Topics: Parliamentary delegation in Israel; Albanese Government keeps changing Australia’s stance and undermining Israel’s position;
14 December 2023
Lisa Millar: Well, the federal opposition is calling for Australia to step up its support for Israel after Australia voted in favour of a non-binding ceasefire resolution at the United Nations. The Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Birmingham, is in Jerusalem and joins us now. Good morning to you. You’re the leading this delegation, aren’t you? This cross-party delegation to the Middle East. What have you learned so far on the ground?
Simon Birmingham: Hello, Lisa. Good morning to your viewers and good evening from Jerusalem. We have had an opportunity to inspect some of the areas where Hamas undertook its horrific and barbaric attacks on October 7th. The kibbutzes, the towns to meet with some of the survivors, as well as the families and some of the victims, and to understand more fully the horrors that occurred there in terms of the rapes of women, the sexual assaults, the beheadings, the targeting of civilians, babies, children, the elderly, very deliberately by Hamas, as well as to have the chance to speak with government officials, members of the Israeli Knesset, members of their foreign affairs ministry and other government officials, academics, representatives of the Palestinian Authority, and academics who specialise in relation to Palestinian matters and are of Palestinian background. So we have sought to get a diverse mix of views so far as you possibly can. Whilst of course the war itself is occurring in Gaza, but also to understand the nature of the threat, not only that Hamas posed when it undertook those attacks on October 7th, but that it poses now in relation to the war that is happening in Gaza and the very sophisticated defences, particularly underground, that Hamas has managed to build.
Lisa Millar: Yeah, we were just looking at some pictures then that you’d posted on social media. More than 18,000 Palestinians have now been killed in this war. What is wrong with voting for a ceasefire in the UN?
Simon Birmingham: Every loss of innocent life is, of course, a tragedy, and any of us who have seen the footage, be it of the horrors that occurred on October 7th, or of children and other innocent individuals in Gaza facing human suffering, bleed and feel the pain for that. But we also have to face up to the reality. Hamas is a violent terrorist organisation who deliberately targeted individuals, civilians in their attacks, did so in the most barbaric ways and have said publicly, given the chance, they would do so again. And so the risk of voting for cease fire or calling for ceasefire is that Hamas just uses that time to rearm, to regroup and to repeat those horrors all over again and the cycle of violence simply continues as a result of that. The only ceasefire that really is a sustainable one is one where Hamas releases the hostages they continue to hold. Hold illegally, these were civilians taken hostage against their will. As well as to lay down their arms and surrender their terrorist leadership and operatives who continue to pose an ongoing threat and a threat that will be realised if they are allowed to regroup in a way that a ceasefire without them undertaking those conditions would enable.
Lisa Millar: Yeah, you said sustainable ceasefire. That was the language that was used in the joint statement from Anthony Albanese and the leaders of New Zealand and Canada. Pretty rare to see that statement from the three leaders that was put out just hours before the UN vote. Do you agree with the words that were used with that statement?
Simon Birmingham: We didn’t really quibble with the statement. It said many, many things and in some ways probably tried to say too many things to too many different people. But we absolutely object to the way the Albanese government instructed Australia to vote at the United Nations. The UN motion that passed calling for ceasefire without even mentioning Hamas was a woefully inadequate motion. And it shows a weakness in the government’s position and never a weakness in Australia’s position…
Lisa Millar: Well, it did support an amendment, though. It did support the amendment, which was then defeated. It did want Hamas and those attacks included in the resolution. That was the Australian intent, and there were 152 other countries that then voted for the final resolution. So, Australia was hardly on its own in supporting it.
Simon Birmingham: We may not have been on our own, but when that amendment was defeated, when we couldn’t have a motion that actually successfully conveyed condemnation of Hamas, acknowledgement of the horrors and the need for them to be removed as an ongoing terrorist threat in this region, then we should not have voted for a resolution that was absent and missing all of those key aspects. That ultimately is the weakness in the Albanese Government’s position and the position that they put Australia in. This is not easy. It’s not easy to say that you’re going to stand up and back a continuance of a war where Hamas has put innocent Palestinians on the front line as human shields, where they have dug in a tunnel network that is bigger than the New York subway system, that, on some reports, goes down some six stories underground. That’s not used for innocent Palestinians to get bomb shelter or protection during the war. It’s used for Hamas fighters to be able to protect themselves and then ambush Israeli soldiers. Missiles continue to be fired. Israeli soldiers continue to die. This is not a one-sided war that is being undertaken in that regard. And ultimately, that is because Hamas has entrenched itself to fight this war and is using Palestinian civilians as victims in this. And their best future is one which doesn’t have Hamas, just as the best future for Israelis is one without Hamas.
Lisa Millar: Just finally and we’re running out of time. I want to ask if you then agree with the comments from Andrew Hastie, your colleague who put on social media that basically there should be no ceasefire until the job is done. Now, there, you know, what does that mean? What does that mean? Does that mean no matter the civilian toll?
Simon Birmingham: Well, that means that Hamas should be disabled as a military instrument, a terrorist instrument and a governance instrument in Gaza. Removing Hamas requires Israel to be able to continue to wage a campaign. They should wage that campaign, absolutely recognising international law. But that law doesn’t mean that civilians don’t lose their lives. Tragically, civilians lose their lives in every single war and that is where this gets hard…
Lisa Millar: But what is the limit? Simon Birmingham.
Simon Birmingham: Well, the limit is one judged under international law on the basis of the military application you are applying and how carefully you’re applying that, recognising that civilian casualties can and almost always will be a part of that. We would all wish that weren’t the…
Lisa Millar: Given the US President…Yeah. Okay. Sorry. Carry on.
Simon Birmingham: But Lisa, the point is, if a ceasefire just happens and Hamas gets the chance to rearm, regroup, they will repeat the same type of horrors and we will be all the way back to the start again in terms of seeing massive targeting of innocent civilians, massive loss of Jewish life and yet more conflict continuing to go on. So yes, we do need to see the job finished. It needs to be done in as careful a targeted way as possible and that is certainly part of the discussions that we have had with the Israeli government to seek to understand how the Israeli Defence Force do target, and to make sure that a message around regard for international law and the need for humanitarian supplies is heard from an Australian perspective, conveyed to Israel. But a simple ceasefire, a simple walking away, just gives Hamas the opportunity to repeat the horrors again and again into the future, as they have said they plan to do.
Lisa Millar: Simon Birmingham, appreciate your time from Jerusalem. Thank you.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you. Lisa.