Topics: Labor’s shambolic handling on Israel capital decision; Industrial relations bill changes; BOM rebranding;

08:05AM AEST
19 October 2022


Madeleine Morris:  The Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham joins me now from Adelaide. Good morning, Senator Birmingham. What do you expect the fallout of this to be?


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Madeleine. Look, there are a couple of concerns out of this. One is that the government has not provided any compelling reasons as to why it is in Australia’s national interest to take this decision at this time. It’s a decision that has been welcomed by terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, yet has been condemned by the Israeli Prime Minister Lapid. Yet there is also then the shambolic handling of this decision. The government went to the last election saying it was on a unity ticket and there was no difference between the Labor Party and the Coalition over matters in relation to Israel. They went to the last election providing that reassurance to Australia’s Jewish communities. On Monday when information leaked from DFAT this decision was coming. They denied it, Minister Wong’s office denied it, and yet then hours later they made this decision. They made it on a Jewish holy day, insulting to so many people who are concerned about this type of issue to make it at that sort of time. And they’ve made it just two weeks out from the Israeli elections, doing it at a very sensitive time in Israeli politics, completely unnecessarily so, given the government can’t provide any compelling reason as to why they’ve done it, let alone why they’ve done it now.


Madeleine Morris: I mean, it does put us back in step with the majority of the rest of like-minded countries, including the UK. The US is one country which under Donald Trump did make a decision, we followed on from that. You know, we’re not exactly out of step with the rest of the world here.


Simon Birmingham: President Biden has not overturned the decision that was made around the same time. There’s the substance of this issue and in the substantive sense. West Jerusalem under essentially all propositions for peace and a two-state solution remains part of Israel. It’s essentially the functioning capital for much of the Israeli government. When the decision was made, it was very clear that from Australia’s perspective, East Jerusalem needed to be negotiated in terms of its status as part of a final two-state solution. And that is what we continue to aspire to see. But then there is the fact that this has been handled in such a poor and a shambolic way in which Australian voters were misled prior to the last election, in which Jewish and Israeli community groups were not consulted properly, the Israeli government was not consulted or informed properly, and the announcement was made at a sensitive time, both on the Jewish calendar as well as in the timing of the Israeli elections. And the government really does now need to put effort and work into seeking to repair a damaged relationship with the Israeli government.


Madeleine Morris: Is it the sort of thing that the coalition would reverse should you get back into government?


Simon Birmingham: Well, that proposition is at least a couple of years away until the next election. So, we think this is an unnecessary decision, the wrong decision to have made at this time. We would not have made this decision. Whether we will reconsider that position in the future is something, of course, that we would look closer to the next election cognisant of events as they unfold. We of course hope and encourage parties to achieve an outcome that leaves a lasting, peaceful two state settlement between Israel and the Palestinian people. And that’s what we would hope to see as soon as possible and so all of those considerations in any advances there would need to be factored in at the time of any future decision.


Madeleine Morris: Okay. So just on that, though, before I move on to other things. I mean, Penny Wong says this is a final status issue to be resolved by negotiation on the way to a two-state solution. There’s no change in your view, that there should still be a two-state solution in that area?


Simon Birmingham: Indeed, the Australian position on both sides of politics in terms of desire to see a final settlement that establishes a two-state solution is a firmly held bipartisan one. The decision that was taken previously in relation to West Jerusalem was in no way impeding that. It was consistent with all likely outcomes of a two-state solution. East Jerusalem is an area subject to negotiations and where, of course, we would hope to see those negotiations advance in any way possible over the next couple of years.


Madeleine Morris: Can I just ask you about some information that has come out about the industrial relations bill, changes to that in the last 24 hours or so? Pay secrecy clauses are to be banned under that. Will that get your support?


Simon Birmingham: Sorry. Madeleine, I just didn’t quite catch the question there.


Madeleine Morris: No, we always seem to have quite a busy connection with you. Unfortunately, Simon Birmingham was always busy in downtown Adelaide, whenever we speak to you, just asking about the changes to industrial relations legislation, are you supportive of banning pay secrecy clauses?


Simon Birmingham: Look, the legislation itself, we’ll have to see how it is structured and presented in relation to those aspects and all of the other factors. We have real concerns about the drive towards areas of essentially collective bargaining that Labor is seeking to pursue in the way in which they are presenting some of these possible changes. But we haven’t seen the detail of the legislation and so we will work through that. But the real test for the Government is that they claimed out of their jobs summit that they were getting consensus and support across business. And we’ll be looking to test with the business community whether they’ve actually achieved that consensus or whether this is as it appears in some elements to just be providing what the union movement wanted without consideration of the needs, particularly of small businesses and how they could be impacted by some of these reforms.


Madeleine Morris: Just on to another issue that we’ve been talking about today. That’s the rebranding or the change in nomenclature for the Bureau of Meteorology. Are you concerned that it spent $70,000 asking us not to call it the BOM?


Simon Birmingham: It seems a little wasteful. You know, many people call it the bureau. Many people call it the BOM. I don’t think it matters. And I don’t think they should be spending money seeking to sway public opinion one way or the other.


Madeleine Morris: Okay. Simon Birmingham, thanks for joining us from Adelaide.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks Madeleine, my pleasure.