerusalem. The announcement followed a review by the secretaries of the departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Defence, and Home Affairs which included consultation with community representatives, former heads of relevant agencies and Australia's international allies and partners.
The United States recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017, and its embassy was located in that city from May 2018. I confirm that the coalition maintains the principle of our position of recognising West Jerusalem and if elected would follow proper processes, including consultation with stakeholders, allies and partners. Our position has not changed. We remain a strong supporter of a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state coexist in peace and security within internationally recognised borders. Our recognition of West Jerusalem did not in any way pre-empt peace negotiations or undermine prospects of a peaceful settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Since 2020, five Arab nations have normalised relations with Israel, disproving arguments made in 2018 that the government's decision would make the conflict worse.
Our relationship with Israel is enormously important. Australia is a great friend of Israel. Israel is our closest and most reliable partner in the Middle East, a region home to many threats, including threats to Australia. Other than the United States, Israel has no greater friend than Australia anywhere in the world, and the coalition will always be consistent about maintaining that friendship. Our friendship is as old as the State of Israel. We were the first country to vote in favour of the 1947 United Nations partition resolution adopted by the General Assembly, which led to Israel's establishment in 1948. Our contribution was noted by Israeli representative Abba Eban, who said:
The manner in which you steered to a vote the second historic Resolution … the warmth and eloquence with which you welcomed Israel into the family of nations, have earned for you the undying gratitude of our people.
There are proud people-to-people links between Australia and Israel. Israel is a vigorous multiparty democracy, a beacon of freedom around the world. Our two nations have close economic, business and people-to-people connections. Our nations are united by shared values—a commitment to democracy, freedom and the rule of law. I particularly want to acknowledge the Jewish Australian community, over 100,000 strong, and the very significant contribution which has been made by that community to the prosperity and success of Australia. Of course, that community, along with others, has been heavily involved in the work of progressing technology partnerships with Israel and companies based in Israel, including on matters such as energy, water and finance technologies. It is a multidimensional relationship and a relationship that we on this side of the House are deeply committed to.
I turn from the position taken—and taken consistently—by this side of the House to the disastrous process followed by the Albanese Labor government. The process was executed with shocking timing. On 17 October, media reported that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website had removed references to the recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel's capital and had removed references to the commitment to move the Australian embassy. A spokesperson for foreign minister Senator Wong was asked for clarification. That spokesperson said:
The former Government made the decision to recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. No decision to change that has been made by the current government.
The very next day, the foreign minister announced at a press conference that Australia would reverse the recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Amazingly, this announcement occurred on the Jewish holiday of Simhath Torah and just two weeks before the Israeli election. Senator Wong was unable to point to how this abrupt reversal was in the national interest.
Indeed, it clearly was not. It was contemptuous of many important stakeholders. The Israeli ambassador and the Israeli government were not informed of the decision before it was announced by the Albanese Labor government. This is what Israel's Prime Minister Lapid had to say:
In light of the way this decision was made … as a hasty response to an incorrect report in the media, we can only hope that the Australian government manages other matters more seriously and professionally
The Israeli government took the extraordinary step of summoning our ambassador to Israel to explain the Australian government's change in policy. The Albanese Labor government largely ignored speaking with Australians who care about a two-state solution that provides peace and security for Israel and a future Palestinian state, and instead informed them of the government's decision only after it was made.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry said the decision was made in 'a shoddy manner', it was 'poor policy' and it was 'no way to treat an ally'. One member of this place said he was:
… disappointed by the decision … Capital cities are sovereign matters for sovereign states.
Who was that? That was the Labor member for Macnamara. He was disappointed by the decision. The former Labor member from this place Michael Danby described the government's decision as 'chaotic' and 'unprofessional'. And this House should not avoid noting that this decision was welcomed by two listed terrorist organisations in Australia: Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
This would be bad enough if this government had taken this policy to the last election. But the truth is that this decision was never mentioned during the recent election campaign. Indeed, on the contrary, senior Labor members of parliament prior to the election assured concerned stakeholders, including readers of the Australian Jewish News, that on the question of Israel it didn't matter which way they voted. How wrong that proved to be.
The Attorney-General wrote in the Australian Jewish News on 4 March this year attacking the member for Cook, the former Prime Minister, for suggesting that there was any difference in the policies of the two parties. What an appalling suggestion, apparently, except we had to wait only a few short months before this government confirmed there was, in fact, a stark difference in the policies of, on the one hand, the Liberal and National parties and, on the other hand, the Labor Party. The Attorney-General claimed that across domestic politics Australia 'spoke with one voice'. The member for Macnamara did likewise in the Australian Jewish News on 18 March, saying that Australia's Jewish community should feel proud that its interests would be safeguarded 'irrespective of whoever forms government'. I suggest that the Attorney-General and the member for Macnamara have a lot of explaining to do.
