Topics:  Labor puts cart before horse and risks rewarding terrorists;  

10 April 2024


Andy Park:  Meanwhile, the Shadow Foreign Affairs minister, Simon Birmingham, says Labor is putting the cart before the horse and risks rewarding terrorists. He joins me now. Welcome to you, Senator.


Simon Birmingham: Hello, Andy. It’s good to be with you.


Andy Park: You just heard Penny Wong there set out some pretty firm conditions before Australia even begins considering this changed position. Why do you think this approach is so unreasonable?


Simon Birmingham: Andy, there’s a lot of confusion that’s been created by Penny Wong’s speech last night. Today you have the Prime Minister stressing that nothing has changed in relation to government policy. Yet the interpretation and the spin from the very well and extensively briefed speech Minister Wong gave last night was that she was alluding to some type of fast tracked or sped up process towards recognition of a future Palestinian state. Now, our concerns are that if that is indeed the intent of the government, it is tearing up a long standing bipartisan approach, which is indeed all sides recognising the aspiration for a two state solution, but for one that is appropriately negotiated and that is determined along negotiated and settled borders for Israel and a future Palestinian state, and, of course, one where security is guaranteed and in an environment where the right to exist of each is respected by the other. Now we’re a long way away from meeting those types of conditions at present. If Senator Wong is somehow indicating that there will be a fast-track process, there will. Not only does that tear up decades of bipartisan consensus around the approach in Australia, but to do so at present, just six months after Hamas’s brutal invasion into Israel that saw more Jews killed on a single day than at any time since The Holocaust. And, of course, while Hamas continues to claim that they wish to wage war against Israel is to defy the need for security as a prerequisite for a Palestinian state in a two-state solution, and would be interpreted by Hamas as a reward for the type of disruption they have caused.


Andy Park: It sounds like you’re verballing her a little bit when you say that she suggested this be fast-tracked. I mean, Penny Wong and the Prime Minister both insist that no decision has been made and that they’ve been clear both the Prime Minister and Penny Wong, that Hamas should not have any role in a future Palestinian state. So, just tell me why you think that this is- it has been fast-tracked?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Andy, if the Prime Minister’s statement today saying nothing has changed in relation to government policy is correct, what is it that made Penny Wong’s speech front page news today? What made it front page news was a tone and an impression, that indeed, there could be a speeding up of this process, that it could happen, not necessarily following a negotiating process that determines borders and settles the terms for a state between Israel and a future Palestinian state. But instead, some type of earlier, potentially unilateral decision made by the Albanese Government to undertake such a recognition. So, it is for the government to rule out very clearly, if that is not what they’re contemplating, then to be clear that they are not proposing to go down that type of path. But it’s widely known and publicly available that the Labor Party platform does call for the recognition of a Palestinian state and so that coupled with Senator Wong’s speech and it does lead people and obviously much of the media in the way they interpreted the speech overnight, to assume that this could be a forerunner of an imminent announcement or decision by the government.


Andy Park: What about the Coalition? Do you still back a two-state solution?


Simon Birmingham: We stand by the long-standing bipartisan consensus of seeking a two-state solution.


Andy Park: Wouldn’t you need a Palestinian state for that to be necessary?


Simon Birmingham: You do, however, that long standing bipartisan consensus, a two-state solution on agreed, negotiated, settled borders and terms that can underpin the security and the stability of the situation. So, at present, we have nothing like security or stability. We still have Hamas fighting and Hamas fighters and Hamas terrorist infrastructure operating in Gaza. There is no credible Palestinian Authority with whom to negotiate even really, frankly, in the West Bank, let alone across all of the Palestinian territories. So, it is a long way off being able to say what a Palestinian state definitely would look like in terms of what would be agreed to its borders, or what its governance structure is and who it is that you are negotiating with or recognising as that state entity.


Andy Park: So, is your issue with Penny Wong’s comments that she’s made a forward projection, or that she’s made the wrong forward projection?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I think, Andy, it is potentially both. It’s for the government to have to clarify what it is that they are seeking to say here. Clearly, if there is absolutely no change and the bipartisan consensus holds on the terms that have long been understood. Well then that is still the Coalition’s policy. But the way in which this speech was spruiked and promoted and carried through overnight gives every indication the government is seeking to do something sooner and something that doesn’t meet those conditions. And if that’s the case, well, then, um, it of course runs multiple risks, one of which is that Hamas sees it as good news as an outcome that they would welcome, and we shouldn’t ever see that as being a good thing. The other concerns are that, frankly, it’s just not a practical step that, rather than seeing statehood before security, security is a necessary precondition to having statehood that can actually be sustained and recognised. That is a simple reality, in fact, that Australia, of course, could make whatever declaration we want, but that’s not going to achieve the type of stable outcome that we want to see in relation to Israel and for the Palestinian people. Which is one where they are agreed, are respecting of borders, are respecting of each other’s right to exist, and that’s going to require an end to the current conflict. An end to the current conflict requires hostages to be released and Hamas to be disabled. And then, of course, it’s going to require a period of stability and reform to get governance structures in place that could give a chance for their negotiating some type of two-state solution. There are many steps to it to be achieved before you can get to a magical point of having a two-state solution that is mutually respected and recognised by all parties.


Andy Park: When you consider that US President Joe Biden has just offered one of his sharpest rebukes yet of Israel’s handling of the war in Gaza, describing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach as a mistake. Do you sense that there’s an international shift at play here, and can Australia afford to ignore it?


Simon Birmingham: Well, there are certainly concerns about certain actions undertaken by Israel and obviously tragic mistakes such as the one that that took the life of Australian aid worker Zomi Frankcom last week are unacceptable and those things shouldn’t happen. But I’d also note that just overnight, as Penny Wong was giving this speech talking about recognition of the Palestinian state, Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Adviser, was imploring nations to instead, in quite the opposite direction, put maximum pressure on Hamas to work through the negotiators working in Cairo at present for a ceasefire and to agree to release hostages so that ceasefire could be achieved. It’s been widely reported out of those negotiations in Cairo that Hamas is not being cooperative. So, it requires pressure and consistency from around the world about the expectations that Hamas should be releasing those hostages. They should be disabling their terrorist infrastructure, because that would be the way to achieve a sustainable and potentially enduring ceasefire in the situation.


Andy Park: Simon Birmingham is a Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister. Thank you so much for your time.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Andy. My pleasure.