Topics: Israel raises travel warning for Australia; Albanese’s lack of leadership; Detainees arrested; 

11:05AM AEDT
Tuesday, 5 December 2023


Tony Jones:  Joining us on the line now is Simon Birmingham, Liberal Party Senator for South Australia and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. He’s issued a scathing release about this. Good morning to you, Senator.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Tony. Thanks for the opportunity.


Tony Jones:  Well, I wish we weren’t talking about it, to be honest, because it’s a pretty sad state of affairs, isn’t it, when Israel has basically told its citizens, don’t come here.


Simon Birmingham: Tony, it is deeply distressing. Australia is a country that was one of the world leaders for survivors of the holocaust to come and resettle here, and we have provided a safe, happy, welcoming home for so many Jewish Australians and of course, visiting Jewish people and visiting Israeli citizens over the decades since those terrible events of the holocaust. So, to now face the situation where Israel has provided this upgrade in travel warning, saying there is a potential threat for Jewish people in Australia, discouraging travel or urging people to shorten their stay and to take precautions. It’s a real stain on our country, and it’s one that we have to work to remove as quickly as possible.


Tony Jones: Well, and according to your release, the one man who can do that is the Prime Minister.


Simon Birmingham: We need to see leadership from Anthony Albanese. Let’s reflect over the events since 7th October, where we saw the shameful protests on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. We saw the intimidatory protests that went into Caulfield in Melbourne or in motorcades through population centres in Sydney, known for having higher levels of Jewish populations. Then we had the absolute shameful act of people protesting at the hotel where we had relatives of hostages and murder victims staying there. All of these incidents, along with the increased reporting of antisemitism, show just the scale of problem that has emerged in Australia. Mr. Albanese needs to step up. Peter Dutton called some weeks back for him to call an urgent National Cabinet meeting to address antisemitism. That hasn’t happened, but National Cabinet is meeting in the next couple of days. This should be on the agenda in terms of how we address it. A uniform statement from all leaders across Australia, the education that’s required and of course, the policing response necessary to ensure these types of protests no longer take on an intimidatory type.


Tony Jones: Well, that National Cabinet meeting that you talk about in a couple of days, I’m not entirely sure whether you’re privy to the agenda or not, but surely, surely this would need to be on there and pretty high up too I would have thought.


Simon Birmingham: Absolutely should be and I wish I did know, and I wish the Prime Minister had confirmed. In fact, I wish he had taken Peter Dutton’s advice weeks and weeks ago now, after the events in Caulfield and in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, where we called on the government to convene the National Cabinet at that time to deal with this issue. Shamefully, he’s let it drag on. We’ve seen further incidents. Further reports of antisemitism, real concern in Australia’s Jewish community, where people now don’t feel safe to wear religious garments in public or school uniforms in public. And this, of course, is not the way it should be in Australia. We need to make sure we rectify that for the sake of Jewish Australians and people who are here, as well as for our international reputation, which has now taken a big whack thanks to this new travel advisory from the Israeli government.


Tony Jones: I suppose the thing here is, and this is this is sort of some of the feedback I’m getting at the moment is that we are a very fractured sort of a country at the moment. So we’ve got this happening. But this is also on the back end of the voice referendum.


Simon Birmingham: Well, there’s a real need to make sure that Australians are safe and that Australians are brought together. We’re dealing at present with the fallout of the government’s mishandling of the High Court decision around detained individuals who pose a threat to Australians. In my home state, tragically, a woman has faced a sexual assault or an indecent assault at the hands of one of those people released by the government following that High Court ruling. When in fact they should have exercised much more care and caution, waited for the statement of reasons from the court, and then acted judiciously in terms of the type of legislation that could be brought in as quickly as possible, as detailed as possible. But off the back of those statement of reasons, just as we have called for a type of preventative detention regime, which finally, the government is legislating this week, but had been called for by the Opposition for some time, and keeping Australians safe, keeping them secure, bringing them together is so important on all of these fronts.


Tony Jones: Yeah, absolutely. There was some polling done over the past few days, certainly polling released over the past few days that would have your side of politics up and about. I’m sure one of the observations was that the Prime Minister is regarded as a beta male. Had you heard of that expression before?


Simon Birmingham: It’s not one that’s in my vocab. I’ve got to say, but-


Tony Jones: Is he a beta male? Is Anthony Albanese a beta male? I mean, someone who. Well, just to paraphrase, the true definition might be deemed as soft and lacks leadership.


Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s the absence of leadership that I think is concerning so many Australians, whether it’s on these issues. As I said, it was Peter Dutton who called for the National Cabinet meeting to be convened weeks ago, but also encouraged the Prime Minister on one of his overseas trips to actually show solidarity with Israel and visit. They haven’t done either of those things, and the government doesn’t have a clear plan or any leadership when it comes to tackling cost of living. They have been responsive to the requests of the opposition. When it’s come to the High Court ruling around individuals who pose a threat to Australia. I mean, it’s a situation right now where the type of challenges and crises we’re facing as a country. The Opposition is providing more leadership under Mr. Dutton and greater suggestions for how the country moves forward than the government or Mr. Albanese seem to be capable of doing.


Tony Jones: We’re not getting ahead of yourself here, Senator?


Simon Birmingham: Well, no, we are still firmly the Opposition and winning elections is always hard, but it is a ridiculous situation. I look back with the first tranche of legislation in response to the High Court’s ruling that the Government brought to the parliament at breakfast time, they released the legislation saying this is the toughest we can bring forward. By lunchtime, they’d accepted six suggested amendments from Peter Dutton. I mean, if it weren’t so serious it would be comical, but it’s actually a real tragedy for the nation that they are having to be led on all of these journeys rather than having the leadership the country needs.


Tony Jones: Yeah. All right. Well, thanks for your time this morning and we do appreciate it. And we’ll certainly watch with interest that National Cabinet meeting and just see how high up the agenda this call is by the Israeli authorities to the Israeli people not to come to Australia. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs, especially as I said in the introduction, it ranks us alongside the likes of Russia and Brazil. So, Senator, thanks very much for your time.


Simon Birmingham: Indeed. Thank you very much, Tony.


Tony Jones: Thank you, Senator Simon Birmingham joining us there.