I note the wise words of Australia's former Ambassador to Israel and former member for Wentworth, who observed:
… Labor's policy provides a tailwind to extremists, and states such as Iran, who would like to see Israel wiped off the map and who insist that Israel has no rightful place in the region. Hezbollah will be cheering this Labor announcement.
This was a disgraceful decision, disgracefully executed. Australia's Jewish community and many other right-thinking Australians have every reason to feel deeply disappointed and indeed abandoned by what this government has done.
I rise to speak on this MPI more in sadness than in anger. Tonight, the Treasurer will begin the task of cleaning up the mess that the previous government left to us on the fiscal front. We'll be helping with cost-of-living pressures facing the Australian public and building a better future for our nation. I understand why those opposite don't want to talk about the budget in this MPI tonight and why they don't want to talk about the trillion dollars of Liberal debt that they leave this nation as a legacy, with very little economic dividend to show for it. I understand why they didn't ask any questions, extraordinarily, about the budget in question time today. It's disappointing that, instead of talking about the budget on budget day, those opposite have chosen to continue the Morrison government's legacy of putting short-term domestic politics ahead of the long-term national interest on foreign policy. Let me be very clear: the Albanese government does not and will not use sensitive foreign policy to play political games. It's not in the national interest, and the last election result shows that the Australian public are over it. They are sick of the politics of division.
On 18 October, Foreign Minister Wong reaffirmed Australia's previous longstanding and bipartisan position that Jerusalem is a final status issue and should be resolved as part of any peace negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian people. This is not an extreme position. Far from it.
We're not talking about a fringe view from the Labor Party here; we are talking about a considered position of like-minded nations and of all major Australian parties since 1948. Let's be very clear and reiterate that: it's the position of 70 years of successive Australian governments that there can be no lasting peace that does not address the status of Jerusalem, and the Albanese government will not undermine that approach. It was the position of the Gorton government, the Fraser government, the Hawke government, the Keating government, the Howard government, the Rudd government, the Gillard government, the Abbott government and the Turnbull government. Previous foreign minister Bishop said plainly, 'Matters relating to Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian authorities.' Former prime minister Turnbull said about this decision:
The conclusion that I took, and my government took, after very careful and considered advice was that a policy that is well over 40 years old, 50 years old, should remain exactly the same as it is.
Australia's position remained consistent for decades. It wasn't changed by the Gorton government following the Six-Day War in 1967, and all through the subsequent events it wasn't changed by Fraser, Hawke, Howard, Gillard, Turnbull or Rudd. The Liberal Party broke 70 years of bipartisan consensus and broke with international views to play short-term domestic political games in a by-election.
The only exception to the consensus has been former Prime Minister Morrison, who exploited the sensitivity of this issue for his own political purposes. On 15 October 2018, then prime minister Morrison dropped to the media that he was overturning decades of bipartisan policy on the Middle East by going ahead with his intention to move Australia's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He dropped this to the media on the same day he gave a heads-up to DFAT, and only one day after telling his then foreign minister, who he kept in the dark on this extraordinary foreign policy shift. This was a mere five days before the by-election in the seat of Wentworth took place. Then prime minister Morrison said he was persuaded by views put forward by his political candidate in Wentworth, Dave Sharma—leaving no doubt that this was a cynical attempt to get Mr Sharma elected. At the time of the vote, Penny Wong said, presciently: 'Floating a change in Liberal foreign policy just to try and hold onto the seat of Wentworth—does anyone believe he'll actually carry it through? This is posturing ahead of the by-election.'
John Roskam, the director of the IPA, a familiar figure in this chamber for those opposite, said at the time:
If this week's announcement from the government truly was based on principle the test will come, not if the Liberals hold Wentworth tomorrow, but if they lose it. If the Liberals lose Wentworth and we never hear again about the embassy being moved, the PM will have succeeded in revealing that the Liberals' commitment to furthering democracy and freedom around the world is as skin deep as a byelection campaign promise.
That was remarkably prescient, because we all know what happened next—or, rather, what did not happen next. We know that then Prime Minister Morrison was only posturing with an announcement on this issue, because he didn't move the embassy, did he? After the by-election, just two months later, he announced that he was backing down and not moving the embassy. How cynical can you get? He didn't make the announcement out of conviction; it was just a political tactic, playing with the sensitive topic—the hopes and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians.
It was doubly cynical, because, before the speaker who just appeared in front of us today, the opposition would not confirm its position on this issue. This week, the opposition leader said that the coalition would make its announcement of their policy 'in the run-up to the next election'. Senator Birmingham, the spokesman on foreign affairs, said:
Well, that proposition is at least a couple of years away until the next election. So, we think this is an unnecessary decision, the wrong decision to have made at this time. We would not have made this decision. Whether we will reconsider that position in the future is something, of course, that we would look closer to the next election cognisant of events as they unfold.
That's not the position that the first speaker in this debate just articulated. Their cynicism is only matched by their incompetence.
