Topics:  Israel – UN vote

12:30PM ACST

11 May 2024


Senator Birmingham: Thanks everybody and thanks very much for coming along. Overnight, despite weeks of emphatic denials from the Prime Minister, the Albanese Government changed position in relation to Australia’s stance on Israel and a future Palestinian state. The Government back flipped in relation to what had been a long-standing bipartisan position; that Australia would recognise a future Palestinian state following a negotiated two-state solution in which difficult questions like future borders, rights of return and other questions around security guarantees were appropriately resolved. But no, the Albanese Government has decided to pursue a pathway of premature recognition. The problem with this is it sends all of the wrong signals in relation to how these issues are addressed. It sends the wrong signals because it will be viewed by Hamas, Iran and other terrorists as a reward for their efforts. It will be viewed as progress from the October 7 terrorist attacks. And that is a deep tragedy and of course poses a real risk for the future. Where is the incentive to get back to the negotiating table? Where is the incentive to work through the difficult questions that have to be resolved if there is to be an enduring peace in the Middle East when the Government and countries have given a head nod that progress can be achieved through the wrong means, rather than the right means? Where is the incentive to lay down arms and negotiate rather than to pursue future terrorist attacks? That is the real tragedy. And the Albanese Government’s change in Australia’s position puts us firmly out of step with our key security partners and allies. The United States voted against this resolution. The United Kingdom and Canada abstained, as did Germany, the Netherlands and other nations. What we saw very clearly is that a majority of our five eyes partners did not support this resolution, yet the Albanese Government back-flipped on Australia’s long-standing bipartisan position to vote for it. What progress does the Albanese Government hope to achieve from this? It now leaves clear questions for the Prime Minister that he must answer about Australia’s future position. Having signalled that the Government does support an earlier, premature recognition of a Palestinian state without resolution of the tough questions, will the Prime Minister guarantee that this will not occur whilst Hamas continues to hold hostages; whilst Hamas continues to undertake terrorist activities; whilst Hamas continues to wield influence in Gaza; and whilst the Palestinian Authority remains unreformed and without the credibility of strong governance structures? The Prime Minister must give guarantees that Australia will not be undertaking premature recognition of a Palestinian state whilst Hamas remains in this type of position of influence and continues to hold hostages who have been held since October 7. The remarkable thing about this resolution is it did not mention Hamas, it did not mention the attacks of October 7, it did not call for the release of hostages, yet the Albanese Government saw fit to vote for it.


Journalist: Do you say that Australia should have opposed it, or perhaps at the very least abstained?


Simon Birmingham: Opposition or abstention were both viable options available to the Government. The Coalition’s position is that we believe the motion should have been opposed. But an abstention as the UK did, as Canada did and as other democracies did, would have been a better position than the pathway taken by the Labor Government.


Journalist: Senator Birmingham, wouldn’t Australia have been out of step with some of our nearest neighbours if we hadn’t backed the resolution?


Simon Birmingham: We are out of step with the United States, the United Kingdom, with Canada. with Germany, with the Netherlands, with Italy, with Finland. This puts Australia firmly out of step with many democracies and countries with whom we should be in lockstep with, in the fight against terrorism.


Journalist: ….(unclear) damage our relationships with the United States to diverge on such an important principle.


Simon Birmingham: To be out of step with a majority of our five eyes partners, with both of our AUKUS partners, will send signals and have questions asked, no doubt, in those other capitals. And this is a step the Albanese Government should not have taken and have not adequately explained the rationale for why they took it.


Journalist: Is it an about face from the Federal Government?


Simon Birmingham: This is a complete backflip by the Albanese Government on a long-standing, bipartisan position that a two-state solution required negotiation; that recognition of a Palestinian state required agreement on difficult questions such as borders. The Albanese Government has put the cart well and truly before the horse in terms of advancing recognition whilst borders, governance and security questions remain completely unresolved.


Journalist: How do you see conflict in the Middle East being resolved before Palestinian statehood has been granted?


Simon Birmingham:  There are key questions to actually resolve conflict and achieve peace in the Middle East and those key questions are about what are the borders; what are the security guarantees; how are rights of return issues managed and resolved. And to advance issues of recognition without resolving those key, difficult issues, is to remove the incentive to negotiate and compromise. Negotiation and compromise are key parts, necessities if there is to be an ultimate enduring peace in this difficult situation?


Journalist: What do you think of the Israeli reaction and the shredding of the Charter?


Simon Birmingham:  I understand the passion that is felt by Israel, by many others and that real concern that they will have, in relation to the decision taken. But critically then in a bilateral sense how passionate they will feel about the way that countries like Australia have changed their position.


Journalist: Given how long this conflict’s been going on, not only since October 7, doesn’t that show that there needs to be a different approach taken to resolve this?


Simon Birmingham:  This is a terrible, tragic situation that has endured for decades. And we all wish to see an end to the bloodshed; we all wish to see a situation where arms can be laid down. But that is going to best be achieved if Hamas unconditionally releases the hostages, surrenders its terrorist infrastructure and stops hiding behind innocent Palestinian civilians whose lives they endanger. If that were to occur, we could see a quick ceasefire, we could see a resumption of proper negotiations that could lead to an enduring, peaceful, two-state solution.


Journalist: What do you make of the 33 suspected asylum seekers reaching Christmas Island by boat?


Simon Birmingham:  This is another sign that the Albanese Government has no control of Australia’s borders. We’re in a situation now where the Government cannot control or keep Australians safe in Australia from detainees that have been released under Labor’s watch and nor are they able to control our borders or stop boats from coming to Australia under Labor’s watch.


Thanks, guys.