Topics: Parliamentary delegation in Israel;

11:05AM ACDT
12 December 2023

Graeme Goodings: Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Birmingham is leading a cross party delegation to Israel at the moment, meeting with Palestinian and Israeli officials. He joined me earlier this morning from Tel Aviv. Senator, what is the purpose of the delegation to Israel?

Simon Birmingham: Well, good morning, Graeme. Obviously, the tragic events of October 7th were the real prompt for this. This was where the peace that had existed to a degree across Israel and Gaza was broken with the bloody and brutal attacks that Hamas launched, killing more Jewish people on a single day than at any time since the Holocaust. In response to this, we have seen many countries around the world indicate their support for Israel, its right to exist, its right to self-defence, its right to remove the terrorist threat that is Hamas. And importantly, this parliamentary delegation that I am pleased to be part of, and particularly as the Shadow Foreign Minister, I seized the opportunity of the invitation to be able to demonstrate Australia’s support, to make clear our view that terrorism must be defeated and the type of threat that is intolerable to live alongside of must be removed.

Graeme Goodings: This was a cross party delegation. Were there any members of the federal government?

Simon Birmingham: There are two Labor backbenchers as part of this delegation, and I welcome their participation. They’re both from Victoria, where Australia has a more significant Jewish community and where that community has felt, sadly, the rise in anti-Semitism and some of the intimidatory targeting that is just so horrific that has been undertaken. Now there are four members of the Liberal Party participating as well. I would wish that there was a government minister as part of this delegation or more importantly that there had been a government minister or the Prime Minister on one of his many overseas trips, had made a quick visit as part of that to Israel earlier. We have seen dozens upon dozens of presidents, prime ministers, foreign and defence ministers from most of our like-minded countries visit Israel. Australia is out of step by not having done so, but nonetheless, we are making clear through this visit the support that exists across the political spectrum from Australia.

Graeme Goodings: The Opposition has been critical of the Prime Minister for making so many overseas trips. And yet you’re saying he should have taken a trip to Israel?

Simon Birmingham: We made clear that we thought of one of his two trips to the United States, or his trip to China, that he should have made the time to be able to extend that trip or vary that trip to be able to go to Israel. But if that genuinely wasn’t going to be possible, then that’s what he had a foreign minister for what he has a defence minister for. And it’s how those people have been deployed by so many other partner nations from around the world.

Graeme Goodings: Have you visited the occupied Palestinian territories?

Simon Birmingham: So, the Palestinian territories are on do not travel advisory warnings at present, and we are seeking to be respectful of those. But I will on Tuesday and our time here, in which it will very shortly be, be meeting with representatives of the Palestinian Authority. It is important to try to hear different perspectives and that is part of the priority I put in terms of the scheduling for this trip, to make sure that we heard and had the chance to speak with Israeli government officials, but also those from the Palestinian Authority, to see and hear where possible, from some of those directly affected. During the course of Monday, we visited one of the kibbutzes that is just a kilometre or so from Gaza and where more than 60 people were killed, close to another 20 were taken hostage, many of whom, some 66 days later, continued to be held hostage by Hamas. As well as visiting the town of Sderot, where more than 20 police officers were killed and targeted, along with more than 50 civilians. And so, the scale of impact on some of these towns close to the Gaza border was huge. But of course, any loss of innocent lives is terrible and tragic, and we will be making clear expectations that Israel needs to act with regard for international law and support the access of humanitarian assistance, whilst having the support to finish the job, because to continue to live alongside Hamas with the capabilities of built up, would only be to invite further attacks in the future and see the tragic loss of life repeated over and over again.

Graeme Goodings: A lot of Australians have expressed their concern that, you know, we shouldn’t be siding with Palestine or Israel.

Simon Birmingham: Well, we should absolutely support the removal of Hamas, who initiated the attacks of October 7th. Deliberately targeted innocent women, children, babies, the elderly, beheaded them, raped them, engaged in the most brutal of attacks, taking out more than 1,200 people on that day and taking hundreds of hostages. Close to 400 initially held following those attacks. There is no place for that type of evil ideology, that it seeks to kill people because they are Jews. That should not be forgotten that there is a view in Hamas that Israel should not exist, and that Jewish people should be killed and slaughtered in such brutal ways. It is very clear in those perspectives as to whose side we should be on and that is the side of removing Hamas. I tell you, if the same thing had happened to Australia, I’m pretty sure I know what Australian attitudes would be towards the removal of that type of threat right along our border.

Graeme Goodings: Senator, are you happy with the level of government support for Israel?

Simon Birmingham: Well, as I said I believe that the government should have acted sooner and should have sent at least a senior minister as a demonstration of support. They should be clear in their language as I am seeking to be. As I said, it does entail being clear as well that all loss of lives are tragic and you cannot not be impacted in terms of seeing the scenes and the damage and the loss of life that is occurring in Gaza, where children are affected, where families are affected. But we also cannot see that as being in any way equivalent to the deliberate targeting that took place on October 7th of innocent civilians and others, relative to Israel’s provision of warnings into the different communities of Gaza and the targeting of military capabilities there to remove Hamas’s huge and extensive tunnel network. There are different armouries that continue to attempt to fire rockets into Israel, continue to fight back and let it not be seen that there is only one side now fighting this war. There is still significant military activity coming from Hamas, as it seeks to retain its ability to act as a military and terrorist organisation committed to the killing of Jews.

Graeme Goodings: That was Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Birmingham, who’s leading a cross party delegation to Israel, meeting with Palestinian and Israeli officials.