As Minister Wong has reiterated, what occurred here was that the DFAT website was updated ahead of government processes. She took responsibility for resolving the situation and moved to clear up confusion as quickly as possible. She has expressed regret that the shift away from Australia's longstanding position and the shift back have been distressing for communities that have deep-rooted and keenly felt stakes in the cessation of conflict, particularly the Australian Jewish community. She has also said that the timing of the announcement, falling as it did on the high holidays, was also deeply regrettable. The Prime Minister has acknowledged that we can always do better on process. We're a grown-up government. We have acknowledged it. That is what adults do.
The Albanese Labor government is committed to a two-state solution in which Israel and the future Palestinian state co-exist in peace and security within internationally recognised borders. We share this position, that Jerusalem is a final status issue, with like-minded countries, such as France, Spain, South Korea, New Zealand, Germany, Japan, the European Union, Singapore, Canada, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland and Norway. Those opposite make like the position held by these countries is equated to a position held by a terrorist group. It's absurd.
These are serious times for Australia's international circumstances, and they call for serious political leadership. It's no secret that diplomacy was deprioritised and disregarded by the previous government. That has harmed our national interest. In contrast, the Albanese Labor government has hit the ground running, renewing Australia's closest relationships and advancing our interests and values overseas. We are in a race for influence and we're running that race internationally.
We're reversing nine wasted years of the Liberals and Nationals slashing Australia's development assistance, reducing our influence and leaving a vacuum for others to fill. We are working to make Australia a partner of choice for countries in our region to ensure our security and economic strength and to shape the world for the better. Tonight's budget will be a major step towards that goal of making Australia stronger and more influential in the world. We are building a stronger Pacific family, with a massive increase in support for development, infrastructure and security, including more than $147 million over four years for advancing Pacific security and engagement priorities; and expanding and improving Pacific labour mobility, to reinforce that we are part of the same Pacific family. Our assistance will help our regional partners to become more economically resilient, develop critical infrastructure and provide their own security so they have less need to call on others. Under the Albanese Labor government, Australia is now supporting our Pacific family more than ever before. The foreign minister has already visited 11 Pacific countries. The minister for the Pacific will visit every Pacific island country in this year.
We're also deepening our engagement with South-East Asia, with more support for economic development, an office for South-East Asia and developing a South-East Asia economic strategy. The foreign minister has shown this renewed commitment by visiting six South-East Asian countries already. We're strengthening key relationships, including the US alliance and the Quad. Just this weekend we strengthened our joint declaration on security cooperation with Japan. We're supporting the people of Ukraine, with the Prime Minister showing his personal support by visiting Ukraine, as well as being one of the biggest non-NATO contributors to the Ukrainians' defence of their homeland and advocacy for Ukraine around the world. We're restoring Australia's global climate leadership. As well as restoring Australia's reputation and rebuilding our relationships, we're cleaning up the failures of the Liberals' and Nationals' failures on our defence capability, which has left 28 projects running more than 97 years late.
We understand that there are few issues more central to many Jewish people than the status of Jerusalem. As Senator Wong has said, it's more than a political issue. It's definitional: it's about history, faith and identity. It's the heart of Israel's origins and its future, and there can be no lasting peace that does not address its status. Its sensitivity is so deep for the overwhelming majority of the international community that it has always remained a final status issue that should be resolved as a part of any peace negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian people. It should not be the subject of political games. When Australia first recognised the State of Israel, Labor's then foreign minister, Doc Evatt, defined our objective as being to reach a just and fair solution. As Gideon Haigh noted in his biography of Doc Evatt:
No task so consumed Evatt's energies as the division of Palestine—which is remarkable for there being almost no incentive for him to do so … Populated by fewer than 40,000 Jews, Australia had no 'Jewish vote' to be courted, and the idea of a homeland enjoyed far from uniform support anyway.
He did it for national interest reasons.
In the history of Australia it is hard to think of a more shambolic piece of foreign policy-making than Labor's position on Israel's capital. In the space of 24 hours they had three separate positions on it. Labor took a major foreign policy decision with no consultation, a decision that caused deep offence to a longstanding and significant friend and ally in the State of Israel. It was a decision that sends a bad message to all other countries with whom we have longstanding friendships and alliances. And, while it was rightly condemned by the only democracy in the Middle East, it was welcomed by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, two organisations that we in Australia have listed as proscribed terrorist organisations. You know you're making bad public policy when the endorsement comes from listed criminal terrorist organisations.
Reversing the decision of the coalition government in 2018 to recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was no small decision. It was a decision to ignore and disrespect the decision of a sovereign nation to choose its own capital. Labor's decision would be like another nation saying that they didn't recognise Canberra as our capital—that it should be Dubbo. Let's be clear: West Jerusalem is Israel's capital. Its parliament is there, its Supreme Court is there, the President lives there—it looks like the capital city of any other country. Yet Labor is lending credence to the fiction that it's not. This decision undermines Israel's status in a volatile region and it signals to those who oppose Israel that Australia's friendship actually depends on who's in government here, not on any deep-seated support for the shared values of democracy and the rule of law.
