Topics:  Labor puts cart before horse and risks rewarding terrorists;  

07:35AM AEST
11 April 2024


Stephen Cenatiempo:  The Opposition says Labor’s plan to pre-emptively recognise a Palestinian state would reward Hamas for the October 7th terrorist attack on Israel and risk bipartisan consensus on foreign policy. The Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham, said Labor’s policy shift raise more questions than answers given Senator Wong’s declaration that Hamas had no role in a future Palestinian state. He joins us now. Simon. Good morning.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning. Stephen, good to be with you.


Stephen Cenatiempo: Is this really a policy shift, though? I mean, Labor’s left have for a long time been of this of this view. I would have thought.


Simon Birmingham: For a long time, for decades, it’s been a bipartisan policy in Australia to support a two-state solution, but a two-state solution that is a negotiated settlement upon agreed boundaries, where the different parties respect the right of the other to exist. And of course, that requires a security environment that gives stability and certainty for everyone for that to be achieved. So, that’s long been the bipartisan consensus, and it’s what the world has sought to strive for and former US presidents like Bill Clinton have worked very, very hard to try to achieve that, but of course have not been able to get there to date. But right now, we seem further away from that than ever, given the actions of Hamas from October 7th last year and the terrorist attacks that they ignited with such barbarity, killing more Jews on a single day than at any time since the Holocaust. For Penny Wong to now come out in what sounded like a speech suggesting there should be some sort of fast-tracking or earlier recognition of the Palestinian state without meeting those prior preconditions of it being part of a negotiated two-state settlement and solution that really is sending all of the wrong signals at the wrong time.


Stephen Cenatiempo: But isn’t that reading a little bit too much into her speech? I mean, the timing, of course, is questionable, but the essence of what she’s saying is what the bipartisan position has been from what you’re saying.


Simon Birmingham: Well Stephen, if the speech was nothing other than what had long been the consensus, one wonders why it became so newsworthy. The reality is, the speech was a very strong message from the Foreign Minister that sounded very much like she was leaning into Labor’s national platform, which is for the recognition of a Palestinian state without the types of conditions that have long existed in Australian government policy.


Stephen Cenatiempo: But isn’t it time to start having that discussion, though? I mean, given the current situation in Israel? Surely, we need to be talking about a time where we can come to some sort of resolution.


Simon Birmingham: Well, we just have so many steps before we can actually get to that. Stephen, let’s be realistic here. You cannot expect that there will be any type of two-state solution agreed upon without security as an absolute precondition for that. Now, the timing of Penny Wong’s speech was atrocious. Right now, over these days in Cairo, peace negotiators are trying to hammer out a ceasefire deal. While Penny Wong was giving this speech. The US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, was urging countries to put maximum pressure on Hamas to agree to release hostages so that a ceasefire could be achieved. For anybody who wants to see an end to the bloodshed that’s what is necessary for Hamas to feel pressure, to release the hostages, to be able to get a ceasefire breakthrough. This type of musing about whether there could be a fast-track towards a two-state solution, following just six months from Hamas’s attack and while they are refusing to release the hostages, sends all of the wrong signals and runs contrary to that type of urging from the US for countries to put that pressure on them.


Stephen Cenatiempo: Simon, there’s no question that the current government has been less than convincing or consistent in its messages since October 7th. But how much impact or influence does a speech by an Australian foreign minister really have on this situation?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I don’t think any of us should confuse ourselves about the extent of Australian Government influence singularly or directly on the conflict. But we are seen as a valued friend to Israel. And importantly, we have significant communities of interest in Australia as well. The Australian Jewish community was told prior to the last election and reassured by Anthony Albanese’s frontbenchers and key candidates that there would be no difference in Australian policy under a Labor government compared with the coalition government. But since then, Labor has changed the way in which the Israeli capital is recognised by the Australian government. They have changed our voting record at the United Nations. They’ve doubled funding to UNRWA and of course, since the conflict, we’ve seen these various instances of weakness in terms of voting for a ceasefire resolution that didn’t mention Hamas at the United Nations or now these musings about some type of fast-track towards a two-state solution or towards the potentially unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. All of which, sadly, is seen by Australia’s Jewish communities as letting them down at a time when they’re facing record levels of antisemitism and feeling most at need of support.


Stephen Cenatiempo: So, Simon, is this, as Greg Sheridan says in The Australian this morning about shoring up votes in the Islamic community in western Sydney and in parts of Melbourne?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I can only let others hypothesize as to what Labor’s motivations may be. But the Labor Party clearly feels pressure from the Greens in terms of their stance. They feel pressure in terms of their party membership. We can see that play out at their national conferences. Remembering that the Labor National Conference last year, it was just in the days leading up to that the government decided to change the language used around how it describes the Palestinian territories, calling them now occupied and illegal. And of course, all of that plays into the type of factional behind the scenes negotiations within the Labor Party and those pressure points around Greens voters and other voters that they’re seeking to win over. The Coalition is clear in our position. It is about continuing to be clear about Israel’s right to self-defence, the need to see Hamas defeated, the need to see Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure removed, the tunnel networks and otherwise the urgent, immediate release of hostages. And that can provide for a security environment where from there you can get enough stabilisation, enough reform to be able to have long term discussions around a two-state solution or some other enduring solution that respects the rights and recognises the rights legitimately of both Israelis and Palestinians.


Stephen Cenatiempo: What more, if anything, can Australia do to try and bring an earlier resolution to the conflict?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Australia should be absolutely steadfast in terms of our expectations about Hamas releasing the hostages and having the terrorist infrastructure disabled. And we should be clear about that in all of our engagements with regional partners, particularly regional countries like Qatar, who have very significant roles to play as well as of course, we should be seeking to close off every opportunity for Iran to be able to fund and promote Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthi rebels and the type of extremist activities. And alongside all of that, of course, we should have expectations to see humanitarian aid flow freely, to see that type of respect for international law that is important. And when we can see security, when we can see stability, we should have clear expectations on all parties, Israel and the negotiators, on behalf of the Palestinian peoples, about engaging in good faith to try to then get some type of long-term settlement that is so far evaded the world, so tragically and most tragically for the Israeli people and the Palestinian people.


Stephen Cenatiempo: Simon, I appreciate your time this morning.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Stephen. My pleasure.