Senate debates

Tuesday, 18 March 2008


60th Anniversary of the State of Israel

9:43 pm

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Tonight I stand to show support and solidarity for the 60th anniversary of the state of Israel. Last week, the House of Representatives celebrated the 60th anniversary of the state of Israel. Indeed, it has been 60 years of good relations between Australia and modern-day Israel, as well as our prior alliance when Australian troops fought in the region against the Ottomans during World War I. I would like to express my support for the motion that was passed overwhelmingly in the House last week, on 12 March, although I note the 60-year anniversary of Israel is 14 March.

The motion supported by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the opposition leader, Brendan Nelson, last week reads:

That the House:

celebrate and commend the achievements of the State of Israel in the 60 years since its inception;
remember with pride and honour the important role which Australia played in the establishment of the State of Israel as both a member state of the United Nations and as an influential voice in the introduction of Resolution 181 which facilitated Israel’s statehood, and as the country which proudly became the first to cast a vote in support of Israel’s creation;
acknowledge the unique relationship which exists between Australia and Israel; a bond highlighted by our commitment to the rights and liberty of our citizens and encouragement of cultural diversity;
commend the State of Israel’s commitment to democracy, the Rule of Law and pluralism;
reiterate Australia’s commitment to Israel’s right to exist and our ongoing support to the peaceful establishment of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue;
reiterate Australia’s commitment to the pursuit of peace and stability throughout the Middle East;
on this, the 60th Anniversary of Independence of the State of Israel, pledge our friendship, commitment and enduring support to the people of Israel as we celebrate this important occasion together.

I commend wholeheartedly my support for that motion. Australia does, as it should, recognise Israel’s existence, but in addition it supports the valid objectives of the Palestinian people, therefore supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

Australia and Israel are both relatively young nations, with the common ideals of democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion. Australia was in fact the first country to vote in favour of the 1947 UN partition resolution, as well noted in the House of Representatives resolution. Australia and Israel have strong trade links, with major Australian exports to Israel being coal, live animals, pearls and gems. All in all, two-way trade with the state of Israel is estimated at $828 million per annum. Australia and Israel are both the countries of choice for a large number of immigrants seeking a better life. Both our countries reward hard work and acknowledge that economic development is the best defence in the fight against poverty. Both Australia and Israel understand that occasionally we are required to fight for the freedoms which we hold dear.

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Hear, hear!

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Mason. In April this year, the Governor-General, Major General Michael Jeffrey, and Mrs Jeffrey will travel to Israel at the invitation of the President of the State of Israel, His Excellency Mr Shimon Peres, to represent the government and people of Australia at the 60th anniversary of the state. What an honour. I am proud to be an Australian whose Governor-General is heading to Israel for this very important occasion. The Governor-General and Mrs Jeffrey will also participate in a range of World War I commemorative events, including the official opening by the Governor-General and Mr Peres of the Park of the Australian Soldier in Be’er-Sheva on 28 April. The park features a landscaped recreational area and innovative playground catering for children with disabilities. The central feature is a sculpture by renowned Australian sculptor Peter Corlett, who also undertook the sculpting work of Harry Murray VC, Australia’s most highly decorated soldier, which is stationed and positioned in the town of Evandale, just south of Launceston in Tasmania. This particular sculpture will commemorate the charge of the Australian Light Horse Division’s 4th Brigade against the Turkish positions at Beersheba, which is now called Be’er-Sheva, on 31 October 1917. The park and sculpture project are an initiative of the Pratt Foundation in partnership with the Beersheba Foundation, in recognition of those dramatic events that took place just over 90 years ago. The project received strong support from the previous Australian government. In particular, I want to acknowledge the efforts of the former Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the Hon. Bruce Billson, and his department.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Community Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Hear, hear!

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Bernardi. I would also like to acknowledge the special support of Retired Major General Digger James, AC MBE MC, former National President of the RSL, who has provided tremendous support and service to our great nation.

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

A great man.

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Mason—I agree that he was a great man. We enjoyed some time together just last week at the 60-year anniversary celebrations for Israel. Retired Major General Digger James will be travelling in this delegation with the Governor-General to Be’er-Sheva next month for this special announcement.

The charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade, or the battle of Beersheba, was a significant Australian military event, often described as ‘the last successful cavalry charge in British military history’. The battle involved 800 soldiers of the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade under Brigadier General William Grant. They charged with only horses, rifles and bayonets into the Turkish trenches, overrunning them and capturing the wells of Beersheba. Brigadier General William Grant, originally from Stawell in Victoria, transferred to command the 4th Light Horse Brigade on the eve of the battle. The next day, the Commander-in-Chief, General Sir Edmund Allenby, personally decorated Grant with a bar to his DSO.

The daring and the action of the Australian light-horsemen was vital not only in the supply of water for the Allied forces and troops but for turning around the whole Turkish flank in Palestine. The goal of our British partners was to drive the Turks north from Gaza, and it was an inspirational victory. The events at Beersheba were an inspiration for the 1987 Australian film The Lighthorsemen, which featured the tag line: ‘They did what they were told. They didn’t know it was impossible.’ I enjoyed watching that movie with my family only a month or so ago.

My wife Kate’s great-uncle George Henry Bramich was a member of the Australian 3rd Light Horse Brigade and her great-grandfather Oscar George Bramich trained in the Light Horse at Mona Vale in Tasmania. In fact, my wife’s Uncle George was from Mount Hicks in north-west Tasmania and trained for two years with the Light Horse before enlisting in June 1916. George Bramich was involved in the taking of Damascus and, as I said, was in the 3rd Light Horse Brigade. My wife’s great-grandfather Oscar George Bramich unfortunately became sick with a hernia and was unable to depart for the Middle East.

The success at Beersheba was the beginning of a significant chain of events in history—the capturing of Gaza and Jaffa, and the Ottoman Empire, the liberation of Jerusalem, and all of Palestine, the Balfour Declaration and, ultimately, the establishment of Israel in 1948. The battle for Beersheba is just one of many instances when Australians have served in the area that is now modern-day Israel, including the many soldiers who served during World War II. Since World War II, Australia has supported peace operations in the Middle East, and Australians continue to serve in the area to this day.

I noted an opinion piece by Israel’s ambassador to Australia, Yuval Rotem, in the Australian newspaper this past weekend, where he said that:

Since achieving independence in 1948, Israel has risen from the horror and anguish of the Holocaust to be a vibrant, democratic nation fuelled by values of justice and the rule of law.

…            …            …

Israel’s founding fathers transformed a desert into the source of a viable agricultural industry, underpinning the dynamic Israeli economy. Israel thrived with the influx of Jewish refugees and survivors of the Holocaust, arriving from 100 countries and speaking 82 languages.

The Australian editorial on 12 March also noted the concerns that they had. The editorial reads:

We reject the view that the Israeli conflict lies at the root of all the problems in the Middle East and is the trigger for the rise of al-Qa’ida and, by extension, terrorist acts such as the 9/11 bombings.

The editor concludes by saying:

Against remarkable odds, Israel has prospered greatly over the past 60 years because of its commitment to democracy and the rule of law, which easily qualifies it for the enduring goodwill and support of friends such as Australia.

I commend and support those comments entirely and say that Australia and Israel are good friends. We admire each other and we work together. I believe that Israel and its people should be remembered for their enormous achievements in adversity. The Jewish community in Australia, I know, will be celebrating at this time in the full knowledge that Australia stands firm as a friend. (Time expired)