Israel is a country whose intelligence helped us to foil major terrorist attacks on our own soil, and yet this bad decision gets the support of terrorists. When we have the Prime Minister of Israel condemning the decision and the Israeli foreign minister registering deep disappointment after not even having been consulted on this matter, we should all be concerned. Labor, in making this decision, has chosen to pander to the Left of its party and in the process has done lasting damage to a significant international relationship for Australia.
What's perhaps most distressing in all of this is the way Labor has done all of this while speaking with a forked tongue. They've tried to convince Australians that there's no difference in foreign policy between Labor and the coalition when it comes to Israel, but that just isn't true. In March this year, in the lead-up to the election, the Attorney-General and the member for Macnamara were busy trying to reassure the Jewish community that Labor stands with Israel and there's no difference between its position and the coalition's position. Let me quote the Attorney-General. He said:
Australia has for generations spoken with one voice in support of Israel. Labor's own history of steadfast support for Israel extends back to well before the founding of the modern state in 1948.
… … …
The truth is that you do not have to look far to see the reality, and value, of bipartisanship when it comes to Israel.
It took less than a year for Labor to demonstrate that this was untrue. I note that the Attorney-General has been remarkably silent on this matter over the past week, as compared to the member for Macnamara in his brave comments.
Labor's only expression of regret has been about how the politics of this issue have gone down. There's no serious willingness to listen to stakeholders and consider their views. There's no appetite for meaningful consultation, only a pseudoapology that this decision coincided with the Jewish festival of Simhath Torah, the 'joy of the law'. The timing was atrocious, but there's no good time to declare to an ally that you do not support their decision as a sovereign state. Labor haven't recognised the serious damage they've done to Australia's international reputation. And the way that the Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs suggested that on budget day we should somehow ignore this particular issue, I think, underscores the fact that Labor are not taking this issue seriously.
I want to make a few matters plain regarding West Jerusalem, as the claims made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs are misleading and deserve a response. West Jerusalem is not the subject to final status negotiations. West Jerusalem is territory that has not been disputed and is not disputed. It has been part of Israel's sovereign territory since the state was established in 1948 and is not part of the territory which Israel captured during the 1967 war. It's outside the scope of UN resolutions since 1967, which are expressly limited to territory occupied by Israel since that time. While there's debate about Jerusalem, the status of West Jerusalem—which the coalition government made clear was the territory being recognised as the capital of Israel—is not under the same dispute.
Israel is a sovereign nation with a right to determine where its capital lies. If this government is going to mishandle major foreign policy matters and key international relationships, then Australians have good reason to be deeply concerned. We cannot afford to let the Labor Party play reckless games on foreign policy matters as significant as our relationship with one of our key allies.
May I start by reiterating the disappointment that the Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs expressed in having to speak to this MPI today. But I also stand to speak on this out of a sense of duty, if I may say so. The House has noted before, and I mentioned in my first speech, that I was born in Egypt—in 1967, on the cusp of the Six-Day War. It was just a few weeks before it, as a matter of fact. Throughout the Arab world, that war is known colloquially as an-Naksa, or the setback. After that war and through all the events since that war—and there have been many events in the Middle East—our position on this issue, which is at the heart of Middle East politics, has not changed. It wasn't changed by Malcolm Fraser. It wasn't changed by Bob Hawke. It wasn't changed by John Howard. It wasn't changed by Julia Gillard or Malcolm Turnbull. The assistant minister quoted the response of some of those former prime ministers as to why our position has not changed. I particularly want to point to former Prime Minister John Howard and a joint press conference with the PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, who many will know was much loved for his dedication to the Palestinian cause. In that joint press conference with Yasser Arafat, he very clearly said, 'The status of Jerusalem is something that will be resolved by the parties in the discussion.' That sentiment has been echoed by various prime ministers since and in the words of former foreign minister Julie Bishop: 'Matters relating to Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian authority.'
I understand very well, perhaps more than most in this place, the sensitivities around this issue, the sensitivities among the Jewish Australian community, the Palestinian Australian community and Arab Australians more broadly. It hurts and is very disheartening to see that sensitive issues such as this are used to play political games. On this side, we have very clearly said that we do not and will not use sensitive issues to play political games. As a responsible international actor, we will not impose our views. We will, instead, encourage all parties to engage in negotiations towards a just and enduring two-state solution, as prime ministers and foreign ministers before us—since 1967, since I was born—have done.
Let me go through how it is that we have come to this situation. Through all the years that we have had a position on this that very clearly states that matters relating to Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations there has been one exception, and that exception was from former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who exploited the sensitivity on this issue for political purposes. On 15 October 2018, Scott Morrison dropped to the media that he was overturning decades of bipartisan policy on the Middle East, including with his intention to move Australia's embassy from Tel Aviv, where it now is, to Jerusalem. He dropped this to the media on the same day he gave a heads-up to DFAT and only a day after telling his foreign minister. And all of this was five days before a by-election in the seat of Wentworth.
