Senate debates

Tuesday, 25 October 2022

Matters of Urgency

State of Israel

4:02 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that I have received the following letter, dated 25 October 2022, from Senator Birmingham:

Dear President

Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today I propose to move 'That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The need for the Senate to reaffirm the importance of consultation and careful consideration when dealing with complex and sensitive foreign affairs matters, and the need for Prime Minister Albanese to apologise to Israeli Prime Minister Lapid for the hasty and careless manner in which the decision to no longer recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was made.'

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times for speakers. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The need for the Senate to reaffirm the importance of consultation and careful consideration when dealing with complex and sensitive foreign affairs matters, and the need for Prime Minister Albanese to apologise to Israeli Prime Minister Lapid for the hasty and careless manner in which the decision to no longer recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was made.

In question time today Senator Wong described the Prime Minister as 'a man of courage and a man of integrity'. Well, courage entails telling people when you're going to do things that they might disagree with, that might be unpopular with them and that might have consequences for you in terms of people choosing, in an electoral contest, to vote against you. That would be courage. Integrity, of course, would be being honest, up-front and direct with them.

In the context of the government's decision to reverse the recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Mr Albanese and the Labor Party showed neither courage nor integrity. In fact, it was quite the opposite: Labor's completely unnecessary decision that Australia will cease to recognise West Jerusalem as the Israeli capital has been a shambolic process. It has been contemptuous of so many stakeholders and was executed with shocking timing. Firstly, though, the Labor Party and Mr Albanese were deceptive and misleading in this decision-making. Senior Labor members of parliament went to the last election assuring concerned stakeholders, including members of the Australian Jewish community, that, on the question of Israel, it didn't matter which way they voted at the last election. The now Attorney-General, Mr Dreyfus, wrote an article in Australian Jewish News on 6 March this year attacking Scott Morrison for the suggestion that there was any difference in policies between the two sides; they just said it didn't matter. Mr Dreyfus claimed that, across domestic politics, Australia, spoke 'with one voice'. He was echoed by Josh Burns, who did likewise, saying Australia's Jewish community should feel proud that its interests would be safeguarded irrespective of who forms government.

Mr Dreyfus, Mr Burns and other Labor members and senators who provided those reassurances to Australia's Jewish community should feel shame, not pride, for misleading the community ahead of the last election. Contrary to their reassurances, the Albanese government has taken not one step but, indeed, multiple steps so far of difference, of change of policy. They did so, in fact, within weeks of their election, when they refused to join 22 other nations, including Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the United States, in voting in favour of a key motion put to the UN Human Rights Council. It was a motion simply expressing deep concern at the disproportionate scrutiny placed on Israel from an open-ended commission of inquiry into alleged human rights abuses. This, I note, is the same council that recently declined to even debate a one-off report on serious abuses in the Xinjiang region of China.

The government made the decision to step away from working with like-mindeds and standing for the principle around fairness, equity and scrutiny. They then made this decision to overturn the recognition of West Jerusalem but did so in the most cack-handed and shambolic of ways possible. They misled voters and the community, saying it wasn't going to happen. Then, when it leaked out onto a departmental website, the minister's office rushed to reassure the community, the media and the Israeli government that it wasn't happening, that it hadn't happened. Then, within hours, the minister came out and announced that it was happening, that they were doing it, that they were reversing the decision, and they happened to do so on a Jewish holy day—really? Who on earth was providing the advice? Where was the due diligence? How chaotic was the process behind the scenes to be so inconsiderate that the Prime Minister and the foreign minister themselves had to acknowledge the failure of the timing there?

It was also two weeks before the Israeli election. Even if the government hadn't checked the Jewish calendar for holy days, surely they were aware an Israeli election was coming and that this would feed into domestic politics there? Did they speak with the Israeli government? No, not to consult in advance of providing this announcement and decision. The Israeli Prime Minister condemned the government. Mr Albanese should pick up the phone to apologise. This is a mess of the government's making. It's been misleading the community and an apology is clearly owed to those who have been affected by this decision. (Time expired)

4:07 pm

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

This motion from Senator Birmingham seeks to:

… reaffirm the importance of consultation and careful consideration when dealing with complex and sensitive foreign affairs matters …

It's like Attila the Hun complaining about human rights abuses!

My question is: where was Senator Birmingham's motion when the Morrison government announced an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 in a Sunday morning television interview without having done the diplomatic legwork to lock in support? Where was Senator Birmingham's motion when Mr Dutton, with Mr Abbott and Mr Morrison, stood around on live television joking about water lapping around the feet of Pacific islanders? Where was Senator Birmingham's motion last year, when the former Prime Minister blindsided our friends the French with his AUKUS announcement? And, indeed, where was Senator Birmingham's motion in 2018, when the Morrison government broke with the vast majority of the international community to recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?

