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

07:48AM AEDT
10 April 2024


Mark Levy:  Well, Penny Wong’s made a big call. The foreign minister has indicated Australia could recognise a Palestinian state as part of a push to end the Israel-Hamas war. She says a two-state solution is the only hope for peace, and that recognising a Palestinian state would undermine Hamas. But not everyone is convinced Penny Wong is making the right call. The Opposition says Labor is putting the cart before the horse, and then in doing so, they risk rewarding terrorists. Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham says the suggestion is downright dangerous. He says Labor should instead be applying maximum pressure on Hamas to immediately and unconditionally release all hostages, and that the Albanese Government must guarantee not to undertake recognition while Hamas still commands the capacity to attack. The Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham, joins me on the line. Mr. Birmingham, good morning to you.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Mark. Good to be with you.


Mark Levy: Well, what’s your response to Penny Wong’s comments? Do you think there’s any way a two-state solution would be possible given the current situation?


Simon Birmingham: Mark, it’s very long-standing Australian policy to support, ultimately a two-state solution, one that is negotiated between the parties and one that is along agreed boundaries and borders for a future Palestinian state as well as the state of Israel. But a precondition for any successful two-state solution has to be the security of both states, and that the parties recognise and respect the right of each other to even exist. Right now, under Hamas, that we saw launch these barbaric attacks just six months ago, and they don’t recognise Israel’s right to exist. They are committed to the destruction of the State of Israel. And of course, they initiated and started this war with the most horrific attacks that killed more Jews on a single day than at any other time since the Holocaust. That is why it is very dangerous and very concerning to be talking about some type of fast tracking or pre-emptive recognition of a Palestinian state, rather than sticking to the long-standing bipartisan policy of having a negotiated approach along agreed boundaries.


Mark Levy: Let’s repeat the point there are still hostages, under the control of Hamas. So, while it’s all well and good to push towards a two-state solution, we still have people being held hostage.


Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s absolutely right, Mark, and it is completely the wrong priority and message that Penny Wong and the Albanese Government are sending right now. For all of us who wish to see a ceasefire, who wish to see the bloodshed end, what we should be seeing and doing is putting maximum pressure on Hamas to unconditionally and immediately release the up to 130 hostages who are still being held, and to agree to surrender terrorist infrastructure and capabilities in Gaza. That would provide the basis for a lasting ceasefire, that would provide the grounds where everyone would expect Israel to lay down arms in terms of their fight to rescue those hostages, their fight to eliminate the Hamas terrorists from Gaza. That would be a game changer to get that type of outcome. Instead, we have a situation where US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has just said overnight, at the same time as Penny Wong was heading in the wrong direction, that Hamas is being uncooperative in ceasefire talks. Well, that’s hardly surprising if they think that their unwillingness to cooperate is actually getting them progress in terms of the attitudes of other nations around the world.


Mark Levy: And you’re a very brave person believing anything that comes out of the mouths of those with Hamas. Now, have you been able to ascertain, Simon, why Penny Wong is so sympathetic to the Palestinian cause? Is there some sort of political motivation behind this?


Simon Birmingham: Look, it’s really for her and the Albanese Government to explain why this, why now, when we should be putting maximum pressure on Hamas instead. Whether it is driven by a desire to curry votes that could otherwise go to the Greens, or what the motivations of the Labor Party are, are matters for Labor. But our principles as a Liberal-National coalition are very, very clear. We respect Israel’s right to self-defence. Imagine if it had been Australia that had seen terrorists invade our country and slaughter 1200 women, children, babies, young people at a music festival. Let’s not forget what happened six months ago on October 7th. These were deliberate, horrific, heinous crimes that were undertaken. Of course, we would all wish for the terrible bloodshed that’s happening in Gaza to be able to come to an end. We all want to see maximum humanitarian support occur. We all grieve for all those innocent lives lost, including both the Australian killed on October 7th by Hamas, as well as the tragic death most recently last week of the humanitarian worker and convoy there. But none of that changes the moral equation that you have a terrorist organisation in Hamas, recognised as such here in Australia, and who have no interest in peace and continue to fight on a daily basis against the very existence of Israel.


Mark Levy: Just on the Australian aid worker, Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong are demanding answers about the death of Zomi Frankcom. The PM says Australia expects full accountability for the death. Do you think the government has done the right thing in calling for transparency from the Israeli military?


Simon Birmingham: We do back there being proper investigation, accountability and transparency from Israel. Of course, that is what we should expect. But let’s again recollect, as I said before, there are two Australians who have died in this conflict, one deliberately killed at the hands of Hamas on October 7th last year. And of course, another, last week, killed tragically by a mistake by Israel. Israel has owned the fact that it was a mistake. They’ve apologised for the mistake; they are undertaking investigations. They’ve stood down military officers. Hamas remains committed to fighting and to killing.


Mark Levy: One last one, if I can, Simon. And it relates to Japan being admitted to AUKUS. Its participation will be under Pillar II for advanced technology partnerships. This is good news, isn’t it?


Simon Birmingham: It is. Absolutely. When Scott Morrison and all of us in the previous Liberal-National government established AUKUS, we set up two streams. Pillar I was getting the nuclear -powered submarines. That’s a really intensive US, UK, Australia partnership and cooperation. Pillar II is a whole range of other advanced technologies artificial intelligence, robotics, other undersea capabilities. A lot of different type of high-tech defence capabilities and where we can work with those US and UK partners, but also others who share our values and share our interests, that’s great. And in this day and age, Japan has really the same type of strategic interest, concerns and outlook well and truly that we do in terms of the stability of our region.


Mark Levy: Absolutely. I mean, we’ve got former prime ministers like Paul Keating criticising AUKUS. AUKUS is backward, but surely even he would concede that now Japan’s involvement changes everything. It makes AUKUS a global alliance grounded in the in the Asia Pacific. Simon, I appreciate your time, as always. And we’ll let you get back to it. Thanks so much.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Mark. My pleasure.