Australians are rightly cynical about our politics at times, and we are trying very hard to turn that around. But there is something particularly cynical, particularly distasteful, for the Australian people when their elected representatives seek to exploit such sensitive issues for their own gain. I think that's all that needs to be said about this issue. I will stop there but just to reiterate: this is decades-long bipartisan policy.
The reason this matter is of such importance to the House today is not because the government has changed its mind. Governments are able to do that. The government of the day are elected and duly able to make decisions they believe are in the national interest, and that is not in discussion nor in debate. What is in debate is the manner and approach by which this government took this decision. That is what the debate is about today—the shambolic, dishonest and broken-promise approach that has been taken.
Personally and passionately, I believe the State of Israel has the right to exist in peace within secure borders, with Jerusalem as its indivisible, eternal capital. That is my view. The previous government took the view, as given by then Prime Minister Morrison on 18 December in a speech to the Sydney Institute, that Australia would recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. West Jerusalem is not in contention, having been part of the State of Israel since its foundation. Mr Morrison, the member for Cook, said the announcement followed a review by the secretaries of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Defence and Home Affairs, which included consultation with community representatives, former heads of relevant agencies, and Australia's international allies and partners. That is who was consulted in the government making a lawful decision. The starting points for the review were our commitment to a two-state solution and meeting all of our obligations under international law. The review team's recommendations were considered by the National Security Committee of cabinet, and the NSC's decision was confirmed by cabinet. On 18 December, Australia briefed allies and nations on the decision. Subsequently, in March 2019, Australia opened a new Australian Trade and Defence Office in West Jerusalem.
That is the process the former government took to making a major foreign policy decision—as all governments are entitled to do—which begs the question: what process did this government embark on to make a decision? I am not, and this parliament is not, criticising the capacity to make a decision. We're not questioning whether the government have the right to make it. They are the elected government of the day. But the process and the shambolic approach to how it was made is extraordinary, notwithstanding that I think the decision is poor on so many levels.
If we step through how the decision was made, the shambolic nature of it and the contrived sop to the Left become self-evident. Prior to the election, senior Labor members of parliament assured concerned stakeholders that there was no difference in position between the government and the opposition. Indeed, the member for Isaacs, the Attorney-General, on 6 March said that across domestic politics Australia 'spoke with one voice'. The member for Macnamara on 18 March said Australia's Jewish community should feel proud that its interest would be safeguarded, 'irrespective of who forms government'. Then, on 17 October, there were media reports that the Department of Foreign Affairs website had removed references to the recognition of West Jerusalem, and we had the Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs coming in and saying it was an administrative error. It'd be one of the first I've seen DFAT to make publicly, but let's run with 'administrative error', shall we? On 17 October a spokesperson for the foreign minister told media:
The former Government made a decision to recognise West Jerusalem … No decision to change that has been made by the government.
Really? So the Department of Foreign Affairs, of its own volition, decided, on one of the more contentious issues, that it would change the website prior to the foreign minister saying no decision had been made? And those opposite expect the Australian people to believe that rubbish? It's absolute and utter nonsense!
Stakeholders, including the Australian Jewish community and Israel's Ambassador to Australia, were also assured on the same day—apparently when DFAT was on a frolic—that there would be no change. Then, in less than 24 hours, on 18 October, the foreign minister announced at a press conference that Australia would reverse the decision. The announcement occurred just prior to the budget, on a Jewish holiday, just two weeks out from a heavily contested Israeli election. There was no consultation with communities and no consultation with allies and partners. The Israeli Ambassador to Australia and Israel's government found out about the announcement from the media. That is what this discussion is about—the shambolic, appalling and pathetic nature of the way in which this decision was made.
I thank the member for Fadden for confirming for us that a shambolic, contentious decision was made by the former government. It certainly was, and it was made cynically for domestic political purposes. That's the only way the Australian public can possibly read the decision that was taken by the former government. It's the only way they can read it, because—unlike many of the members here today who will be speaking on this, and the very raucous members during question time when, on budget day, this was the first question asked—many Australians are students of history. When it comes to the two-state solution and to the creation of the State of Israel, many Australians understand the history because they have lived it. Australians understand that, when it came to that vote at the United Nations, Australia was the first country to vote yes for the creation of the State of Israel.
Australians understand that the question of Jerusalem has been respected as something that will be determined as a status issue, because it is the most contentious thing and could have gotten in the way of peace talks and finding a workable two-state solution. So everybody has respected that over decades. People on that side and people on this side, whether in government or in opposition, have respected that that was what common sense asked for, not just in this country but around the world.
But then along came Prime Minister Morrison, who decided to throw that out the window and make a shambolic, contentious decision five days out from a by-election, on the advice of the candidate running in that by-election for the Liberal Party—absolute cynicism. I welcome the fact that today we are here so that we can put back on the record Australia's support for a two-state solution and for the fact that the question of Jerusalem is a status issue that will be dealt with by the parties involved. This will put us back in line with most other countries.