The decision by the Morrison government to recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel broke with a position that had been held by every Australian government since 1948. If ever there was a moment for careful consideration, it was then. There was nothing hasty, careless or surprising about Senator Wong's announcement last week.

When the Morrison government announced its position in 2018, Senator Wong made our position very clear. The position hasn't changed. The Australian government remains committed to a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state can coexist in peace and security within internationally recognised borders. This is a position that hasn't changed since the Gorton government established that position following the Six-Day War in 1967. The position was maintained by Prime Ministers Fraser, Hawke, Howard, Gillard and Turnbull. There's been only one Prime Minister who's departed from that bipartisan and correct foreign policy approach, and that's Mr Morrison. And why did he do that? For base political reasons. It was a cynical political ploy, a desperate and failed attempt. It's one thing to go through a sordid announcement about a position that is designed only for domestic political purposes and then win; it's an entirely separate thing to do that and then have it blow up in your face and lose, which is what Mr Morrison did—abject failure. Even cynics would be embarrassed by Mr Morrison's cynicism on this question.

This is a challenging foreign policy question. It should be dealt with by adults. There are competing interests and rights, issues of social justice and a series of historical wrongs, and there's violence. The prospect of peace and justice don't seem to be getting stronger; they seem to be getting more remote every year. It requires consistency, responsibility, careful evaluation of the merits and acting carefully in the national interest and the interest of peace with our allies and partners in a way that is consistent with our national interest. What has the coalition approach been, Mr Morrison's approach? It has been to seek domestic political advantage rather than to do the right thing. It's been a political tactic to play with the hopes and aspirations of the State of Israel, of the Palestinians and their various supporters and of people who are interested in the issue in Australia. Well, the adults are in charge again now. The traditional bipartisan position has been reasserted.

Senator Wong has expressed her regret. She said the timing of the announcement on Simhath Torah was deeply regrettable. That'll be another feature of this government: when something goes wrong, we will take responsibility, not run away from it and pretend it was our plan all along. We'll just take responsibility. That's what Senator Wong has done. That's what we will continue to do. The adults are back in charge, and we will not use this issue for base political advantage. (Time expired)

4:13 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Labor's decision to no longer recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a welcome move. After all, the Morrison government's original announcement was nothing more than a craven attempt to employ an action straight out of the Donald Trump playbook. The Australian Greens' foreign policy is grounded in lived experience and in the needs of the community. Peace and non-violent approaches to the resolution of conflict will always drive our response. We in the Greens recognise the ongoing injustices that have been done and are being done to the Palestinian people, and we express our deep solidarity. We acknowledge and note that Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other groups have concluded that the Israeli government is committing the act and is guilty of the crime of apartheid.

Following the decision to not recognise West Jerusalem as the capital, we are calling on the federal government to do the following: to recognise the self-determination and statehood of Palestinians and push to ensure an end to the Israeli occupation; to halt military cooperation and military trade with the State of Israel; and to work towards rectifying the injustices in a way that will allow both Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace. We must work to find a way to support the people of Israel and the people of Palestine to live their lives in peace.

4:14 pm

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to speak on this urgency motion regarding Israel. It's important to note that, whilst two sides here can trade barbs over the domestic politics of it, there are substantial issues that go to our foreign affairs. Having worked in the foreign affairs, defence and trade area of this parliament for most of my time here, I'm acutely aware of how our statements and actions can influence the attitudes and the trust of parties that we seek to treat as friends and allies and can also give succour and encouragement to those with whom we fundamentally disagree in terms of their world view.

Those opposite have made comments that this is an exercise in crass domestic politics, but I would just like to quote some of the comments from Israel's Prime Minister, Prime Minister Lapid, who said:

In light of the way in which this decision was made in Australia, 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.

It has been some time since Australia's ambassador in Israel has been summoned for a dressing-down in that country. The Israeli foreign minister registered Israel's 'deep disappointment in the face of the Australian government's decision resulting from a short-sighted political consideration'. I will finish on this point by noting that both the Prime Minister and the foreign minister have conceded that the announcement was mishandled.

I would now like to go more to the substance of the issue, because I think it's really important that we see what is happening in the world, particularly in the Middle East, and that we seize the opportunities that are before us. If we go right back to the creation of Israel, at the end of the war that was launched upon the fledgling state, an armistice was agreed between Jordan and Israel that recognised that the city of Jerusalem was in two parts: the west, controlled by Israel, and the east, controlled by Jordan. When again the Arab states attacked Israel in 1967, at the end of that war, Israel had taken over East Jerusalem as well as the West Bank and the Golan Heights. So there was a period, and that has continued, of international disquiet over the status of those lands. But West Jerusalem itself was never in contention, even back then, and even for the people who now say that we should be going back to the pre-1967 boundaries, West Jerusalem is very much the territory that Israel has always controlled and will continue to control.

