Topic:  Israel, Voice

07:50AM AEST
Wednesday, 9 August 2023



Michael Rowland:  Back to politics now with the Federal Government is set to strengthen its objection to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel, in a move which has prompted questions from the Opposition. The Government has decided now to call those territories ‘occupied’. The Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham, joins us now from Parliament House. Senator Birmingham, good morning to you. What does the Coalition think of this move?


Simon Birmingham: Well Michael, this move is against what the Government committed to, particularly to Australia’s Jewish communities before the last election, where they were very clear in terms of different Government spokespeople and individuals saying that there would be no change in relation to Australia’s stance towards Israel. And it comes at a time where you can’t help but be cynical that there is, the drivers behind this are about factional deals ahead of Labor’s national conference next week to try to head off debate on the conference floor about the potential recognition of a Palestinian state and to try to achieve some sort of backroom factional deal rather than any drivers that are about trying to achieve a lasting two-state solution amongst agreed borders that is sustainable for the future.


Michael Rowland: Haven’t bodies like the UN Security Council repeatedly described those Israeli settlements as illegal?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Australia’s position and that of many other nations has been to recognise that these are no doubt disputed territories; that the advancement of the settlements has been unhelpful in terms of trying to advance the cause towards a two-state solution. But ultimately, we have had a consistent position here. Regrettably, the Labor Government now has taken a position – not driven by any events that have occurred in recent days outside of Australia – but driven by the demands of how they manage their internal differences ahead of a national conference next week and that’s not the way to go about making foreign policy.


Michael Rowland: As you know, I mean there’s a big difference between the words ‘disputed’ and ‘illegal’. So the Coalition view is that these settlements are not illegal?


Simon Birmingham: Well, these are disputed territories. Now they are disputed territories where, what we want to see and what we have long been clear in our support of, is that there is a negotiated lasting settlement, achieving a two-state solution where a future Palestinian state can live in peace alongside Israel, and can do so with agreed borders and territories. Now, that requires negotiations, and we don’t think that prejudging those negotiations helps to achieve that outcome.


Michael Rowland: Was it wrong with the former government in this area to shift the emphasis, its view of the capital, Australia’s view of the capital of Israel, to Jerusalem?


Simon Birmingham: Well, we were very particular and precise in terms of the language used there and recognising the reality in the fact in terms of where the seat of government of Israel is…


Michael Rowland (interrupts): …but it’s now been reversed, in hindsight, in hindsight, and you were a senior Ministers of course in that government, was that a mistake?


Simon Birmingham: No, it wasn’t. It was a reflection of reality – the reality of where the capital of Israel sits in terms of the seat of government, the Knesset, and indeed all of the functioning, usual elements of a seat of government and a capital of a nation.


Michael Rowland: OK hey listen, Simon Birmingham while I’ve got you – to the big domestic political issue that being The Voice – it’s dominated Question Time so far this week. Have you decided how you’ll vote in the referendum?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Michael I’ll get the same vote in a secret ballot like every other Australian. I’ve been clear, I don’t intend to go out and campaign strongly in relation to the referendum. Australians…


Michael Rowland (interrupts): Why not? Why won’t you campaign on for the Coalition’s view which is to vote no? I just want to ask you that.


Simon Birmingham: ….Michael, look I think it is sad that the country is at the position where the Government has steered us towards a referendum that has real concerns that I understand about the constitutional proposals that are before us. I wish that they had put forward a different model that could have achieved bipartisan support and broad consensus across the country; that there are many passionate voices in this referendum and they of course, will be heard – are being heard throughout it. I’m sticking to my portfolio areas of responsibilities and many other challenges the country faces.


Michael Rowland: But you’re also a senior minister, sorry, you were a senior minister, you’re a senior shadow minister. So, what you’re saying – you’re leaving open the option in the privacy of the ballot booth in, we assume October, to vote Yes?


Simon Birmingham: Well Michael, I’m not going to act contrary to the party position. But I have my priorities that I’m going to get on with over the next couple of months. There are many challenges the nation faces. There are many international challenges, just one of which we’ve been touching on before and that’s where my focus is going to lie.


Michael Rowland: OK and on that front, we appreciate you making time for us this morning. Simon Birmingham, thank you.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you.