We shouldn't be surprised that former Prime Minister Morrison made this shambolic, contentious decision. After all, he's also the first Australian Prime Minister to give himself five portfolios. There were things that that Prime Minister did that appeared to the Australian public to be on a whim, to not be thought through and to not be considered in terms of the ramifications—only short-termism. There was no thought given to what would happen with the change of government, even though Labor's stated position was clear. There was no thought given to what that would mean—just short-term politics, trying to get a short-term edge in a by-election.
This is our foreign policy. Decades of Australian foreign ministers and prime ministers have agreed on this position. But we shouldn't be surprised, because the previous government did several things in foreign affairs across nine years that were of concern to Australians, including Australians travelling overseas, who notice these things. I noticed them myself in visiting countries in Asia. There were no signs about Australian aid anywhere—all gone, whereas, 10 years previously, Australian aid had been front and centre in our region. We were respected. We were seen as helpful. This government is committed to ensuring that a sensible foreign minister, a sensible prime minister and a sensible government will put Australia back into the right places in foreign affairs and regain the respect that we held for decades internationally, not just on this issue but on many others. It was shambolic and contentious, and Labor will not make shambolic and contentious decisions like the former Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Many speakers have spoken about the sensitivity of this matter, and it is a sensitive issue. To those who are listening to the broadcast and those who have the privilege of sitting in the gallery: one should not make the assumption that this side of the chamber is pro-Egypt and the other side is pro-Palestine. That is not the case, and that is not what we are debating here today. There are good people that sit on either side of the chamber, and there is a healthy respect in this parliament for both cases.
Not only is it a sensitive issue; it is a complicated issue. It is a complicated issue. To try to better my knowledge, some three or four weeks ago I travelled to Israel, sponsored by AIJAC—to better understand. Since returning, I have met and spoken at length with those on the other side of the chamber to better understand the Palestinian perspective, because the view that was put to us was through a particular prism. What we hear today in this MPI debate is the government's ill-judgement and mishandling of the decision to reverse the capital state. Out of interest, I googled what the capital of Israel was, and it came up with 'Jerusalem'. It didn't preface it with 'west'. It just came up as 'Jerusalem'. But the moral of that story is that you may not believe everything that's on Google.
During the election campaign, when Labor suggested to the Australian public that they had a plan and it was a very good plan—none of us know what the plan is at the moment—I don't remember a broad outline of a plan in the foreign policy space about shifting the capital. I just don't recall that. So it is fair enough that, on behalf of my 1,000-strong Jewish community, I get to my feet and call out what I see.
I think what's also salient is that while I was in Tel Aviv—some interesting, fun facts. Tel Aviv recently just passed New York, London and Rome as the most expensive city in the world, showing the advancement of Tel Aviv. We spent a considerable amount of time in Jerusalem. As a part-practising Catholic I found the historical content there overwhelming—from an archaeological perspective, from a religious perspective, through the prism of Christianity. Your guidebook around Jerusalem is a Bible. Your guide says to you: 'That's where Jesus was betrayed by Judas. That is the place where he was marched off. That's where he was incarcerated.' It was very moving, through the prism of Catholicism.
So that it wasn't seen to be just a Jewish trip, we had the opportunity to meet with the Palestinian Prime Minister. Interestingly, while we were waiting at a cafe, we had the opportunity to catch up with some Palestinian youths. We were suited up, and they said—through our interpreter, clearly—'What are you doing here?' We said, 'We're meeting with your Prime Minister.' They were three well-dressed kids, 15-year-olds with their mobile phones. My first question was: 'Why aren't you in school?' They said: 'You're meeting with our Prime Minister. Could you deliver a message from us?' We said, 'What's the message you want us to deliver on your behalf?' They said: 'If you're meeting with our Prime Minister, I'll give you something, and you deliver it to him. But don't open it—only the Prime Minister.' I said, 'I don't think the level of security is going to allow that to happen.' There was a high level of disdain from the youths, and what they planned to do was something untoward—because in the daytime they like to get on a bus and go down to the border, and they go and work construction. I was in awe of the way that they kept themselves—well dressed, well groomed. Palestine is a country that's looking to advance itself. Israel is a country that needs to be supported.
I'll begin my remarks by talking about my grandfather, who was in Israel at its early inception in 1948 and then lived on a kibbutz with my grandmother in the 1950s. They were one of the first generations of people who were trying to turn a barren desert into a country. My grandfather was an extremely good man and he was a kind man, and he told me a story about his time in the 1950s in Israel. It was a story of an unfortunate conflict that happened between him and his Arab neighbours, and he was shattered by it. He didn't want to raise my father in an area where there was going to be this ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and he said he made the hardest decision of his life: to leave Israel and to find a new place to live. And, even though he lived his life in Australia—and he was a proud Labor man and he was really proud that I was, at the time, working for the Labor Party—he was always sad that he couldn't make his life in Israel. It was a huge part of who he was. He'd just watched the Holocaust happen in World War II, and he was shattered by the state of the Jewish world. It is just one example of one family that is deeply connected to its own identity.