Nations have for some time repeated the line, which we hear frequently and have heard today, that until there is a final settlement peace cannot exist. But the reality on the ground in the Middle East is different and it's changing. We see between Morocco, the UAE and Bahrain an ongoing acceptance of and relationship with Israel from Morocco and a new recognition of sovereignty and of the establishment of diplomatic norms between an increasing number of Arab nations either overtly, such as in the Abraham Accords, or through implied or tacit cooperation from states that are now allowing overflight to Israeli airline El Al, which was never allowed in the past.

So, despite comments made by some nations and some people—Senator Wong in fact made the comment—that lasting peace is not possible until there is a final settlement, we are seeing that nations in the Middle East are increasingly saying, 'We want to look forward to how we can collaborate with Israel for the opportunities for all our people,' and lasting agreements and recognition of Israel's sovereignty and right to exist are being established, and cooperative relationships in the areas of security, commerce, sport and other things are being established. To provide comfort to the recalcitrants within the Palestinian movement who said, both in 2000 under President Clinton and in 2008 when Prime Minister Olmert and Mr Abbas met and the Palestinians just rejected out of hand the offers of peace and haven't in a meaningful way returned to negotiations, anything that supports that view of nonengagement with Israel will only work to extend the conflict. (Time expired)

4:20 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today on the matter of urgency put forward by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. I first want to acknowledge those frustrated and hurt by the suddenness of the change in the statement on the website. I particularly want to say as Chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Israel that I know how deeply the attachment to Jerusalem is felt by Jewish people, who, in the immortal words of Chaim Weizmann, lived in Jerusalem while London was still a marsh.

As Senator Wong has said, it's more than a political issue; it's definitional. It's about history, faith and identity. Jerusalem was the site of the two temples, the seat of King David and Solomon, and has been the scene of the highest triumphs and some of the darkest moments of Jewish history for the last three millennia. Thus, it was a lasting shame that those opposite, when last in government, chose to politicise the issue in the first place and, guided only by the impending Wentworth by-election, broke decades of consensus regarding Australian recognition of West Jerusalem.

Those opposite were only too happy to vote against recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in this very chamber only four months prior to making that change. Senator Fraser Anning's motion—his proposal—in the Senate in June 2018 received this response from Senator James McGrath—this is what the government thought, four months before they went out and unilaterally changed the position:

The government considers Jerusalem to be a final status issue for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Australia will continue to maintain its embassy in Tel Aviv. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs have restated Australian policy on several recent occasions.

Senator McGrath, speaking for the then government, led at that time by Mr Morrison, went on to say:

The government has no plans to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem. Australia considers that, in view of the highly sensitive status of Jerusalem and its consideration as a final status issue, it is not conducive to the peace process to move the embassy there.

And he was in good company. We have comments on the record about efforts to build long-term peace that go back as far as: Sir Paul Hasluck in 1967; Prime Minister Keating; Prime Minister Howard, who said, 'The status of Jerusalem is something that will be resolved by the parties in discussion'; Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard; and Liberal foreign minister Julie Bishop, who said, 'Matters relating to Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.' For decades that was the consensus.

Sensitive foreign policy matters like the recognition of Jerusalem should never be politicised in a cynical manner to win a by-election. I note as well that the decision to move the embassy was scrapped shortly after the Liberal candidate lost the by-election. The decision was only ever about politics for many of those opposite. I won't include everyone because there are conviction politicians on that side of the chamber, but I note Senator Birmingham continues to refuse to announce his party's current position and whether he would seek to reverse the decision.

I want to acknowledge the deep frustration and consternation from the Jewish community, particularly in the timing. This occurred on one of the Jewish community's holiest days, Simchat Torah, when many observant members of the community were, in fact, unable to receive news or check their phones. This decision must have come as a tremendous shock to them when they did turn on their phones.

There's no running from the reality that we face. Minister Wong has reiterated on many occasions and again in question time today that the website was updated ahead of the processes of government. But, unlike those before us, our government took responsibility for the decision and acknowledged that these events are, in fact, deeply regrettable. Last Monday's announcement returned Australia to the international mainstream on the Israel-Palestine conflict. I look forward to the day when that conflict is resolved, and I hope both peoples are able to reach a just and fair resolution as soon as possible.

