Topics:  Israel-Hamas conflict; Unsafe Chinese PLA incident; Labor detainee debacle;

09:20AM AEST
7 May 2024


Tom Connell:  Well, Israel has approved a military operation in Rafah conducting strikes in the area. The move came hours after Hamas had announced it had accepted an Egyptian-Qatar ceasefire proposal. Israel says the deal does not meet its demands but will send negotiators to discuss. Joining me now is Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham. Thanks for your time. Initial indications Israel not necessarily going to support this, but they’re going to be involved. Should they be really searching hard to try to find some common ground here, given how long this war has gone on?


Simon Birmingham: Tom, I welcome the fact that Israel are going to engage in these discussions. The last sets of discussions around a ceasefire that have been had and there have been multiples, had broken down because Hamas would not accept anything, and they were unwilling to accept in particular terms around the release of hostages. Now, we don’t know the details of what has been put on the table or agreed to by Hamas at this time. Israel has indicated that it’s a different offer. Clearly, anything that can see the release of hostages and enable a ceasefire in relation to hostilities would be welcome. But there are obviously many terms to be assessed. I mean, frankly, it shouldn’t take this type of negotiations if Hamas had any care for the well-being of the people in Gaza. If they had any sense of acknowledging the wrongdoing that occurred on October 7th last year, then they would release the hostages unconditionally on the expectation that that would enable a ceasefire, rather than all of the other terms that are attached to any type of hostage swap or the like.


Tom Connell: Given that the peace negotiations are happening now, though the ceasefire ones at least, should this Rafah ground invasion be paused? Is it something that shouldn’t at least go ahead for now, given this could be a breakthrough moment?


Simon Birmingham: Tom, again, I think that will depend upon just how things actually unfold in relation to those negotiations, what the actual content of this offer is. It’s important that Israel has regard for the humanitarian situation in Rafah, is careful in the way in which it executes any operations there to seek to minimise civilian-


Tom Connell: Couldn’t it at least late 2 or 3 days to see what the tone of the talks are before going in Rafah?


Simon Birmingham: As I said, Tom, that would depend on the content of this, whether it is a legitimate offer or a tactical one. You have to, of course, have some questions about the fact that Hamas, having last week and the week before, the week before, rejected the type of ceasefires offers that were being put on the table, now, just at this moment, come out and publicly declare there is something that they might entertain.


Tom Connell: But perhaps it’s the threat of yet another ground invasion. Let’s move on to the next topic the Chinese PLA dropping flares. It’s accused of doing this close to an Australian helicopter. A Navy helicopter. Pretty strong condemnation from the government. Has it been handled in the right way from what you’ve seen so far?


Simon Birmingham: Tom, whilst the condemnation is right in language, the messenger appears to be lacking in seniority. And that is really where the government has gone missing. I heard in the package that was played just before, the Prime Minister boasting about the resumption in dialogue that has been enabled between China and Australia as China removed its ban on ministerial level dialogue. Well, if that’s the case, then the Prime Minister or his defence minister should be able to pick the phone up and talk to their counterpart and express Australia’s concerns directly to them, because that’s what should happen when something like this occurs, which is not a one off, but a pattern of conduct by China that has endangered Australian serving personnel before others within the region and creates an enormous risk of what happens if there is a miscalculation one day that results in a very serious injury or even death.


Tom Connell: We’ve got, well we’ll find out. I haven’t seen the Senate report drop yet. We’ve it’s been progressing, so we’ve found out more about these new powers Labor wants passed to do with detainees. There’s also a potential effectively visa ban on other countries, but jail for people that won’t leave the country because they can’t be deported. Is the Coalition at this stage inclined to support these new laws?


Simon Birmingham: Tom, this has been a completely bungled approach by the government in trying to ram through legislation that they’d been sitting on for days and then being exposed to a range of criticisms and concerns, including from members of their own government to different Labor senators and members criticising this legislation and concerns about potential unintended consequences have been aired during the conduct of this Senate inquiry as well. So, I look forward to seeing the good work of the Senators who are on that inquiry and seeing what recommendations they have made about how this legislation, if it is to be progressed, could be improved to ensure that unintended consequences that could create any type of additional pull or push factor into Australia are avoided.


Tom Connell: Okay. Well, all right, we’ll find out more on that. But let me put this to you. So Peter Dutton said yesterday, as I demonstrated when I was home affairs minister, we make the decisions to kick these people out when they’ve caused harm against Australian citizens. I won’t tolerate these people being in our local community. Is it the problem that Labor wanted to continue them not being in the community? They were detained, but the High Court found that illegal. How is Peter Dutton going to suddenly make that happen?


Simon Birmingham: Tom, this is where the government was found to be very flat footed at the time of the High Court judgement. There are questions about partly as to how that was prosecuted and handled by the government. But then when it was handed down, it was clear the government didn’t have anything lined up. The Coalition was quick to call for a type of community detention order to be put in place. We were clear and consistent on that from effectively day one as to what type of regime could and should be looked at. It took the government many, many weeks to actually come to contemplate that. Finally, they did. We supported their legislation. Still, they are yet to lodge an application for a community detention order in relation to these detainees. So, it’s about actually having the confidence and commitment to act in these areas that sees you be prepared, be ready and then follow through. And the government wasn’t prepared, it wasn’t ready, and it hasn’t followed through.


Tom Connell: It has to be legal as well. Anyway, we’ll see if that is attempted and what sort of hurdles that needs to jump through. Simon Birmingham, appreciate your time today. Thank you.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Tom. My pleasure.