To understand the Middle East is to understand individuals; it's to understand their spirituality; it's to understand their connection to a land that literally formed the three Abrahamic faiths that have dominated our civilisation for the last 2,000 years. To understand the Middle East and to talk about the Middle East, you have to do it delicately and respectfully, and you have to do it, I believe, in a way that aims to seek peace and aims to seek a cooperation and a future where people come together. And it is my dream to see peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. There are very few things I want to see more in my lifetime—other than to see my daughter grow up to be happy and healthy—than peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It is one of the great bits of unfinished business of our species, of humankind.
I regularly meet with Palestinian advocates here in Australia, and I will continue to do so. We don't always agree on everything, but we have honest conversations, and I value them and the fact that they stand up, and we hope to see a better future.
On the topic of Jerusalem: it is a deeply contentious issue. The former government started a process before a by-election, and didn't end up moving an embassy, and promised to recognise West Jerusalem. It doesn't actually encapsulate the old city of Jerusalem—the famous old city where you've got the Armenian, the Islamic, the Jewish, and the Christian quarters and the part of Israel that is so deeply rooted in the holiness of all of the different faiths; that's actually in East Jerusalem. And if you were to ask an Israeli whether that's part of Israel or not, it would be inconceivable for an Israeli to say that that's not a part of their capital.
I recognise the fact that those opposite are coming at us for reversing their decision. But, actually, the policy that they proposed was not welcomed in Israel. It was a deeply contentious one that removed a deeply spiritual part of Israeli identity. And I don't say that to be holier than thou at this point in time—on the contrary: I think we need to be humble when talking about these issues. I say it to say that the Middle East is complex and, when coming to these debates, we must tread carefully and lightly, for our role, as Australians, in this region is to play a constructive role in order to achieve peace. That is our role. And to promise matters that you don't deliver on, four days before a by-election, is not the way—nor was it, to be honest, to deliver a policy on Simhath Torah. That was a mistake, I believe, that we needed to own, and we did own, and I apologise again to the people in my electorate.
It's hard to explain how people in Macnamara would be feeling, but I'll try to, just very briefly. For those people, to understand Jerusalem as the capital is as simple as us understanding Canberra as the capital of our country, and it would be like someone telling us that Surfers Paradise was the capital instead of Canberra—something that doesn't really make sense. I know that this is a final status issue, and I don't say this to demean the positions of those on the other side of this contentious debate; I'm just trying to give a perspective on what people are experiencing in my electorate and how difficult this would be for them to digest.
So I come to this debate and say that I hope we have better days ahead. I hope deeply that we find, in my lifetime, a resolution to this long and protracted conflict and we see peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Can I just begin by acknowledging the member for Macnamara. That was a very moving and heartfelt address. Before I came into this place, you and I met at an event for a Jewish school, and you said something to me that I've never forgotten: 'When you come into this place, never forget what that feeling is like. You never know how long it will last. And use every day to make a contribution'. You've just made an excellent contribution.
I don't claim to know this issue as well as you do, or as well as many other people do, but I often think of a perspective that I can understand a bit better. I was born in Dublin, in Ireland. When we came to Australia in 1988, I would often hear, in the following years, people give ill-informed comments on the status of Northern Ireland, about whether a unified Ireland should happen or whether it should always be part of England. Like this issue, it's complex and it's difficult. But, as a kid, growing up, I had the same dream, that Catholic and Protestant kids could go to school together, could work together, could marry and live. It just didn't make any sense to me that people who looked like family were at war with each other. I never understood that.
Maybe there are some parallels here. I've come in as a new member, straight into opposition. I'm happy to be here, but I know that most of my colleagues would like—and I would too—to be where you are one day, and we've got to earn that right. When I go to schools, or speak to people in the electorate, and they ask, 'What is it like?' one of the things I say is that it's been quite pleasant working with people from the other side in committees and in some of the training that we do. And, when it comes to defence and foreign affairs, I sing your praises. I'd like to think, almost all of the time, the new government has done a pretty good job on defence and foreign affairs—not perfect, and we will keep a close watch—but I think this was a mistake. It was a mistake in how it was handled.
I'm not going to stand here and say, 'I have the answers on the status of Israel's capital,' but I think the point that a sovereign nation can decide its capital is a seductive one. It makes sense; it just does. Was the timing of the announcement, on a by-election, a good thing? Probably not. It probably wasn't. But that doesn't justify this timing. That doesn't justify another mistake, and it could have been handled better. I had a note here about the Jewish holiday, and I saw, when someone else read it out, that you corrected them, so tell me if this is correct: Simhath Torah.
Close enough! I tried some Persian today, and now I've tried that.