4:25 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

One Nation considers it the responsibility of the Israeli government to decide the location of Israel's capital city, not the Australian government. Israel selected Jerusalem. One Nation approved the former government's recognition of this fact and the decision to relocate Australia's embassy there. The Albanese government's decision is like Germany declaring Brisbane or Perth the capital of Australia instead of Canberra. It's confusing and clumsy. We're critical of the government's decision to switch Australia's embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv. Is this an entirely political decision to pacify Labor's radical left and gain Muslim votes in the coming Victorian election? Proscribed terrorist organisations like Hamas have already praised the government for this decision to change recognition of the Israeli capital. That the Israeli government was not even informed ahead of time is further indictment of the Albanese government's decision. One Nation considers the decision to be the Prime Minister's clumsy mistake and calls on him to reverse it and again recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

4:26 pm

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The government's decision to no longer recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a welcome move, but it is only a start. It is a simple reversal of an atrocious Liberal decision to align our country with the far-right Trump administration's position. This was indefensible in 2018 and it remains indefensible. We are back to the status quo. We need now to move forward with an approach that recognises the brutality and horror of the occupation and makes Australia an effective and impassioned supporter of Palestinian rights.

Australia must act to ensure an end to the Israeli occupation and violence. Australia must uphold international law and Palestinian human rights. Australia must acknowledge and call out what has been investigated and now reported by Amnesty International, amongst others—that Israel imposes a system that amounts to apartheid.

Outrage over the importance of consultation and careful consideration with respect to this is quite misleading. The Labor Party clearly opposed the recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel's capital publicly when it was announced in 2018. So, now they are in government, this change in Australia's position should not have been a huge revelation to anyone. Backlash to the decision really has the purpose of sending a signal to the government that any change when it comes to Australia pursuing a policy that is more accommodating of Palestinian rights will not be tolerated. The new Labor government should push back and pursue foreign policy based on the principles of human rights and justice and not be at the whim of those who have come to expect nothing but appeasement and pandering to the brutal and oppressive Israeli regime.

4:28 pm

Photo of Andrew BraggAndrew Bragg (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is no question that these are very sensitive issues, and they are the sorts of issues where Australia's multicultural tenor makes it very complicated. That's because we have very large parts of our community that feel strongly about these matters. These are people who are Australian and people who have an interest in our domestic affairs, but they see this as almost an extension of a domestic issue. I think it is important to place on record that it is a complex and sophisticated issue that requires real care and diligence if any government wants to wade into it in any form.

The first fact to put on the table is that since its inception Israel has been a great friend of Australia. Australia has stood with the State of Israel since its inception after the Second World War. Certainly this is not how we would treat a friend. The shambolic approach taken here really has, I think, let our friend down greatly.

The second fact here is that it isn't our role to choose the capital of another nation. I can't think of any other example where Australia would seek to impose its selection of a capital city on another country or jurisdiction, so I think it important that we stay in our lane on this issue. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It may also be the future capital of a Palestinian state. But the historical and contemporary reality is that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. For anyone who has visited the State of Israel, that would be an obvious fact to them.

Before the election, the Labor Party was quite clear in 'wanting to speak with one voice' on these matters, as said to the Australian Jewish News. It's been alleged that at various fundraising dinners the now Prime Minister went around and gave assurances that that would be the case, that there would be no change on these matters, certainly no change without consultation. We're all very aware that there was no consultation here, because this was a complete shambles.

There was some sort of a change on the website by a DFAT official, which was authorised or unauthorised—we don't know. Maybe we'll find out in coming weeks and months. That led to some media reporting, which was denied, and then assurances were given to various community members and groups. Then, apparently, there was a meeting of the cabinet, where it was formalised that we would be reversing our position—reversing our position of allowing another state, that is a friend of ours, to select their own capital city. That is their capital city. We're now saying, 'No, we don't believe that your selection of your capital city is valid.' That is the position we are now in.

Mr Josh Burns, the member for Macnamara, has said that it's insensitive, and I note that the comments made by the foreign minister are a concession that the process was a shambles. It is very disappointing that the government has decided to treat a great friend of Australia in this way. It is unusual to hear a Prime Minister of any country, let alone a friendly nation, speak of such great disappointment in the actions Australia has taken. This has been a very sorry chapter in our foreign relations.

I noted at the start of these remarks that it is a complicated and delicate matter, but we have to be realistic that this is the capital of Israel. They have selected that city, and we should respect that choice as we maintain our commitment to a future Palestinian state. I don't think that being realistic about our foreign relations in any way diminishes the future opportunity of there being a Palestinian state.

I conclude by agreeing with Senator Birmingham's statement that the Albanese government now needs to make amends for this completely embarrassing shambles and needs to fix the offence to Israel. They will always be a great friend of Australia.

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by Senator Birmingham be agreed to.