Topics: Labor’s shambolic handling on Israel capital decision;

10:35AM AWST
19 October 2022


Liam Bartlett:  Joining us this morning is the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Simon Birmingham. Senator, good morning.


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


Liam Bartlett: Nice to talk to you, Senator. Look, why would you do this? Why would the government make this decision? This was formally recognised back in 2018, so it’s almost four years ago. Your old boss Scott Morrison made that change. Why now?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Liam, that is a very fair question, and it’s one that the Government has failed to answer as to why on earth it is in Australia’s national interest to make this decision at this time. The Government has simply done so in a manner that has been quite shambolic in terms of the way that it’s handled the process, any engagement or lack thereof with Israel, with other key stakeholders. The fact that they made the announcement of all days on a Jewish holy day and they’ve done so just two weeks ahead of elections in Israel, essentially the most sensitive timing possible for what is a sensitive issue in Israel. And so it is quite baffling and has been handled appallingly.


Liam Bartlett: Well, it’s also the process, Senator, in which it’s been done, because it appears to have gone up on DFAT’s website before the government have put out an official statement. So, I mean, does anybody in that department know what’s going on? How does that sort of thing happen?


Simon Birmingham: There are many questions the government has to answer about why they’ve done this, how they see it in the national interest and how they’ve got the process around it so wrong. The Labor Party and the Albanese Government went to the last election indicating that they were on a unity ticket with the Liberal and National parties about the positions around Israel. They gave every reassurance to Australia’s Jewish community and others concerned about these issues that there would not be any change in positions. Then there was this leak out of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on their website at the start of this week. Quickly, it was denied by Penny Wong’s office, the Foreign Minister’s office, who said there had been no change in the Government’s position. And yet then hours later she comes out and announces the change without even having had the courtesy of contacting the Israeli government. It’s quite an extraordinary bungle. It’s put us in a position where, as you’ve acknowledged, the Israeli Prime Minister himself has criticised this, about the only people internationally who have welcomed it, are the terrorist organisations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.


Liam Bartlett: Well, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? I guess I’m asking you a rhetorical question because, you know, you didn’t make this decision, you know, why would you do it? Why would you pull on a blue like this? I think. You mentioned national interest. How can it be in our national interest to have an argument with a close ally over something we needn’t have an argument over.


Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s demonstrably not in our national interest to have done this and certainly not to have done it in such a shambolic way at this time. In terms of why the Labor Party and the Anthony Albanese government have done so. The only rationale is that there has always been a bit of a movement within the left wing of the Labor Party and that there must be some factional deal or other pressure point that has caused them to move in this way at this time. But it’s been appallingly handled and has now created a situation where Prime Minister Albanese should be picking up the phone to Israeli Prime Minister Lapid and at the very least apologising for the bungled handling of this.


Liam Bartlett: Do you think that’s what it is? Is that at the heart of it? Is it Labor’s previous connections with Palestinian authorities or others sort of pulling the strings? Because it is in the end, I mean, it’s against sovereignty, isn’t it? Senator Birmingham. I mean, it’s their sovereign right to figure out which is their capital city.


Simon Birmingham: Well, it is now, of course, there are sensitive issues around the precise borders of Israel, the wish of the Palestinian people for a Palestinian state and how that is negotiated. But under any and all proposals that have been put forward, they basically always have West Jerusalem identified as Israeli territory. It is the functional capital for much of Israel’s government. It is certainly what Israel expects and sees as the place and seat for their government. East Jerusalem, we had previously identified was territory to be subject to negotiations between Israel and those aspiring to see a Palestinian state. And we continue to believe that it should be subject to those negotiations and to a final outcome from them to achieve a peaceful two-state solution. But that doesn’t change the reality in relation to West Jerusalem. And what is the position that President Joe Biden has continued to recognise from a US perspective and not gone down the path that Anthony Albanese has?


Liam Bartlett: Yes, from their position as well. Another ally. Well, look, good luck with that because it appears your Government counterpart, the Minister Penny Wong, is not for turning on this. She seems pretty set in a ways, doesn’t she?


Simon Birmingham: Well, she does and the Government has now made this announcement. The question is really how will they repair the damage caused by the way they have made the announcement, by the bungling of it and whether this is the end of any change to policies in relation to Israel by this government or whether there is more that they failed to tell people about pre-election that they now intend to pursue.


Liam Bartlett: Senator, thanks for your time this morning. Good to catch up with you.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks Liam, my pleasure.