Can I say this: Australia must remain a strong supporter of a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state can coexist. We on this side support Australia continuing to call for all parties to the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel to maintain restraint and to renounce violence. Violence never achieves anything. Labor has made a mistake here. It does need to act more professionally on major foreign policy decisions.
I watched when the criticism came thick and fast about our relationship with France, in relation to AUKUS. That was unfair. With a decision as tightly held as that, of course there was no other way to do it than the way that it occurred. But there was no allowance for that in most of the commentary that I saw from the other side. If you are sitting over here one day and we're there, if we are doing a good job on defence and foreign affairs, feel free to say so. You're welcome to do it. As long as I am in this place, I won't criticise you for putting the national interest first, because that's why I am here.
But this decision has not come without a cost. It's not a domestic political cost that we're seeking to get an advantage from; it's a cost to the nation. Let's look at the response from the Israeli Prime Minister:
In light of the way this decision was made … as a hasty response to an incorrect report in the media, we can only hope that the Australian government manages other matters more seriously and professionally
Then Australia's Ambassador to Israel was summoned by the Israeli foreign minister, who registered his deep disappointment in the face of the Australian government's decision resulting from short-sighted political considerations. We could have handled the announcement better, but so could you.
Notwithstanding the last speaker, the previous speakers in the opposition have not been able to acknowledge, or won't admit to, three things about this MPI. No. 1: they won't acknowledge that the government's policy is actually a reaffirmation of the longstanding bipartisan policy of successive Australian governments that has been in existence for decades. No. 2: they won't acknowledge that it was actually they, the opposition, when they were in government under Scott Morrison, that, in 2018, decided to do foreign policy on the run, breaking and breaching decades of bipartisanship, and for what? For a pathetic attempt at short-term political gain. And No. 3—and this is a general point: as you've seen in the first couple of months of government, our foreign policy is based on a sensible approach to the national interest, not a personal political interest, not a short-term political gain in a by-election. In this case, our foreign policy is in alignment with the international community's broad agreement that Jerusalem is a final status issue that should be resolved as part of any peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian people. Let's be very clear: the position of successive Australian governments has been that there can be no lasting peace that does not address that final status of Jerusalem, and, as the Prime Minister said earlier today, he will not and his government will not undermine that approach.
This goes back in history; I'll reach back to 1967, to when your own Liberal external affairs minister, Paul Hasluck, called for the commencement of 'an effort to build long-term peace' and outlined that in relation to the future status of Jerusalem. I'll talk about how, even more recently, your former Prime Minister John Howard said himself in a joint press conference that the status of Jerusalem is something that would be resolved by the parties in discussion. And, of course, former Liberal foreign minister Julie Bishop said something similar:
Matters relating to Jerusalem are subject to Final Status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority
This wasn't changed in the Gorton government. It wasn't changed by Malcolm Fraser. It wasn't changed by Bob Hawke. It wasn't changed by John Howard, Julia Gillard or Malcolm Turnbull—or Tony Abbott for that matter. But it was changed by Scott Morrison, the exception amongst all those prime ministers. He decided, 'Oh, I'll exploit the sensitivity of this issue for a short-term political purpose,' when he decided to drop in the media during the by-election for Wentworth that he was going to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and he was trying to do this, of course, so that he could win the by-election in Wentworth for Dave Sharma. Scott Morrison said at the time he was persuaded by the arguments of Dave Sharma, leaving no doubt in all of our minds that this was simply a cynical attempt to get Dave Sharma re-elected in Wentworth. It didn't work. They lost the by-election. The voters of Wentworth saw right through that political stunt, and they lost the by-election.
This confirms our suspicion about what we know about Scott Morrison in doing this—
The former Prime Minister, after that by-election, announced that he was backing down and not moving the embassy at all. He scrubbed it. The fact that he backed out of it and didn't move the embassy once the by-election was over tells you everything you need to know about how cynical the political play was. He didn't just make this announcement out of conviction; it was done as a political stunt, it was done as a political tactic and it was a pathetic attempt to play into the hopes and expectations of both Israelis and Palestinians and their communities.
Let me be very clear: the Albanese Labour government does not do that and will not use sensitive issues to play political games. You'd think those opposite would have learnt the lesson—that group over there, that mob over there. You'd think they'd run a hundred miles away from Scott Morrison—
and the former Prime Minister's political tactics. The member for Cook—you'd think they'd run a hundred miles away from it. But no: they have come in with this MPI, playing the same old political games, trying to get some short-term domestic political runs on the board.
Here's the craziness of it. When you ask their shadow foreign minister what their position is, he says: 'Well, we haven't decided that. The proposition is at least a couple of years away. It's not necessary until the next election.' When you ask the opposition leader, he says, 'Oh, we'll make that decision or announce that policy in the run-up to the next election.' It's all political games with this mob, but this is too important to play those games. Our national interest, the region's interest, the world's interest must focus on making a substantive effort to reach peace through negotiations between the parties, and Australia can play that role under an Albanese Labor government. (Time expired)